Toni Vilander says he is looking to accomplish his goal of winning a major North American sports car championship in his Pirelli World Challenge debut with R.Ferri Motorsport.
The Finn was recently announced as the team’s full-season driver in the series and is set to be joined by a currently unconfirmed teammate for the SprintX races.
It will be the first time in PWC and long-awaited return to sprint racing for the 2014 FIA World Endurance Championship GTE-Pro champion.
He has driven for Risi Competizione in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship over the last two seasons but, for several reasons including the team skipping four races last season, hasn’t had the success he has hoped for.
“One of the [goals] in my career is to win a major championship in the U.S.,” Vilander told Sportscar365.
“There have been seasons when we’ve started really well and seasons where we’ve started not so well and kept climbing up over the year, and then there have been seasons when we don’t do all the races.
“It’s been a rollercoaster experience and there have always been moments of real performance but having the platform and being able to do it for the full season, there’s no hiding that I’m still lacking that.
“I would like to do a high-level full season and do that really well.”
It will be Vilander’s third consecutive season with a substantial North American program after making the full-time switch from WEC in 2016.
As a result, he is familiar with almost the entire PWC calendar from his time in the WeatherTech Championship, something he thinks will give him an advantage over other European drivers in the series.
“There’s a big [difference] between the tracks in the U.S. and in Europe, and also, the tracks are really demanding, driver-wise,” he said.
“In one race weekend, you learn all the secrets with the racing line and then with the evolution of the racetrack during the weekend, at one time it’s better to stay on the outside and the next time it’s better to go all the way inside.
“There are two racetracks that I don’t know, which are the first one (St. Pete) and Portland. All the others, I’ve been to Salt Lake, I’ve been to the other tracks. It should be fine.”
Vilander is also looking forward to the single-driver format of the PWC Sprint races which allows for more a personalized setup.
“In Pirelli World Challenge, I can really set up the car for myself so I’m looking forward to that,” he said. “It’s a nice feeling to be 100 percent working for myself, at least for the races where I’m alone.
“There should be good support from Ferrari and technical staff coming over, so we should have the knowhow and the right tools to perform well, but in the end it’s up to me.”
Vilander Positive About AF Corse Switch for 24H Le Mans
Vilander has also been announced as the nominated driver in AF Corse’s third Ferrari 488 GTE at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, a change for the Risi regular.
He is set to drive the team’s No. 52 car, which is an extra entry for Le Mans alongside its two full-season cars.
“In the past, we had two AF Corse cars and the Risi car, working really closely,” the two-time Le Mans class winner explained. “We were in a separate pit garage but there was complete transparency on the details.
“We already had three cars in other years but this time, it’s the same team, and same organization and it’s good to see Ferrari and AF Corse responding to the fashion in the category. Brands are coming out with three or four cars.”
He is currently nominated in the third Ferrari but admits this isn’t 100 percent confirmed, suggesting he could become the third driver in one of the team’s full-season entries.
“At the moment, I’m nominated in the third car but there are still some things to decide and it’s all up to the bosses to see how they can mix up everything perfectly,” he said.
“They need to think about the WEC program and to score the most points and have the best lineup there, but at the same time taking the responsibility for the third car.
“They also need to see that car performs well so there are a lot of things to put into the right place but at the moment, I’m in the third car and it looks like I’ll be there when the race starts.”
John Dagys contributed to this report