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VILANDER: Street Talking in Long Beach

Toni Vilander files his latest Sportscar365 column after a hard-fought street battle in Long Beach…

Photo: Brian Cleary/PWC

We all like going to race at Long Beach as it’s a great atmosphere, a nice place near the water, perfect Californian sunshine, so when you get some good results it makes that warm feeling heat up a little more!

For me and the whole R. Ferri Motorsport team it was another good weekend, with pole and 2nd place in the race and we are now a close second in the combined Sprint and SprintX standings so lots of positive points from our Long Beach weekend.

I like the street track layout a lot, and the town itself with lots of different restaurants and places to take a coffee or whatever.

It’s always great to be able to walk to the track from the hotel and, with IndyCar racing as well, there was a lot of people and a buzzing atmosphere.

On race day I had a Finnish friend of mine there with his family, Teemu Selanne, who is a retired NHL Hall of Fame ice hockey player and quite a big name in the U.S. and Canada, so that was cool.

After our race he stayed with me to watch the first half of the IndyCar race and that was pretty action-packed too.

Our approach to the weekend was the same as in St Pete, go for the win but the car needs to be in one piece after the weekend. As I didn’t quite achieve that in Florida, it was obviously in the back of my mind and I didn’t want to let the team down again and create extra work.

Each race I do in Pirelli World Challenge I’m discovering new things and learning how to get the best out of each session. I’m also discovering that, after so many years of racing with teammates, I also quite like the pressure of doing it on my own, having the responsibility to make it work.

It makes it harder as you can’t hide behind anyone’s back, it’s all down to you, but that also makes it sweeter when you do well.

In qualifying, you need to push yourself a bit more and I was able to put myself in a state of mind to push hard and got a good lap.

On a street circuit, the Pirelli tires can do maybe 8 or 9 laps and get better and better so that really worked well for our Ferrari 488 GT3 and we ended up with the best possible starting position for a street race – pole!

At the start of the first race in St Pete, people were quite aggressive and the self-induced pressure was starting to build for the start, but here it was all good. I was happy with my start and the opening laps, with everything going well until the Safety Car.

We’d made some setup changes for qualifying which were great and I asked for them to go back to practice set up for the race which, looking back, I think was a mistake.

In the second half of the race, after the safety car, although I got a good start again I didn’t have same feeling or handling with the car as in the first part of the race.

Daniel Mancinelli’s Ferrari was a lot stronger braking into T1 and T10 before the hairpin, and I could see that he was prepared to take more risks than me. Fair play to him, he got a run on me and although we touched a little bit – there was a little scratch on our car, he deserved the victory.

As a Ferrari driver I’m obviously happy for the company to see a 1-2 and it shows that the 488 GT3 is a great customer car which can be strong whoever runs it. Every team in PWC gets the same chance to win so this result was really positive for Ferrari in general.

I’m now staying in the U.S. until our next weekend which is at the super-cool VIR track in Virginia – one of my favorites. As it’s a SprintX I’ll be with Miguel Molina again and we hope we can continue in the same way as in COTA – winning!

VIR is new for him but he’s been looking at footage and has set up a simulator in his house so he’s going to get as much practice as possible before he gets there. We should be in good shape.

Keep your fingers crossed.

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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