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VILANDER: Road Atlanta Debrief

Toni Vilander files his final Sportscar365 column of season…

Photo: Jake Galstad/IMSA

The last race of the season at Road Atlanta, Petit Le Mans, has always been a favorite for most of us and, after winning it last year, the whole Risi team went there with high confidence.

In the end, victory wasn’t on the cards for us but we finished on the podium which was a great way to wrap up the year.

Going into the weekend we knew that many of our rivals had tested at Road Atlanta (we didn’t) but we started from the knowledge we gained in 2016 as well as adding all the minor stuff we have learned during this year.

Everything worked out pretty much according to plan the whole weekend. The only little moment which caught everyone by surprise was when it started raining on Saturday morning; the radar was showing clear blue sky so you could say IMSA created a weather phenomenon at Road Atlanta!

We weren’t happy with the 15kg additional weight given to the Ferrari prior to the weekend and didn’t feel it was completely the right call.

The main defense on our side was that at recent races we used a much more aggressive tire strategy to give us extra performance compared to some of our rivals, and at Laguna we had a different strategy to others using maximum power instead of fuel saving.

Nevertheless, our performance was good at Petit apart from coming out of T7 at top speed onto the straight which was most difficult in traffic. The extra weight didn’t help there!

We did mock a mock qually session during the final free practice on Friday which went quite well but we knew that the track would have a bit of a different feel in qualifying as another race was due to take place.

I was confident for a strong qualifying position but not in the same way as I had been in Laguna. So, to come out with pole was really nice.

These things boost your positivity going into the race, and it was great to see everyone on the team really happy, especially after the break we had mid-season. A nice feeling.

In the race we more or less split the driving time into three, and I had a lot of green running so was lucky there.

Alessandro [Pier Guidi] did a really good job – he’s a Ferrari factory driver in the WEC and last year did Petit Le Mans in GTLM so came to Risi well prepared and fitted right in.

Giancarlo did some good stints but unfortunately got a penalty for pit lane speeding which dropped us down the order to P8 from the lead but we fought back.

Against such strong competition and having missed four races it was good to finish P3.

We didn’t win this year but, every race we finished, we were on the podium which is a strong strike rate. We could feel and see that the teams racing against us preferred us to be there than not there; it’s better for the championship to have a Ferrari in GTLM for sure.

Now I’m still in the USA for a manufacturers’ tire test at Road Atlanta and then back to COTA for the F1 Grand Prix and some commentating duties for Finnish TV.

It’s not that long until everyone’s attention will turn towards Daytona and hopefully we’ll be on the grid again for that. We will let you know as soon as we know!

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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