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VILANDER: Sebring Debrief

Toni Vilander files his latest Sportscar365 column…

Photo: Ferrari

Photo: Ferrari

When you’ve just completed a 12-hour race at Sebring, you know it! But, when you take a podium place on the last lap, then you feel it’s all worthwhile…tiring, but worth it.

This was Risi Competizione’s second podium of the year and our third in the last three endurance races, including our win at Petit Le Mans last year, and that’s something to be happy about in this super, super competitive GTLM class, it’s very positive momentum.

As well as the bumps, the heat and the traffic which are consistently difficult but the same for everyone, the conditions at Sebring always change a lot during the week; this year was no different.

The temperatures got higher as the weekend got nearer, and the grip also changed a lot.

It was quite good for practice on Thursday and Friday but there was a lot less grip for the race and a lot more pick up (bits of rubber from the tires) around the track.

Every time you went off line to pass someone you would get pick up and it then took a while to clean it off the tires again, and during that time you had even less grip!

In practice our Ferrari 488 GTE was always there or thereabouts, where we felt it should be compared to the competition, but we had a very disappointing qualifying session. P10 was not what we expected but, as we know, it’s not such a big deal for an endurance race of this length…as we proved.

I hadn’t had the ideal preparation for the race as I’d been sick for a while and was still very congested and coughing a lot. It didn’t seem to affect anything when I was in the car, as I think my performances showed, but I was definitely lacking stamina and had less energy.

I rested up as much as possible before the race and was happy I was able to drive.

We knew the race would be tough as the competition is so strong in GTLM, and we were fighting, fighting all the way.

I had some great battles with the Fords and Porsches, good clean racing. After the half way point everyone seems to step up their game a bit, and there’s a lot of hard pushing for track position.

Overtaking is not easy in the Ferrari as we seem to struggle a bit in the exit of corners and I had to brake super late to overtake. I managed to put myself in front and got us really into the game but it took a lot of energy.

We didn’t have any big issues at all during the race but we lose a bit of time in our pit stops compared to some others due to the refueling system. There’s nothing we can do, but it’s frustrating and we just have to try harder on track which makes us yo-yo a bit up and down in a lap chart.

Actually, the only problem we had was a really strange one. As a windshield tear off was being removed at one of our pit stops, it touched the master switch and knocked out all the electrics. That lost us about 13 seconds but we made that up pretty easily, and the team did a perfect job the rest of the week so we’re not complaining.

James Calado, who was with Giancarlo and me again as our endurance teammate, drove about half the race including a mega three-hour stint to the finish.

We were going to make a driver change but the way the yellows fell the timing wasn’t right and he was good to go.

We didn’t think a podium was going to be possible but he pushed the Ford all the way and he got a good run from T5 into the hairpin and made a great move for P3.

The whole team was cheering and so excited about that last lap move!

So now I’m going to rest and get back to being fully charged ready for Long Beach. I’ve been there twice and finished on the podium both times, and I like the venue and the street track.

I’d love to be fast round there and hopefully that’ll be the case this year. We have a good chance but there’s not a lot of margin to recover if you don’t get it right. Now you know why I need to be 100 percent!

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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