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VILANDER: Nürburgring Debrief

Toni Vilander files his latest column for Sportscar365…

Photo: Vision Sport Agency

First of all, I was very happy to be at the Nürburgring at the weekend, and happy to have Ferrari’s trust in me, putting me in quite an important seat as far as the FIA World Endurance GT Championship is concerned.

It’s been interesting to see the changes since I was last in the WEC in 2015: the rules on tires for example, as well as in the whole Ferrari organization. That has changed a little bit, with some new people, new procedures, lots of new, on a daily basis.

It was interesting to jump in, obviously to try and do my best, but also to observe how things worked and to fit into the driver line up the best way I could.

There have been some little ups and downs over the last few months, as you might know.

Risi Competizione started the season in the U.S. really strong, and really positive. We were leading Daytona until the last hour, and finished P3; at Sebring we were 4th until the last hour and then finished P3, so that was all positive.

Going to Long Beach we thought we were going to struggle with the pace but I qualified P3 (that place again!) and then got into the lead at the start. Unfortunately, I made a small mistake and clashed with Ed Brown’s LMP2 car and that race was done much too early.

For the team’s home race in Austin we had good pace and Giancarlo qualified really nicely in P2 but on the first corner of the first lap there was a big accident with many cars involved and we were caught up as an innocent part of that. Our race was done again and I thought “what the hell is happening here?”.

I thought this must be a sign for Le Mans, meaning it must be our time, and that we were due for a strong race.

We didn’t have the easiest preparation but we were there in the mix with the others. I did a double stint, so did Giancarlo, we were between P5 and P7 and then in Pierre’s second stint he was tagged by an LMP2 car and our race was done again after a huge accident.

We got the news just after Le Mans that Risi would miss a few IMSA races and, while I wasn’t depressed, it was a great disappointment.

Knowing the team so well, and all the effort and hard work which went into the first half of the year, especially Le Mans, and suddenly you’re not on the grid any more, that’s disappointing.

At least now it looks as though we’ll do the last few races of the season which I’m really happy about, and it changes the perspective as well. Let’s see when it’s confirmed, but it strongly looks like we’ll be part of the championship in the USA for the last 2-3 races.

Coming back to Nürburgring, obviously I know the drivers and actually I started in GT racing with Alessandro Pier Guidi in 2005 – we were teammates in Italian GT and won the championship so actually I have known Ale for longer than any of the others out there.

Davide is the nicest guy out there, and James is a great professional and already a part of Ferrari.

It’s funny…you see these ‘new’ guys around and already they’ve been racing with Ferrari for 3, 4 or 5 years so aren’t so new after all.

I was happy with my pace at the weekend, and my qualifying could have been divided in two – first part really good and the second part I was sleeping a little bit!

The level and speed was quite impressive, with all the teams and cars pushing hard. I was happy to see that everyone was on it, and there was no hiding, we were all going flat out.

Four sets of tires for 6 hours, including qualifying, was quite a challenge and it changes your race strategy quite a lot as you’re forced to double stint tires.

We started P5 and it was still a bit damp on the track after rain in the morning and Davide had some action on the track in the opening laps. We lost a few places but he was keeping a good pace and doing an excellent job.

My first stint was a bit difficult and there was some margin to improve my driving.

Coming into a championship where the other drivers are already at the half way point is quite difficult but I tried to adapt to the car as best I could.

My second stint was better, on fresh tires, and I felt better in the car but, unfortunately, we had some technical issues with the gearbox compressor. The messages from the paddle shift weren’t going to the places they needed to go and both times Davide was in the car we had some problems and lost a couple of laps for repairs…actually may be was Davide who broke the car (laughs).

The nature of the WEC races have changed a bit and the limited sets of tires changes quite a bit how you approach the race. I’ve still got some mixed feelings about those rules, but I think we could have had a really good result if it wasn’t for the technical problems.

We had the pace and the No. 51 car showed what was possible with the GTE Pro victory – congrats to James and Alessandro. They executed the perfect race and it was Ale’s first WEC win.

I really wanted a podium finish for Davide [and the championship] but we’ll see what happens from here. My next race is the Spa 24 Hours with Ferrari and then a little time off with the family. It could be worse!

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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