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VILANDER: Le Mans Debrief

Toni Vilander files his latest Sportscar365 column…

Photo: Vision Sport Agency

Photo: Vision Sport Agency

What an incredible race this 24 Hours of Le Mans was, with so many twists and turns up and down the field!

It’s always a huge, huge event, one I’ve been lucky enough to win twice so far, but you know when you enter that everything has got to come together perfectly for a victory and this year the 24 Hours of Le Mans decided it wasn’t to be us on the top step of the GTE podium.

For our small private team from Houston, back for the first time since 2010, to finish second against the huge factory efforts was a really great result and I’m so proud of the whole Risi team.

I must thank Giuseppe Risi, of course, my teammates Giancarlo and Matteo, all the team members and partners and everyone in the Ferrari GT family.

Our Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE was the best car I’ve ever driven at Le Mans, and the team did an amazing job throughout the whole week; the car’s reliability was 100 percent.

What was also great, was the collaboration between the Ferrari teams, with the sharing of information and help between them all, starting from meetings we had at Maranello before the race.

That gave us a great starting point and all three GTE-Pro cars (us and the two AF Corse entries) looked well balanced.

The weather was pretty terrible during the qualifying sessions during the week but it was like this for everyone…as always in a 24 hour race it’s not where you start but where you finish that counts!

It’s fair to say we had a great race. We were never out of the top 2 or 3 after the first couple of hours, but there were times when we were in a bit of difficulties – performance wise, not reliability – and other times when we were quite strong.

We would be leading with what I would say was almost a healthy gap and it got taken away for various reasons. It’s crazy inside your head when you’re leading, as your thoughts start flying around and you start thinking what if I can win this race…

Giancarlo was at his very best this weekend, and all three of us felt comfortable when we were in the car.

We made a few adjustments to the seating position with the pedals before the race, and were straight on the pace. We were fast, but Ford put forward a really strong field of cars, all of them.

The Ferraris were able to do a magical time at different stages of the race, but the Fords were consistently on the same fast pace with all their cars the whole time. All we could do was try and pressure them.

I’m happy with my driving apart from one mistake but it was at a time when I knew, even without being told, that I really had to go for it to try and close the gap to the Ford.

I was on second stint tires, with just under three hours to go, and totally on the limit but, no excuse, it was my fault.

I was at the exit of the Porsche corners, already thinking about the next corner, when I lost the rear after the car became unsettled by a hole.

It caught me by surprise, but I kept my foot on the throttle and put the clutch in to try and roll back onto the tarmac.

In our calculations we lost between 30-40 seconds and at the checkered flag we were (before the penalties) a minute behind the Ford so it didn’t lose us the race.

I had a huge vibration during the middle of the night when at 230 km/h + and I almost couldn’t talk on the radio as my voice was vibrating so much.

I had an issue with my helmet moving a lot and the earplugs were killing my ears. It was hurting so much, even an hour after the stint, it made me physically sick but I got some treatment to my jaw and face and it improved then.

I think the body goes into a strange mode at 24 hour races because you’re not just awake for 24 hours but for about 40.

The warmup is at 9 a.m. so you’re up before that, you’ve got all the media and pre-race stuff to do and then you are in race mode.

I think I probably only got about 1.5 hours sleep during the race, and it’s hard to describe how tough a 24 hour race can be.

So here we are at the end of this one and now already thinking about Watkins Glen in two weeks.

All the emotions at Le Mans went from high to low, right to left, but I’m happy that the team got this result. I’m going to sleep now… Wake me up in time to go back to the USA please!

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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