For almost any fan of sports-car racing, all is right with the world when you can watch a Ferrari ripping around a challenging road course at full speed. It’s even better when that circuit is the legendary Watkins Glen, in New York’s Finger Lakes region, the race is the Six Hours of Watkins Glen, the second-longest event on the Grand-Am calendar, and AIM Autosport is leading the Rolex GT championship with its Ferrari 458 Grand-Am.
AIM Autosport is the only Ferrari team contesting the full 2012 Grand-Am season, and it was riding a wave of momentum coming into Watkins Glen. In the previous seven races, the #69 Ferrari had scored five podium finishes with three wins, including a victory the weekend before at Road America in Wisconsin. These consistently strong results had put Jeff Segal and Emil Assentato at the top of the driver’s championship, Ferrari atop the manufacturer’s championship and made AIM the team to beat in the GT class.
WATKINS GLEN WOULD BE the fourth race in five weeks, so AIM’s preparation began the day after its win at Road America. The team transporter headed from Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin to Lake Forest Sportscars in Lake Bluff, Illinois. There, the crew went through the Ferrari with a fine-tooth comb.
“With Watkins Glen being a six-hour race, we had more maintenance to do,” said Ian Willis, who is one of AIM’s team owners as well as its chief engineer. “We went through the components on the 458 to make sure we weren’t getting toward the end of the life cycle on some of the parts.”
Thus far, the Ferrari has proven to be exceptionally reliable. For example, the Michelotto-built 4.5-liter V8 engine has held up extremely well to the rigors of racing, helped in part by Grand-Am rules that require it to be detuned to approximately 485 hp, down from 570 hp in street form.
“We pulled the engine out [in May] for the New Jersey race since it had 10,000 kilometers on it, which is the recommended service interval from Michelotto,” Willis recalled. “They were very happy with what they saw when they took it apart. Our instinct is that we could run an engine for a full season, but that’s something Michelotto is still evaluating.”
After two days spent checking over the car in Illinois, AIM’s transporter made the 700-mile drive to Watkins Glen for the promoter test day on Thursday. These test days give the many “gentleman drivers” participating in the series the opportunity to spend more time in the car before the official practice sessions start. Assentato, who owns the team’s primary sponsor, FXDD, has been racing for decades (and won the 2010 Rolex GT championship in a Mazda RX-8 with regular co-driver Segal) but is not a full-time pro, so took advantage of the day before having to share the car with Segal and Anthony Lazzaro, who was brought in as a third driver for Watkins Glen.