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VILANDER: That’s a Wrap!

Toni Vilander files his final Pirelli World Challenge column of 2018 championship-winning season…

Photo: PWC

So that’s the final weekend of the 2018 Pirelli World Challenge season done and dusted and I think we can say it was a pretty good weekend.

Not 100 percent perfect but we came out of it with the overall GT Championship title for me to add to the SprintX one, the teams’ title for R. Ferri Motorsport and Ferrari winning the manufacturers’ championship… not too much to complain about!

We were all determined to go into the weekend as focussed as possible, and it started really well in practice.

The car felt good and we had the same level of performance as we’d had in some of our best weekends, especially the SprintX races. We would confident that the pace would be good going into qualifying.

That same pace didn’t unfortunately carry over to Saturday morning and we lacked the perfect balance needed to challenge for the front row, losing a little bit of time everywhere around the Watkins Glen track.

Photo: PWC

Bentley was on fire this weekend and beat us by a big margin, especially in the first sector but on any other occasion I think we’d have been on the front row.

Our main objective was to come out of Race 1 with enough points to be overall GT champion so it was a question of bringing the car home safely.

It started raining a little and things got a bit exciting, but I took it quite easy.

Michael Christensen’s Porsche was having some issues towards the end and I caught right up to him on the last lap but had no chance to overtake so finished 4th.

That was enough for the title so it was a good result plus we closed the gap to Scott Hargrove for the GT/GTA chase to just four points.

There weren’t any wild celebrations on Saturday night though as we were keeping focussed for Sunday!

Photo: Brian Cleary/PWC

I didn’t have a great qualifying position for Race 2 (6th) but we were confident and had a clear plan for the start. As I warned Daniel Mancinelli in the other Ferrari, I was going to stay on the outside, brake late and try and get some good momentum to get in front of Hargrove.

It was going well and I was in a good position until the exit of T1 when some cars in front of me touched and I had to go wide to avoid a spinning car.

That meant my chance went away so I just got into the rhythm and followed the two Bentleys and Hargrove’s Porsche which was made the 50-minute race quite tough, always in dirty air.

We brought it home in 4th which, initially, was quite disappointing but you don’t win or lose a championship in one race. We had our chances and misfortunes through the season and challenged to the end even if we came up a bit short for the clean sweep.

Photo: PWC

My highlights of the season were the two podiums at the St Petes and Long Beach street circuits and the whole SprintX journey – racing with Miguel [Molina], lot of wins and well-managed races.

We weren’t always leading, didn’t always have the fastest car, but we managed to get wins and combined well together and with the team so everything worked out nicely.

I really enjoyed the Pirelli World Challenge competition this season. After a bit of a hot start we had good, clean racing and I liked having to defend hard but not go over the limits.

Remo Ferri’s team is not a big group of people, but there’s a high level of racing knowledge among them and all the mechanics, tire guys and engineers did a great job all season.

There’s a really nice atmosphere and, having known Remo since way back to ALMS days, I knew how he managed things.

Photo: Brian Cleary/PWC

More than that, I love the Ferrari 488 GT3 which is a race car I feel very comfortable in.

We managed to improve the car through the year, getting a good set up for these Pirelli tires and North American tracks. Big thanks must go to Ferrari and Michelotto, Ferrari North America and R. Ferri Motorsport… and, of course, Miguel.

It is a good program and I enjoyed the whole year. I wanted to win a championship in North America and I’ve done it, it’s in my pocket! Next on my bucket list are victories at Daytona and Sebring…

I see a brighter future for PWC under SRO. As the season went on everything built up towards a more professional level, and it ran smoothly every race – that neutral, consistent platform being an important thing to give competitors.

I think the championship can grow and do well in the future, but I also think it’s important to keep an American flavor in its staff and rules, the show, the build-up and so on.

With the race distance being extended next year plus refueling, I would love to be able to do it all again.

Now I need to recharge a bit, and am looking forward to some time off with the family.

I hope to be racing at Petit Le Mans and that plus some prize giving, Ferrari World Finals and some F1 commentary work means I won’t have time to get bored. Bring on the 2019 season and thanks for reading my columns!

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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