Factory Ferrari GT pilot Toni Vilander will join Mika Salo in the McDonald’s supported Ferrari 458 GT3 next February 5-7, giving the Melbourne-based Maranello Motorsport even better odds at returning to the top of the Mount Panorama podium.
Maranello Motorsport won the race in 2014 to give Ferrari their first major enduro win on the Mountain – but were cruelly denied a chance to defend their victory this year when the car was damaged beyond immediate repair in a heavy Friday practice crash.
35-year-old Vilander is one of the famous Italian brands’ top pilots and races for the AF Corse squad in the FIA World Endurance Championship and the Le Mans 24 Hours.
Vilander has two GTE-Pro class victories to his credit in the annual French enduro classic and was also crowned World Champion in the class in 2014.
2016 will mark Vilander’s second start at the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour, having made his debut this year driving with Malaysian outfit Clearwater Racing.
On his first visit to the demanding 6.213km Mount Panorama circuit, Vilander qualified the Clearwater entry sixth in the 15-minute Class A qualifying shootout, less than one second from the front row of the grid, before going on to finish the race one lap behind the winner in eighth.
“I am very excited to be returning to Bathurst next year and I am looking forward to working with the Maranello Motorsport team,” Vilander said.
“I enjoyed my first visit to Australia this year and the chance to drive at Mount Panorama was unforgettable. The circuit is very challenging and the heat make it a very difficult and tough race and from a drivers perspective it is very satisfying.
“Maranello Motorsport have a great record at Bathurst and I am looking forward to returning to Bathurst and sharing the car with Mika. We should have a strong team.”
Maranello Motorsport team principal/owner Mark Coffey said he was excited to put the pieces in place to launch another attack on a Bathurst victory.
“It’s great to be able to confirm Toni will join Mika in the McDonald’s Ferrari 458 GT3,” he said.
“Toni is a factory Ferrari driver and extremely highly rated by the factory. His successes internationally show how strong he is and we’re proud as a team to have been able to attract two extremely high profile international drivers like Toni and Mika.
“It’s great for the event that the world’s very best Sportscar and GT drivers continue to make the effort to compete. It’s going to be quite a show.
“We’re not far away from putting the final pieces of our puzzle in place and confirming our full team for Bathurst. We’re confident it’s going to be one that has the best possible shot at winning.”
The team will confirm their third driver within the next few weeks.