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VILANDER: Monterey Debrief

Toni Vilander files his latest Sportscar365 column…

Photo: IMSA

Photo: IMSA

It was great being back at Laguna Seca last weekend. I like the track a lot, although I’ve only been once before this year, and the area is great – a really nice place to return to.

Giancarlo [Fisichella] and I picked up some more good points for the championship, and I think we proved to ourselves that we can be a lot more competitive, but 5th place at the end was a bit disappointing. 

Hey, we are racing drivers…anything except a win is disappointing!

We had some new Michelin tires to try on the Ferrari 488 in California and overall there was an improvement in the pace of both our Risi Competizione 488 GTE and the other Ferrari of Scuderia Corsa, so that was a positive thing.   

We started practice and, just like at all the other weekends so far this year, there were some ups and downs in where we finished on the time sheets. 

At one point I felt we had a really good pace and I had a really strong third practice, finishing P1 – after that, confidence was really high. 

The great thing about Ferrari is that they are very fair in how they look after their customers and they share a lot with the teams to try and make sure that all Ferraris finish as high as possible compared to the competition, and not just one team or another.

When we compared our times with the No. 68 Scuderia Corsa car it seems we are still just lacking some pace and we are trying hard to analyze where that is. 

It’s quite difficult to pin down but we have a few things in our mind and hopefully, from Le Mans onwards, we can make a step forward. 

Qualifying wasn’t a complete disaster as it was really tight at Laguna and the gaps were pretty narrow between competitors – we were less than one hundredth of a second away from the second row. 

I somehow couldn’t repeat my third practice lap time, which was pretty unusual, and we ended up P5 while the other Ferrari was on pole so many congratulations to them.

It’s quite a short lap time – 1m 22 or 23 – and a few tenths over that makes a big difference, but that’s the way it was.

I started the race and was able to overtake one Corvette into P4 and this pack of two Ferraris sandwiching two Fords stayed together for quite a while, even through the first two yellows. 

When the third yellow came out we all pitted together and we managed to overtake all three of these cars on the pit lane – another great, great pit stop from the Risi guys. 

It was a super job from the team and a very quick driver change between me and Giancarlo with the help of Russell. 

After this great team effort there was only one BMW in front of us because they had pitted earlier on while we were under green.

At the restart, with one hour to go, Giancarlo was able to overtake the BMW and got into the lead and at that point I thought we had something really good going on. 

I wasn’t thinking about victory but for sure to finish on the podium. 

Then we saw that everyone started pitting early and the sequence was a bit strange. 

Our team reacted as well but we maybe should have changed tires again and probably saved a third place.  We chose just to refuel and unfortunately Giancarlo had quite a big drop off in the tire performance in his stint. 

It was close, one Corvette pitted towards the end and we were fighting with the Ford over the last couple of laps, overtaking it to finish P5.

So overall it was not quite the finish we had hoped for, but on the positive side there was more potential than we thought and we didn’t lose so much to our competitors this time out. 

It was a very positive point to see a Ferrari being really, really strong and that’s a good sign for the rest of the season but we need to work hard to improve the No. 62. 

Hopefully all the things that will happen at the Le Mans test day and the big French race itself will make us stronger for the remaining seven races and will give us the step forward we need. 

I’m confident that will happen, so see you in France.

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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