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VILANDER: Spa Debrief

Toni Vilander files his latest Sportscar365 column following Spa…

Photo: Ferrari Media

Photo: Ferrari Media

So after two races in the WEC season we have the same points as last year, but this year we won Silverstone and were fourth here and last year it was the other way round.

It’s a big disappointment to finish like that, when a win was definitely possible, but there’s a lot to take from the weekend…or so I have to remind myself!

We lost precious track time on the first day – same as everybody – because it was wet for both practice sessions so we had a few things to optimize on the race strategy. I was really happy the race was dry, because our Ferrari felt really nice at high speed.

We had some issues on sector 2 where it is medium speed and the Porsches and Aston Martins were quite fast, but we were confident enough to be able to challenge with the car/drivers/team/strategy all put together.

Spa is a very nice track and I really like it but sometimes I don’t have a super pace there. This year I had happy moments – Eau Rouge and Blanchimont flat for example…on the telemetry there are no scary peaks on the throttle, instead it’s flat 100 percent and that’s fun to see! I also think I did my personal best with the GTE car and had pretty good pace all round.

My happy moments are easier to see than some other Finnish people’s because I smile a lot when I’m happy!

For qualifying we decided to do it a bit differently and give Gimmi the option of going in the car twice. He started but wasn’t really happy with his lap times; I had one shot and my lap was pretty good and then Gimmi got back in.

I would have needed to go one tenth or 14 hundredths better to beat the Aston Martin because then Gimmi did a 2:16.4 lap time which was super-fast. We still don’t have the fastest car on the track but we have Gianmaria Bruni – I try to follow him as well as I can but I think we have the Gimmi Bruni BoP on the car!

I really like the format of both drivers being involved for qualifying because otherwise Saturday would be awkward for the second driver. Now we’re both involved and it’s an adrenaline day with a light (less fuel) car, new tires for both of us this year – another good new change – and a one lap ‘dash’.

For the race, well you probably know what happened. But, even without the stop/go plus 60-second penalty which took away the chance of a win, we’d already had a wheel nut issue in the pit stop which delayed us for 10-11 seconds and gave Aston Martin back the lead.

For Le Mans it won’t happen again as we have different wheel nuts but for other WEC races we need to analyze this and improve.

It’s really unfortunate as the car was performing well: you do four pit stops with no problem and then you go to the one where it really matters and BOOM, it’s too slow AND you get a penalty.

In the end 4th place is going to be important at the end of the season. I’m happy we pushed all the way and didn’t go conservative, even after the penalty which we’re not complaining about because rules are rules. I said I wouldn’t talk about the regulations on my blog…

I already talked about track limits after Silverstone with Mr. Freitas, our Race Director, and said we need to find a solution not just for us drivers but also the fans, people following us who want pure racing and sport.

We know the rules but, if today I went to analyze laps of every car, they would each get penalties so it’s very difficult. As drivers we try to take the maximum out of a track and each lap we need to push to the limit.

If you’re in a GT car and a prototype goes past you it takes away your clean air and you can’t push the brake pedal in Eau Rouge or Blanchimont or you’d spin. If you’re in 6th gear and doing 250kph, you can’t push on the brake pedal so I think it needs a common sense approach.

We didn’t get a penalty at Spa for abuse of track limits but some of our opponents did so sorry for them. In the future we need to find a solution to avoid these penalties because we need pure racing which is what the WEC is famous and well liked for.

The next few weeks will go quickly in the run up to Le Mans. I’ll be testing this week at Paul Ricard – I’ll do half a day and Giancarlo Fisichella, who’s joining me and Gimmi again for Le Mans, will do the other half. It’s not really an endurance test, just one day to test our Le Mans package to see how it’s running.

I won’t be in Barcelona but will be in Monaco for the Grand Prix to present for Finnish TV. Then I’ll stay there for another four days for a pre-Le Mans fitness camp and go straight to Le Mans for the test weekend.

It’s going to be an epic race I think and, man, those LMP1s are really fast! Neither of us had any problems with them at Spa, although Gimmi had an issue with an LMP2 car running our pace and couldn’t get past him…he was going quite wild on the radio!

Hopefully we can all keep the same calmness and clear head when we come to Le Mans and we all start entering the Porsche curves. We need some patience from their side…and of course some luck for all of us.

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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