Connect with us


VILANDER: Sebring Debrief

Toni Vilander files his Sportscar365 column following Sebring…

Photo: IMSA

Photo: IMSA

People tell me that it’s something very British to talk about the weather all the time, but it was a very international topic last week at Sebring as that was the subject on everyone’s lips, no matter where they came from!

The temperature, humidity and of course the rain, thunder and lightning all played a part in how things turned out, not just for us, but for everyone, and in the end we can be pleased we got to the end of the event with fourth place in GTLM, some good championship points and a relatively undamaged car. Many others weren’t so lucky.

Like a lot of other competitors we tested our new Risi Competizione 488 GTE at the end of February in preparation for the Twelve Hours of Sebring, just me and Davide Rigon, who was joining us again for the endurance race, so he could get to grips a bit with the famously bumpy track.

It was a really positive few days and we got to run through a whole list of things on the car and get to know better how we all work as a team.

This is very like the Risi team I first met 10 years ago, and there’s a great atmosphere with everyone moving forward in the right way with a very positive attitude.

We took the info from the test into the race week but, with track temperatures which varied as much as 30 degrees and a whole lot of different rubber on the track from other championships running alongside the Weather Tech Sportscar series, conditions were very different.

Sebring is special anyway because of the concrete sections and the bumps, and in one session the car can be perfectly balanced and in the next it’s not. It’s a continuous challenge for drivers and engineers!

Overall we had a race car that seemed to perform better in cooler conditions than in very hot ones, and qualifying was at the hottest time.

We ended up where we thought we’d be (6th) but for a long race like this, qualifying position is not the most important factor. We had a good race car and we all knew what had to be done – stay on track, make no mistakes and stay on the lead lap. In the end, all those boxes were ticked.

I took the start in the dry and, like at all IMSA races, in this GT class it was very close but fair racing.

I heard that it’s a long time since it rained at Sebring during a race so there were a lot of drivers this weekend without that experience, and it definitely wasn’t easy.

I think the organizers used lessons learned at the wet Petit Le Mans last year and made the right decision to red flag the race after 2 hours 50 minutes when the thunder and lightening came. You don’t want to risk the marshals or anyone else in those conditions.

We knew Race Direction would want to go back to green as soon as possible so I used the time to have some lunch but then just hung out in the pit box in case we had a quick call to restart.

The TV and radio commentators needed to fill live broadcast time so there were lots of interviews to be done…my Finnish TV commentating work comes in useful sometimes!

So, after a 2hour 15 minute stop, they cleaned up the track and we were racing again.

We had a few small niggles during the whole race, some oil on the windscreen when Giancarlo was in the car – he drove incredibly well without being able to see very much at all – and a bit of door-banging when Davide was in the car, but otherwise we didn’t have any mechanical problems and no major incidents which is a testament to the team’s dedication, preparation, faultless pit stops, and the drivers keeping it together on track.

Fourteen caution periods means a lot of re-starts and these got a bit ‘hot’ in the closing parts of the race as everyone was charging for a better result.

We were in a podium position but lost a couple of positions at one of these re-starts; Davide took back two places in his stint so it could have been worse. I think he and Giancarlo both drove a very intelligent race and I’m really happy with how we all drove.

We were on the lead lap the whole time and that says a huge amount for the team’s philosophy and overall performance in this particular race.

From a competitive point of view, we were lacking acceleration and top speed and hopefully something will be done soon to look at this.

In multi-class racing a very small increase can make a big difference, especially in and out of the corners.

I don’t envy the job of the organizers to balance the performance of so many different makes of cars with different technologies – turbo engines against normally aspirated for example.

The basic idea is to get all the cars doing the same amount of laps per stint at roughly the same speed, as they do at Le Mans, to create closer racing, but if you have an efficient car like the Ferrari you should not be penalized in my opinion.

It will take some time for a proper analysis to be done on this because at Sebring there were very few ‘full’ stints due to the number of caution periods and the weather.

Now we go on to a different type of racing, the shorter races such as Long Beach which is only 100 minutes, and Laguna Seca which has so often been good for Risi.

We want to improve again and want that first podium to come – I’m sure it won’t be long.

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.

1 Comment

More in Commentary