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VILANDER: Mixed Results in PWC Debut

Toni Vilander files his first Sportscar365 column of the year following PWC season-opener…

Photo: Brian Cleary/PWC

It takes a special skill to go from hero to zero, but it’s not one I want to polish up to perfection!

I got a bit too close to it last weekend on my debut in the Pirelli World Challenge for R Ferri Motorsport, but there were lots of positives to take away from the weekend and those outweighed the negatives.

It was my first time at St. Pete and, from the moment I took part in the track walk the day before practice began, I felt confident it was going to be a good weekend.

The track was great – short at just 1.8 miles – but I like street tracks as you can really feel the atmosphere all around you, and I knew most of the competitors and cars which helps.

From the first practice onwards, we worked through our program with the Ferrari 488 GT3 and we were straight away on the pace, finishing P1 in both practice sessions and then in qualifying with a new qually track record as well.

It was quite close in the end, but I felt the lap was really, really good and just managed to post it before the session was red flagged so was a little bit lucky there!

Race 1 started in cooler conditions and we struggled a bit with grip level from the tires.

Going into Turn 1 we were four-wide, side by side, but luckily it wasn’t a big mess for us. All the drivers seemed to be super aggressive in R1 but calmed down for R2. It was a bit like wild horses being released!!

It was clear very early on that, once in traffic, we’re missing top end pace and I wasn’t prepared to take any risks in my first race.

I lost one place as I got a radio call from the team telling me there was a Full Course Yellow so backed off immediately… unfortunately the Porsche behind me didn’t react quite as quickly so overtook me.

We’ve looked at the video over and over, and it was just one of those split-second things; time to move on. I managed to overtake the Mercedes and finished P2 so we were happy with that for first time out.

The grid for Race 2 is set using the fastest lap times of Race 1 so that put me in 4th on the second row. We made some improvements to the car and the temperatures were hotter which suited us for this race.

We made up one place on the opening lap and there was a lot of grip in the corners so I made a few attempts to move up another place just couldn’t get the right opening.

I was putting pressure on the car ahead of me when I made a mistake on the inside of T4 which slingshot me to the wall outside.

It was quite a big hit for the car and I have to apologize to the whole team as it means a lot of work now to repair it in time for the next race.

We are still analyzing what happened, and there was something funky with one tire pressure so the car behavior was changing, but that’s not an excuse.

Scott Hargrove had a good solid weekend so all credit to him.

Overall, I was happy with the pace and it was a super start to the weekend, but it would be nice to have a race when we have more top end pace compared to what we have in the corners. The gap is so big it’s frustrating!

Remo Ferri’s whole team gave me a nice welcome and we were able to show that everything worked with good testing and practice, awesome preparation in fact.

One hit can change the tone a little bit but we’re going to come back stronger and most of the other tracks will suit our Ferrari a little better.

Next up is a SprintX race at COTA and Ferrari usually sends a factory driver to support us at these events. I know the track in Austin well and have learned a few things about our competitors, the race picture itself, and things which will change our practice plan.

I can’t wait to put all that PWC knowledge into practice, but before then I’m back to IMSA business and leaving for Sebring ready for the 12 Hours. See you there!

Toni Vilander (@Toni_Vilander) is a two-time 24 Hours of Le Mans class winner and 2014 FIA World Endurance GTE-Pro Champion, driving for Risi Competizione in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

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