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VILANDER: Silverstone Debrief

Toni Vilander files his first Sportscar365 column after 6H Silverstone…

Photo: Ferrari Corse Clienti

Photo: Ferrari Corse Clienti

Welcome to my first column for Sportscar365. I’ll be letting you know this year what happens to our No. 51 AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia in the FIA WEC, plus a little bit more about me and my crazy life!

And I hope there will be plenty more which starts by saying… we won!

This is my ninth year with AF Corse, and Gimmi [Bruni] and I have raced together for a lot of that time. We’ve also had the same engineers and mechanics and going into a new season as champions is something which gives you pleasure but also brings a different kind of pressure.

I would rate this GTE-Pro win in the Six Hours of Silverstone as a real team victory after what was a really tough run up to race day.

Nothing seemed to be going completely in our favor in any of the practice sessions or qualifying, but no one complained and we just got our heads down and worked and worked, never doubting that we could win.

It was great to spend the off-season with the family and relax a bit, and for the last few years we’ve spent the start of the season in Florida. We really love it there with the whole family, and we escape the hard Finnish winter a bit.

Testing soon comes around but that’s when the real business of racing starts and it’s why we do this. Working with Ferrari Corse Clienti, Michelotto and AF Corse, testing went well and we felt we were well prepared for the season.

We had done the mileage planned, and had some good updates to the car; we were really confident. So we arrived in Silverstone and suddenly everything fell apart.

In first practice we were pretty good and made some small changes, but the response from the car wasn’t perfect.

In FP2 we had no power in the engine and no response in the throttle and some big doubts on the car’s settings so lost a lot of track time – I didn’t do a single lap in the session.

We knew we had to take some radical steps so we changed almost everything on the car including the engine and gearbox; the AF Corse mechanics worked so hard and had only about two hours sleep between Friday and Saturday.

On Saturday morning we dropped the car to the ground from the air jacks ready for the final one-hour practice session and one of the dampers exploded! We lost another 30 minutes of track time – which, by the way, was also wet – to fix that and it seemed like we just couldn’t get anything to go in our favor.

Qualifying was dry and, using some input and data from the No. 71 sister Ferrari, Gimmi and I did not a bad job although we couldn’t catch the Aston Martins on one-lap pace.

We still had big question marks about if we’d chosen the right setup, what would happen about tire wear, and we hadn’t been able to follow a single thing in our planned schedule. We rely on our engineers, Luca and Beppe, and the whole AF Corse crew but in the end it’s up to me and Gimmi on the track.

From the outside you’d think, “Oh, the AF Corse guys have everything under control and on Sunday they’ll have a tight battle with Porsche and Aston”, but if you were on the inside on Saturday afternoon you’d have been saying, “Where are we and what are we doing?!”

On race day Gimmi started, and we knew we needed to be aggressive to make up some ground but at the same time we were aware it was a six hour race.

Early on he was in a good position fighting for third or fourth in class when one of the LMP2 prototypes lost control and spun. To avoid it Gimmi had to go onto the grass and ended up dead last… but that’s when you know you have a strong team and a fantastic fighting spirit.

Apart from what we did in the car, it was the calls from the pit wall and the strategy under full course yellows which won it for us at Silverstone.

It wasn’t an easy race and funny things also happened during each stint – we had pace, then lost it, and then it would come back again – but there were no real problems. We’ve got plenty to analyze and look at for the future though.

The last hour was crazy and inside the car you hear every strange little noise. I was on the pit wall waiting for Gimmi to finish the race and going through all those emotions with him; having once before lost a race on the last corner of the last lap, you can’t feel any relief until you see the checkered flag. It feels really good when you see that being waved.

It was the best way to start the season, and those 25 points are really valuable, but we need to improve and work on some areas. Racing never stops, even off the track, and that’s just what I like!

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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