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VILANDER: Watkins Glen Debrief

Toni Vilander files his latest Sportscar365 column following The Glen…

Photo: Risi Competizione

Photo: Risi Competizione

So here we are on the road now to Canada, and starting to get fully back into the rhythm of our North American races.

Watkins Glen was a really great place to race, and it’s just a shame that we didn’t get the results we felt should have been possible. I think we should have been fifth but in the end were sixth – good points but not as many as we would have liked.

The racing was really good and the Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE had a well-balanced set up and handled well, but there’s just a huge gap in straight line speed between the Fords and BMWs and everybody else.

Where the Risi guys usually manage to make up some time and places is in the pits, with very fast and slick pit work, but at Watkins Glen we had a refuelling issue which meant we lost between five to seven seconds each stop as the fuel took too long to go in.

In a two-hour, 45-minute race this might not matter too much, but for a six hour race…We’d fight our way up to fourth or fifth and then just fall back again after each stop.

The WGI track is awesome, but it was quite a physical race. The new track surface apparently saw lap times of two or three seconds faster than previously, and with just two drivers and quite hot temperatures, it was a hard work out. 

Put it this way, I slept a lot in the car on the way to Canada!  Giancarlo was fighting flu when he arrived in the USA but did a great job and we both drove for about three hours each in the race. 

It was a long race on race day with an early warm up, media and PR work, and then a reasonably early race start. By the time we’d finished, got something to eat and then a few drinks with the boys, it felt like I’d done another Le Mans.

Qualifying was, just like at Laguna Seca, quite difficult. We’d had a good Free Practice 3 session but, six hours later in qualifying, it felt like the balance was completely off and the handling felt different to all the other sessions. We had a meeting about it and will work it out, but it was a bit frustrating. 

As far as our competition is concerned, the BMWs are fast but struggle a bit over a stint, whereas the Fords look really strong the whole time. They have a good all round package so fair play to them but politically I think we need to have a BoP change to shake it up a bit.

The Fords have now won the last two races and Le Mans and if we were given another 3-5 mph in speed I would be quite happy. 

As it stands at the moment our restarts after a yellow are awful and we are passed on both sides – left standing. You don’t want to lose positions so there’s some pretty close racing at these times, and towards the end of the race the aggression level can become quite a bit higher.

With only a week between Watkins Glen and Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, we decided to stay all together and Giancarlo and I are having a few days in Toronto before heading to CTMP on Thursday. 

We’ll have some nice food, do some exercise, and see some friends, and it’ll soon be time to get back on track. 

CTMP is a great track, with high speed corners and elevation changes – a bit like a smaller version of Spa or even Mugello in Italy. 

We are really happy with the car, and I know the team will get to the bottom of the refuelling problem, but I think it’s going to be tough there, especially with the long straight uphill where our lack of speed will hold us back. 

Having said that, the one thing we all know for sure is that you never know what’s going to happen in racing, so wish us luck.  See you on the other side of CTMP.

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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