This week in the Pirelli Paddock Pass, R. Ferri Motorsport team manager Enrico Diano looks back on a succesful season for the team that saw Toni Vilander win the Overall GT championship and team with Miguel Molina to claim the SprintX crown.
At what point in the year last year did you realize something special may be happening?
“With everything we put together at the beginning of the season in terms of driver lineup, engineer, and team in general, we had a pretty good sensation.
“Of course, with the way St. Petersburg went, that was a bit of a stick in the wheels in terms of momentum for the first weekend, but I think we made up for it after a big effort from the mechanics between St. Pete and COTA, where we picked up both wins.
“That definitely made up for St. Pete and had us looking forward again. The mechanics did a great job putting the car back together because it was some serious repairs that had to happen.
“Toni got the St. Pete bug out of his system and Miguel proved to be a valued teammate and driver within the team.
“We definitely had high expectations from Day 1, and that only increased after the races at COTA.”
Were you expecting Toni and Miguel to form such a tight bond?
“Looking forward to the season that’s what you hope for. I wouldn’t say I was surprised, but I was glad that it worked out. They had a very good working relationship and away from the track, socially, and even in debriefs.
“Toni took the role of the old, wise driver and Miguel was the younger one. I wouldn’t say green, but definitely new to the North American circuits and the championship and team.
“It was more of an entertaining twist to their relationship because Toni all of a sudden, not even 40, is being called the old man and Miguel is the kid.
“That set the tone for the season so that was good entertainment between sessions and between weekends.”
What were the challenges having drivers that did not have previous experience in PWC?
“The new tire and the sprint format were new for Toni. It’s not that he hadn’t done sprint races before, but it had been awhile.
“Definitely with the 488 on street courses and things like that he had to do some internal reprogramming on his approach to the weekend and each session, what to look for in the car, what things were important, and what could be left as a secondary concern.
“That was a bit of a hurdle for him, and Miguel had his lack of knowledge of the North American circuits as his hurdle, although he did know the Pirelli tire from previous seasons in the Blancpain championship.
“In that regard it was an easy fit in the car because he knew what to expect of the tire behavior. They filled in for each other’s lack of knowledge or experience at that point in time.
“Toni would help with learning the tracks, the nuances of different turns, and Miguel would provide a bit of an experienced viewpoint in regards to the behavior of the tire.
“Things like: is this behavior normal for this tire or is it strange? If Toni would report something strange with the tire, Miguel could come up and say that’s just how they are.
“We as a team had a good reference from each of them to make sure we weren’t going down the wrong path following misinformation or a hunch that could have been wrong.”
How special was it to deliver the championships to team owner Remo Ferri given how much he’s put into the sport?
“It’s the ideal result for us. Remo is quite heavily invested into our GT racing programs since 2013.
“We’ve had a lot of great results over the years, some wins, poles, things like that, but never the ultimate goal of the overall championship until this year.
“I know he treasures greatly, although he’s a man of few words and he contains his emotions, I could tell it means a lot to him. He’s very proud.
“He has all the trophies lined up in his office so they’re the first thing he sees every day when he walks in and the first thing people see when they go in for meetings. He speaks about it in high regard. It’s a bit of a fairytale season for us.”
What can you tell us about your 2019 plans?
“It’s pretty good for this time of year. Officially nothing is confirmed, but we are looking to come back to defend the championship.
“Beyond that, I can’t say much else because it hasn’t been defined yet. We’re waiting to see the rules package and the fine details related to that and we’re waiting for driver availability information from Ferrari because we’re still going to push for a Pro lineup with factory drivers.
“Really that’s where we are, which is good for this time of year.”