In the late 1970s, Federal laws in the United States were changing to ban private automotive importers; Ferrari would become the sole distributor of its road cars, the newly established Ferrari North America taking over from the successful Luigi Chinetti Snr. Risi had connections to the Prancing Horse, notably through Mauro Forghieri, the chief engineer of Ferrari’s racing operations for much of ‘60s and ‘70s, as well as via a friend who was a Ferrari importer in Spain. This led to an offer to establish a new dealership in Texas, USA in 1979.
‘It’s just one of those things,’ he humbly recalls. ‘I’m not an engineer or mechanic, but back then, selling 25-30 cars per year, you could learn and build yourself up. I’m tremendously passionate and respectful of the Ferrari brand, and I’ve always hired extremely good people around me. You surround yourself with the right people, and build it into what you have today.’ Which, modestly, is nothing short of two renowned Ferrari dealerships, and an international racing team with wins at Le Mans, Sebring and Petit Le Mans.
Risi spent two decades focused upon his new business, but the racing bug never left. ‘You can’t get away from it,’ he smiles. ‘I watched a few races, then we did a few events with the local Ferrari club – and then we were looking in earnest for a Ferrari F333 SP sports-prototype…’
At the same time as establishing a highly successful effort for his clients in the burgeoning Ferrari Challenge in North America, Risi purchased F333 SP chassis 17 and 18 and entered a car into the 1998 IMSA GT Championship in partnership with Doyle Racing. They won the second race of the season, won at the inaugural Petit Le Mans that year too, and finished atop the championship. In-between, their second Ferrari won the LMP1 class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
In 1999 Doyle-Risi’s F333 SP finished runner-up at the 24 Hours of Daytona, rounding out an impressive two decades in the United States for Giuseppe Risi. How does he look back on that 20-year anniversary? Matter-of-factly: ‘Second is good, but it’s never enough, is it?’
From there Risi took full control of the team, establishing Risi Competizione. Another 2nd overall followed at Daytona in 2003 with the Ferrari 360 Modena, but it was with the subsequent Ferrari F430 that Risi came to the fore.
‘We won everything really. We had great fun with a great car,’ is his neat summation. The longer version is thus: together with factory Ferrari drivers Mika Salo and Jaime Melo, Risi Competizione won the GT2 class in what had then become the American Le Mans Series. A year later, in 2007, they repeated that feat, and eight victories in 12 races handed Salo and Melo the drivers’ title. A class victory at Le Mans was Risi’s in 2008, their second in four attempts, and 2009 saw another Le Mans win, plus triumphs at the 12 Hours of Sebring and Petit Le Mans.
Risi Competizione has since raced the 458, and now the 488 GTE, once again with huge success – but one victory eludes them. ‘Daytona is iconic, but we’ve always been the bridesmaids,’ Risi says, recounting his team finishing just 1.149 seconds off the GTLM lead in 2019.
‘I love motorsport and I love this race. The team always start asking me halfway through the season if we’re doing Daytona again the following year. The banking is spectacular, especially at night it’s real cool. We love endurance racing, we know how to prepare a long-distance racing car. Ferrari has been my life for 40 years, and we’ll keep giving this race everything we’ve got.’