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Toni Vilander files his latest Sportscar365 column after VIR…

Photo: Scott LePage/IMSA

To finish first, first you have to finish…well, in this case, to finish 3rd but it was very, very good to be standing on the podium in VIR at the weekend – our first full race distance in IMSA since Sebring!

As you all know we’ve had a bit of a break since Le Mans and we had to work hard to get back into the rhythm of the competition as the level is so high.

Everyone on the team was extra motivated to be back and we were all looking forward to the race. There’s been nearly five months since we saw a checkered flag so it was a relief to break out from what has been a tough period for the team.

The Ferrari 488 GTE was handling pretty well out of trailer and both Giancarlo and I got back into it quite nicely during the practice sessions. The team has had some great results from VIR over the last five years, winning twice and 2 more podiums and we all really like the GTLM/GTD only format.

It’s a really tricky track where it’s easy to make a mistake, but actually there’s no margin for error when it’s just GT cars. There’s no time to back off, or space to make any errors, so mentally it was more challenging. You have a small amount of time to figure out lots of things, but results like this give everyone at Risi Competizione lots of motivation and confidence.

As we have been quite a few times, we were fastest in FP3, but then found that our competitors have more pace in their cars in qualifying than we do.

In Virginia, most of the time it was full throttle and we’re strong in corners so we were able to keep up at the sharp end. P4 wasn’t a bad place to qualify and we knew that we had a good strategy so were quietly confident.

To be able to dominate or win races though we need a little bit more power, but we are in a lot better situation than the beginning of last year so at least we can compete.

In the race, it all kicked off from turn one on the first lap and we knew we needed to push like hell. Giancarlo was really on it and did a great job the whole weekend, and he kept us in the mix to the first pit stops despite a little contact with the No. 24 BMW which dropped us back a few places.

This kind of race distance is quite on the edge for everyone for fuel strategy, and in our pre-race debrief it was on the limit as to how many laps we could do in the first stint. During the race we got confirmation it was all good and we came in after 30 laps – same as many of our competitors.

The Risi Comp boys did a really good pit stop – a REALLY good pit stop – and I came back out in P2. I had a good but tough fight with Dirk Mueller’s Ford and one of the Corvettes, and we all kept it clean.

I managed to get into the lead in my stint and we knew the final stint of the 2 hour 40 minute race was going to be crucial.

We were obviously aiming for the win, and it was looking good but unfortunately Giancarlo had a little misunderstanding going into a corner with a GTD and to avoid contact he changed line and lost some places. That dropped us down to 6th but it’s never over until it’s over and there was quite a lot of action in the last part of the race.

Giancarlo fought back and then we benefited from the clash between the Ford and Corvette and got a podium finish after all. I’m happy to finish P3 but there’s just a little bitter taste, so at the next few races we will try to improve and win.

A huge thank you to all the team sponsors and everyone at Risi for the weekend. This team is an important part of the IMSA competition and Ferrari needs to help all of us find the right way to go on representing them in North America.

Risi is of course based in Houston and we were all thinking a lot over the weekend about families and friends back there, hoping everyone’s safe.

Mr Risi was back home taking care of his Ferrari dealerships and I hope everything’s fine and that things improve in the coming days. The boys aren’t going to be able to get home for a couple of days – the power of nature is what it is but at least they’ve got some good memories from VIR to take with them.

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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