Toni Vilander says that it was relieving to clinch the Blancpain GT World Challenge America drivers’ title ahead of the season finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
The R. Ferri Motorsport driver came away from the previous weekend at Road America with an insurmountable 54-point lead over K-PAX Racing’s Alvaro Parente and Andy Soucek, leaving him clear for the new event at the Vegas roval.
While R. Ferri and Ferrari are still fighting the K-PAX and Bentley organizations for the teams’ and manufacturers’ crowns, Vilander told Sportscar365 that wrapping up the drivers’ title ahead of time took a weight off his chest.
“It’s a relief, on a personal side, to come to the last weekend and not be afraid [of losing the title],” said the two-time champion.
“The gap would have been big, but you never know the technical side or contact may happen, so at least on that side, everything is settled.
“As a general feeling, it’s awesome to come to a weekend where the drivers’ side of the championship is decided, but at the same time, there are still the manufacturers’ and the teams’ where we’re doing well.”
Vilander admitted that he was surprised not to receive a greater season-long challenge from the teams running new-for-2019 Bentley and Porsche machinery.
The Finn shared R. Ferri’s slightly older Ferrari 488 GT3 with Miguel Molina for all rounds except VIR and Road America, which saw Daniel Serra step into the lineup.
“Porsche came out with a new car and we were afraid,” said Vilander.
“Honestly, I don’t know why they haven’t been strong in the US. They were strong in the Spa 24 Hours, they won with the old car at Bathurst. [Matt] Campbell is really fast and was on pole in Sonoma.
“Bentley is the same thing. They have a lot of effort, a lot of budget and a big team. I think it got under their skin that we managed to win again with a six or eight guy crew against their two-car effort.
“I think, wherever you go racing, there are always tough battles, even if there is not a 30-car field. The fighting is always fierce at the top.
“These same drivers, when they go to IMSA, are also the fastest guys in the races over there. So nothing comes easy here.”
At the start of the season, Vilander anticipated 2019 to be a tougher season than 2018, which saw him win the drivers’ title with Molina.
“We went into the first race and we didn’t do a single day of testing,” he said. “Our car was just standing in the workshop and we pulled it out for the race.
“I was not supposed to race in the beginning here, but Remo [Ferri, team owner] had phone calls with me and Ferrari, and we decided to go for another year.
“In the end, it was a good decision and we made good progress. We have more or less had more performance with the same BoP when we go to the same tracks 12 months after.
“For us, as a team, the [timed] pit stops and the refueling presented a new element. A lot of guys in our crew hadn’t done things like that.
“We worked through the season, maybe struggling with it a bit at the start of the year, but we managed to squeeze out some decent ones, and then by the end, we had some really good ones.
“But even last year we were doing a lot of victories under pit stops. We would come in P2 or P3 but would then jump cars.
“This year has been completely the same story. It’s been a good run.”