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VILANDER: Petit Le Mans Debrief

Toni Vilander files his latest Sportscar365 column after victory at PLM…

Photo: Rick Dole/IMSA

Photo: Rick Dole/IMSA

It won’t surprise anyone that the whole Risi Competizione team was super excited and really, really pleased to win Petit Le Mans on Saturday evening (GTLM) but it might surprise a few people that it’s the team’s first win since VIR in 2014.

We’ve been so close this season on three or four occasions to getting to the top step of the podium, and have had a couple of really strong weekends, but always something happened which stopped us.

I really believe we should have had between two and four victories this year, so we were really hungry to succeed and get that win. There was a lot of relief as well as joy at winning the final round of the year; everything worked out perfectly and this is a really good feeling!

Our No. 62 Ferrari 488 GTE was on the pace from Practice 1, through qualifying and into the race. We made a few really minor changes to the car and then just went through a program to choose the right tires, and work on our strategy and approach to the race.

Me and Giancarlo were obviously familiar with the team and the race track, but Petit Le Mans was all new for James Calado who was our endurance driving partner.

Sometimes you struggle a bit with a new driver on board and you never know how it’s going to work out, but James was a really positive addition and was impressive all weekend.

The whole American style of racing, the track, the competition and the team were new to him but he came into the event with an energy and enthusiasm which we fed off. He made our driving team even stronger, and all three of us didn’t make a single mistake the whole weekend.

The guys in the pits, as always, did a really good job, and blitzed everyone else in the field in the pits. We’ve practiced driver changes all season, and the team worked on refueling, tire changes and every area in the pits – we looked at every area and at last it paid off!

We ran for 398 laps and led for 304 of those, and were always in the mix so it was very satisfying to take the checker at the front.

At some points the No. 4 Corvette was really strong but they had some issues so lost some time, and then Ford bounced back after early problems but we always made up time or places in the pits.

A few times we had a really good lead but the cautions closed things up again. We were a bit worried at the final full course yellow 14 minutes before the end, when we had a 30-35s lead, but luckily for us it was a fast caution period and the pits didn’t open in their normal sequence.

There were other cars between us and the 2nd placed GTLM, 3rd placed and so on. We were still quite comfortable at the restart and Giancarlo kept it calm to the checkered flag.

Apart from that the only slight worry we had was the inside curb at Turn 3, the part of the track that was repaired, which was really aggressive.

We wanted to protect our Ferrari and save the carbon floor for the last couple of hours so had to be more careful going through that turn.

With all the ups and downs of this track, it’s always a compromise between ride height and saving the car. We knew the last two hours always count the most, so wanted to have as good a race car as possible at the end.

It feels a bit odd now the season is over that we’re at the top of our game.

You can really divide our season into before and after Le Mans, with our strongest performances coming at and after our trip to France.

We were nearly always in the top three places during the races and fighting for the lead, and it was just a sequence of misfortunes, a string of different reasons that denied us that final top result, but we were up there.

I always try to see the positives and to be battling for the lead and then have something happen is somehow for me better than having a solid race and no pace.

Leading at Lime Rock, leading or in second at Road America, third at VIR until the last minute, and now a win at Petit Le Mans.

Let’s hope we can keep that momentum going into 2017 and hopefully I’m part of the team next year. It will be good to go to all the tracks and know which way they go!

Many congratulations to Corvette Racing who won the GTLM Drivers and Team championships – Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner were hard but very fair competitors all season – and big congratulations to our Ferrari colleagues at Scuderia Corsa for their GTD Championship title.

Petit Le Mans was pretty good for quite a few of us.

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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