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VILANDER: Long Beach Debrief

Toni Vilander files his latest Sportscar365 column…

Photo: IMSA

Photo: IMSA

It was good to be back at Long Beach, a race I’d only done once before.

Actually, back in 2011, that was Risi Competizione and Ferrari’s first ever podium with the new Ferrari 458 Italia GT so it was very nice for us all to have another podium finish this year with the new Ferrari 488 GTE, the first of the year in GTLM in the USA.

The result was, to be very fair, a bit better than we could have hoped because it was a very up and down weekend and not one of my better races.

The team has had some good results at Long Beach in the past, so we had lots of data and analysis to look at, but we also knew that straight line speed and qualifying performance was going to be important because there are fewer chances to overtake on a relatively narrow street track.

In practice we were running between P3 and P5 and Giancarlo [Fisichella] did a 1:18.2 which put us right in the mix.

We knew that realistically our competitors would find some speed and that their overall package meant they could improve, but it was hard to find ourselves 8th in qualifying with exactly the same lap time.

There’s always some difference in performance in the track sessions at Long Beach because we are timetabled to go out at strange times – very early in the morning or late in the afternoon – and the track is never the same twice.

But, we looked at our times from last year and while the overall pole time was almost the same, we were at least five tenths of a second/5 or 6 miles an hour slower than last year. That put us completely out of contention to get to the front of the field.

We’ve had some solid race weekends, are making progress in the right direction, working hard and trying to get the most out of every weekend, but there are some limiting factors.

I am racing because I love it, but no one wants to race for 4th or 5th and just hope that someone else has a problem.

The current BoP doesn’t really allow us to do much more unfortunately so we just have to hope that Ferrari can persuade IMSA to look at it again.

This year was the first time that PC cars were included in the race here, and they added…let’s say an added challenge because their rhythm and lap times were completely different to ours.

Restarts, especially on cold tires, were a bit of handful with the PC cars around but that was only point from the race.

I screwed up a couple of things during the race which didn’t cost us the win but certainly left me frustrated at the end of it all.

There’s only one pit stop here at Long Beach and it’s got to be fast because those seconds can make all the difference to track position.

Giancarlo finished the first 40 minutes and I got in for the final hour; I was doing up my belts, the fuel fill was a bit faster than I was expecting and…I couldn’t get the car re-started immediately and lost one or two seconds as a result.

We also had some brake issues during the race which isn’t unusual on a street track, and I was playing around with the brake balance on the back straight and ended up accidentally touching the ignition switch and shutting down the car! That was a first I can tell you…

You can’t drive these modern cars for any length of time without power steering as they are very heavy to drive.

I managed to get it through a corner, and all the alarms and warnings started going off, so it was all getting a bit panicky!

I then looked at the dash and realized what was happening, thought “%*#!” and fired it up again. It probably only cost us a few seconds but it seemed a lot longer at the time.

All in all I was really happy to finish the race, and we profited from when a couple of other cars touched and managed to pick up the podium place which was a surprising but good for the team.

As always they worked really well, Giancarlo did a great job, and considering the BoP and what happened in the pits it was a reasonable result.

Now we are looking ahead to Laguna Seca in a couple of weeks and Michelin is bringing some new tire compounds for everyone to use. I really like the track there and Risi Comp has had some very good results in the past so we’re hoping to move up the finishing order again.

See you in California (again)…

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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