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VILANDER: Monterey Debrief

Toni Vilander files his latest Sportscar365 column…

Photo: Jake Galstad/IMSA

Last weekend at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca was a really good one, almost perfect but not quite…just 0.152 seconds from being perfect in fact!

But, after missing four races in the middle of the season, and this being only our second one back after that break, it was great to see the smiles on everyone’s face at Risi Competizione, and we can be very happy and satisfied with 2nd place in GTLM.

We used the Ferrari 488 GTE we raced at Le Mans in June, now completely rebuilt after it was wiped out in a really messy crash which took us out of that race, and from the moment we put it on track we were flying.

Risi has nearly always gone well at Laguna, and this year was no different. I think maybe we all like the Californian sunshine and way of life!

We had really good pace, the handling was perfect and we now are able to maximize the knowledge we have of the tires and the car itself to our best advantage. We had a perfect plan for the weekend, and it was just down to me to get the job done in qualifying.

When I arrived in California I had some little back problems, but Alyson Kimball worked her magic on me on Friday and even more on Saturday so I went into qualifying 100 percent fit. Big thanks to Aly!

From the moment I woke up on Saturday [before qualifying], I had the feeling that no one was going to take pole from me. Sometimes you just get those feelings, and have those great days, and this was one of them. I took it as a challenge to myself and the car, and was determined I was going to really enjoy qualifying no matter what the result. And the good results came with class pole and a new qualifying lap record – a perfect Saturday.

I was quite excited about the start of the race, but not nervous, and felt I would handle it – it’s always tricky here with a big field, quite narrow in parts and a very dusty and slippery track – but we were confident the whole weekend.

In the end, I was in the car for more or less two hours but was comfortable and happy – even though we got knocked a couple of times by one of the DPi cars.

They were very aggressive at Laguna, trying to make time in traffic, but when there’s nowhere to go at the end of the main straight other than the left turn of the track, there’s nowhere to go! The Whelen car is one for us to avoid at Petit.

We gave it our maximum attack on Sunday, and Giancarlo had a good solid weekend, but the only thing we didn’t expect was for the BMW to run to the end on one tank of fuel. It caught everyone by surprise, but apart from that it was a good, clean race with all our other competitors. A new fastest lap and race lap record to my name also felt good.

The Risi crew were so happy with the result, and it cheered up Giuseppe [Risi] a bit after the flooding he had at his house following Hurricane Irma.

I’ve been super busy since then catching up in Maranello and at home before we return to the U.S. for Petit Le Mans.

James Calado is about to become a first-time dad any day now, so this year Alessandro Pier Guidi will be joining us.

I’ve known Ale for a long time and we won the Italian GT2 championship together in 2005 so he should fit right in. He’s on the top of his game in the WEC and, just like James really enjoyed Petit Le Mans last year, I’m sure a similar thing will happen with Ale.

It’s a 10-hour race so we need a lot of patience, but after our performances at VIR and Laguna we know we will definitely have a car which is performing well. That top step of the podium is where we want to be!

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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