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VILANDER: Daytona Debrief

Toni Vilander on Risi’s 488 GTE debut and return to U.S. full-time…

Photo: Risi Competizione

Photo: Risi Competizione

Hi everyone and welcome to the first of my 2016 columns for Sportscar365.

You’ll see some of the same – Ferrari, Finns, fun and flying – but lots of new for this year as I am back for the first time since 2011 racing full-time in the USA with Risi Competizione in the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

As you probably know from reports on this site, we didn’t get our new Ferrari 488 GTE until the week of the Daytona 24 so missed out on some valuable, race-specific testing time at the Roar.

With that in mind, to finish sixth with a brand new car in its first ever race is really encouraging and has given us lots to look forward to this season.

The new regs for 2016 include a fixed seat in GT cars – it used to move on rails to accommodate different sized driver line ups – and I’m a bit bruised and battered today as we haven’t yet worked out the perfect seating position for me.

With four of us in the car for Daytona, we tried using one seat insert but I’m a bit taller than some of the others so I had to make more of a compromise. We can change the steering wheel position and we’ll get it all sorted out ready for the next time.

As I said the Roar is normally when the basic set up work is done in preparation for the Rolex 24 at Daytona, and the wet weather we had for the practice and qualifying days didn’t make it any easier as I only had a couple of laps before the race.

The Risi crew did an amazing job getting the car ready for the race, including sending some staff to Italy to work with Michelotto, and the engineers and team management are all really motivated so I think all the foundations are in place for a good season and some good results.

My approach to the race, which I put forward as forcefully as possible with my teammates, was to be calm and to play a waiting game.

If you can get through three quarters of the race and still have a car on the lead lap with no damage, you’re in good shape for the final part of the race.

Our practice sessions before the race had almost gone too well, and so I was mentally preparing myself for a technical issue but the F488 worked really well.

We were looking good for that strong finish after having a great first half of the race and it was amazing to see nine GTLM cars still on the lead lap at the 12-hour point…it’s going to be a very competitive season!

The restarts mid race are always the most challenging time as all the classes are mixed up together and, until the BoP is adjusted a little bit, this makes it a potential hot pot for accidents as each class has a different rhythm.

The GTLM cars were the fastest going through the corners so you had to be really alert on the restarts, and unfortunately we suffered a bit of contact on a couple of occasions which then put us on the back foot.

The team fixed the problems caused by the contact and we were able to run quite well to the finish, get some good points for the season and learn lots about where we can make some margins of improvement.

We have a test in February at Sebring and I know we’ll be approaching that race in a completely different way to this one.

I really love racing and living in the U.S. and my family and I will be spending most of our time this year in Florida.

Of course I’ve got to combine that with my F1 commentary duties for Finnish TV and my commitments with Ferrari so there’s going to be some flying to and from Europe but it will be great to spend the whole summer over in Florida and get the family settled in one place.

Before I get the chance to do that, however, I’m off today (Monday following the Rolex 24) to Australia to take part in the Bathurst 12 Hour.

It’s all Mika Salo’s fault as he asked if I’d do the race with him, but I guess I have to take some of the blame as I didn’t really check the schedule before saying yes.

If I’d known it was the week after Daytona I might have thought twice!

I’ll let you know how things go, and hopefully I’ll be as proud of what happens there as I was of the job the Risi team and my teammates Giancarlo, Davide and Olivier did this past weekend.

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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