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VILANDER: My First Championship Title in the U.S.

Toni Vilander files his latest Sportscar365 column after winning the Pirelli World Challenge GT SprintX title…

Photo: Brian Cleary/PWC

We haven’t yet achieved all we set out to do at the start of the season, but we’re almost there and we have wrapped up one championship out of a possible three in the Pirelli World Challenge so that’s a really great feeling!

Miguel [Molina] and I had the perfect weekend at Utah Motorsport Campus this weekend, and our two wins secured us and R. Ferri Motorsport the GT SprintX championship – my first title in the U.S., which was my aim at the start of the year.

There’s one more round to go and my goal is the overall GT championship, which I’m leading at the moment by 29 points.

If it’s a really fantastic weekend I’ll get the Sprint title as well…that might be harder though as the championship is so competitive and there’s some strong opposition but we will give it everything.

From the start of the Utah weekend I felt really comfortable with the car, and the last few tracks have been good for us. After the disappointment of Portland, everyone on the team was super concentrated on their job and I could feel that focussed atmosphere in the team which gave us all a quiet confidence.

Photo: Brian Cleary/PWC

I knew the track from when I raced there with Risi Competizione some years ago, but it was, like all the tracks this year, new for Miguel.

The surface is a bit like Lime Rock, aggressive for tires, so there was a big difference between qually and race pace. The first sector is high speed but the next two are low speed so you have to find a good compromise on set up and we seemed to get it just right.

We hadn’t put any new tires on for the practice sessions and didn’t have the easiest qualifying – we went with sticker tires and I had some doubts about how the Ferrari 488 GT3 was handling with low fuel.

I think we could have challenged Bentley for pole if I’d done the perfect lap but I was happy with the overall performance and P3.

Photo: Brian Cleary/PWC

We had a good clean start for Race 1 – the drivers behaved and the organizers are getting good about telling us what’s required. I was quite surprised to see the two Bentleys battling each other on the opening lap but then Parente had a brake sensor or ABS issue straight away and he lost the lead.

I followed Baptista in the other Bentley for many laps and overtook him just before we were due to pit – he was struggling with tires, made a little mistake and I got him so we extended my stint a bit, got a good rhythm and pace going with perfect tire temperatures, and established the lead.

Miguel did a really good job; it’s quite tough for him as he does practice but doesn’t qualify so has a long gap before jumping into the car mid race.

It was nice to see that my feedback about the handling with the car on full tanks and his at the finish with low fuel was quite consistent which says a lot about the Ferrari, the set up and the work we’ve all put in during the year.

Photo: Brian Cleary/PWC

We started Race 2 from 4th but one of the Bentleys had another problem so the pole place on the grid was open, effectively promoting us to 3rd.

Miguel managed to get 2nd quickly and pulled away well in front of the others – all the while keeping close to the leading Mercedes. We had a very slick pit stop, he made a little mistake and we got out in the lead. I knew then we’d be good to go to the end.

I’m really happy for Remo Ferri who has supported auto racing in North America for so many years and it’s great to see these results and success coming to him. It was 2 a.m. in Italy and he was following every lap!

This championship win should bring some deserved credibility to the program and Ferrari’s racing activities in the U.S.

Photo: Brian Cleary/PWC

There is a very open exchange of information, knowledge and experience between the Ferrari customer teams and everyone can compete on the same level. It’s a very open field and extremely competitive and I’ve enjoyed racing here this year hugely. Let’s hope this opens the way for more customer teams to enter next year.

For our last two races of this season, which are at Watkins Glen on Sept. 1-2, we will approach the weekend like any other. We’ll make sure the car is well prepared, try and qualify as high as we can and take it cool.

I feel good with the car and the team; there’s not much for us to discover now about the series and the tires but there are two more championships to win and I need to win both races to get the GT title. Stay tuned to find out how it goes!

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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