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VILANDER: Two for Two in COTA

Toni Vilander files his latest Sportscar365 column following a weekend sweep in COTA…

Photo: Brian Cleary/PWC

It was really nice to be back at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, a track I know quite well from racing there with IMSA and WEC, and I think you could say I’m starting to find my feet in Pirelli World Challenge!

Two wins from two races was a good result in anyone’s books, and I’m really happy for Remo Ferri’s whole team.

After the shunt in St. Pete’s the team had a lot to do and the turnaround schedule was pretty tight. The Ferrari went back to the team’s base in Toronto and from Tuesday to Sunday the guys worked 18 hours a day.

The damage was less than initially thought but still quite a lot had to be replaced. All credit to the team as everything went really well and the car was great straight off the trailer.

The SprintX format calls for a second driver and Miguel Molina joined us for this race. I’d never driven with him before but he’s a really relaxed, laid back guy who was very easy to get along with. I’m a bit more fire and thunder than normal Finns, and Miguel was very even tempered so we were a good match.

As we have mandatory pit stops in the SprintX races, Risi Competizione’s crew chief Mark Sims was drafted in to help us.

During the race you need to change drivers and tires so he was there to give the team the benefit of his know-how and be part of the crew. He was a good add to the team this last weekend.

The format for the weekends includes two shortish practice sessions on Thursday but, as our engineer Roberto Capotosto from Michelotto didn’t get in until that evening, we just did a shake down and a few laps each. We saved the fine tuning for Friday.

With all championships, and all race cars, a big part of the secret to fast laps is learning and understanding how to get the best from your tires. How to use them for one flying lap and how to manage tire wear over a race distance is crucial, and we are lucky that the Ferrari is a well-balanced car and we have good knowledge about how to use the Pirelli tires.

Even with that understanding, we changed the car all the time to try and get it working perfectly, including taking some quite big steps on set up to see how everything reacted in race ‘mode’. We could see that some of our competitors were also struggling with grip and tire life – COTA is quite aggressive on tire wear.

The track surface has also got very bumpy in places and I think some areas will have to be replaced before MotoGP and F1 race there again. All the bumps are really aggressive with sharp changes of height which upsets the car in braking and high-speed corners, the sort that could rattle your teeth at super high speeds.

Turn 1 at COTA is at the top of a hill and into a corner which can get messy but we survived it which was a key moment. I started Race 1 on Saturday and Miguel Race 2 on Sunday and both times it worked out fine and we gained a place.

We weren’t the absolute fastest over a lap but we were always up there and our pit stops made the difference.

There is a minimum pit stop window of 77 seconds and when we pitted in Race 1 from 2nd, our stop took 77.3 s!

The leading Merc’s stop wasn’t quite as quick and we overtook them in the pit lane. Miguel then pulled out a small gap and we took the first win for R Ferri Motorsport since 2015 which was a great result.

Race 2 went just as well although it was a bit closer than Saturday, to make a two from two in PWC GT wins.

Team boss Remo has had a tough time recently as he recently lost both his brother and father so he was very much in our thoughts all weekend.

When we spoke to him on the phone on Sunday you could hear that he was very emotional about this win and hopefully we can give him more positive thoughts and victories as the season goes on. Remo, we are all with you.

Next week I’m back on F1 commentary duties for Finnish TV for the Bahrain Grand Prix and then the week that I’m back in the USA for the single Long Beach race which is one of my favorite street tracks to visit. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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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