The prancing horse has always attracted strong personalities, and the most successful individuals have always maintained an elegance even during the most competitive moments. Alfred Momo, Luigi Chinetti, and others were names that gave Ferrari more than just a foothold in North America. Keeping that unique tradition alive is one Mr. Giuseppe Risi of Houston, Texas, his dealership, and more importantly, a race team that has been widely successful on the world stage. You know the cars. This is the man and how he makes it work.
EC: How did you get involved in motorsport?
GR: My parents wanted me to be a doctor... I did not have time for that. But motorsport was something I liked. I was flying in Kenya, came back to Europe, and was on my way to South America when I stopped in Spain. I noticed just how much motorsport was going on. It was very difficult to bring cars into Spain and I just sort of looked around and made some friends and really it just started. In those days Spain was still under Franco.
EC: You began with touring cars and went on to open wheel?
GR: We raced those in the European Touring car series so we helped Ford win the two-liter division in 1972. These were serious touring cars. I mean when everybody was involved. The 24-hour race at Spa in 1972. Niki Lauda driving an Alpina car; James Hunt, the Texaco Capris; Hans Heyer; it just went on and on. I can't recall all the names. We then went on to the Aurora F1 series, were competitive, but needed to improve. I called up Teddy Mayer at McLaren and he said, "Yeah, we'll sell you a car."
EC: And you got ex-World Champion James Hunt's M23?
GR: We got the M23, chassis 11. We entered that and qualified for the Spanish Grand Prix; that was the same year Gilles Villeneuve came on the scene. It was one of the magic moments. After that the team was running out of money. We couldn't get into Monte Carlo, we couldn't get in because of qualifying, we just couldn't make it. I learned a great deal at that level.
EC: After you opened the Houston Ferrari dealership in 1980, how long did it take before you were back in racing?
GR: We always were, but not on an international scale. It really came back right about 1997 and Wayne Taylor came to me and asked if he could get a Ferrari 333 because they were going to stop making them and he had sponsorship with Toshiba. We put that whole package together and that's when I brought John McLoughlin in.
EC: In terms of the bonds of loyalty and the ability to work with one another-everything has changed so much that the term "Golden Era" is such a cliché. But how the sport was run, it was something you had to really want to do and the bonds that were formed made it possible for you to have a successful team today.
GR: Yes, and very much so. The team that is Risi Competizione today is based on this. Most of these guys have been with me for a long time, as long as 35 years. I mean, we are running a one-car team. I've not let one person go. We still have the same amount of people.
EC: Having the late John McLoughlin on your team was something special.
GR: Absolutely. I hadn't seen John in quite a while and I was at the Grand Prix of Mexico, won by Gerhard Berger in a Benetton B-186. I remember because it was the last F1 race won on Pirelli tires. John was the engineer on that car.
EC: When John brought Allan McNish to the team and you finished second at Daytona, that was an incredibly strong driving lineup. Later you probably had the best lineup ever when it became Risi Competizione, except the 333 SP really couldn't cut it by then, could it?
GR: It was one year when we had a hell of a driving lineup. To this day, if you ask Allan, he said it was the most exciting engine noise he ever heard. At Daytona, he'd go right up against the wall just so he could hear the engine. We were revving it to 12,000.