For Toni Vilander, last weekend’s FIA WEC Six Hours of Bahrain was meant to be his final race of the year.
But with his AF Corse teammate Gianmaria Bruni winning the GTE-Pro Drivers’ Cup, and needing to be in Paris for the FIA Gala, the Finn has filled the shoes, and firesuit, of his friend for this weekend’s Asian Le Mans Series season finale in Sepang.
“We were testing in Bahrain after the race when I got the call,” Vilander told Sportscar365. “I think the FIA informed Ferrari and Gimmi that he needed to attend the Prize Giving ceremony.
“They were wondering what they were going to do. I called home and within a couple of hours we decided that instead of going back to Europe, I would take another direction.”
Vilander has joined GT Asia squad Clearwater Racing, which makes its Asian LMS debut in Sunday’s Three Hours of Sepang.
The Malaysian-based team, which recently won the Malaysia Merdeka Endurance Race (MMER) held at the 3.444-mile Sepang circuit, heads in as one of the favorites for GTC honors with its Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 car.
“So far it’s been a good experience,” said Vilander, who will share driving duties with Mok Weng Sun. “Yesterday I was a little bit surprised by the speed. I think I did a relatively good time. Today we concentrated on race [setup].”
Vilander was also quick to praise the team, which includes a mix of new and familiar faces, including his engineer from the WEC.
“It’s a good bunch of people,” he said. “The local guys are very professional. Everything is organized in perfection. The only problem is that the overalls are written ‘Bruni’!”
The Ferrari factory driver is hopeful of additional outings in Asia, and has already eyed tackling the MMER in the future, although unlikely to be next year due to a clash with the WEC.
“Already with the experience I got here, I hope to be here in the future,” Vilander said. “I’ve heard a lot about the 12-hour Merdeka race. Unfortunately it looks like it clashes with Sao Paulo [WEC] race.
“But there are a lot of these legendary races, so it would be nice to try and organize that there are no clashes.
“The works drivers are going to travel around the different championships and help the national championships and customer teams.”
Clearwater is one of six entries set to compete in GTC category this weekend, including a two-car Aston Martin effort from Craft Racing, which topped the time charts in practice on Friday.