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VILANDER: Shanghai Debrief

Toni Vilander files his latest Sportscar365 column following Shanghai…

Photo: Vincent Wouters

Photo: Vincent Wouters

We’ve always said at AF Corse that a championship is not lost in one single race.

In Shanghai we didn’t lose it but it wasn’t a great result as far as the points’ standings are concerned, although the result would normally be considered good in the conditions we had last weekend.

Last year we did 10 corners and this year we finished second so compared to 2014 it’s not bad! Congrats to Richard Lietz and Michael Christensen who, with Porsche, had a really strong race.

Our weather forecast showed one hour of rain and we were planning to go onto slicks as quickly as possible but the rain just kept going and going.

It was really difficult, but we won in Fuji, got pole and came second in Shanghai so we should be happy with a great performance from the No. 51 car and crew.

Having said that, you can feel there’s slight disappointment because we wanted to finish the last three races of the season with three wins in Fuji, Shanghai and Bahrain.

It’s very close in the Manufacturers Championship now, which is important for Ferrari, but the drivers’ is almost done… but that doesn’t mean we give up.

We have bounced back after our misfortunes in the first half of the season, got to grips with everything and I’m happy for that – giving up is not in our DNA!

We didn’t adjust our settings on the car for the wet weather because quite simply we thought there wouldn’t be much rain. I jumped into the car and had a strong start but afterwards had no grip at all.

Porsche got closer and closer, building their speed, and then they were flying. The full course yellows and safety car period – which surprised me because we were expecting a FCY – didn’t help because our tire pressures went down and we could never build them back up again so that was when I struggled the most.

We tried to bounce back with a new set of tires but even then the pace wasn’t enough against the Porsche.

The qualifying format with both of us involved makes such a huge difference to Saturday and, even if people [drivers] say they’re not interested in qualifying, it’s not true.

You want to always perform at your best and there’s pressure inside and outside the team. Our No. 71 guys, James and Davide, are doing a good job and always there.

It’s down to really small margins, 0.01 or 0.02 of a second, between drivers so Saturday was a great day. It’s always a good job when you come into the pitlane and the engineer says “P1, good job!”

I was thinking recently about the internal competition between our two cars. I’ve been with the team for 9 or 10 years now and had many different teammates with Gimmi or in the other car, some you click with better than others, and some you perhaps respect more than others.

I really liked Kamui [Kobayashi] as a team mate and also get along really well James and Davide. They are young and hungry and want to beat us but that’s fine – I’m happy with that as long as we race cleanly and there’s no crazy behaviour. With them there’s maximum respect and they do a good job.

Looking ahead now to Bahrain, I’ve had three wins there. First with Giancarlo Fisichella in 2012 and then with Gimmi in the last two years. It’s difficult to do four in a row!

Somehow in Bahrain you start the weekend and are never happy with the car, we’re always scratching our heads in practice about the set up – left or right, high or low, soft or hard – but then it comes to life in the race.

It’s a really nice track and I like that we race into total darkness which makes for a special atmosphere. It’s also cooler in the evening which is always a bonus there! We can’t wait to see what happens.

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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