Toni Vilander made his Pirelli World Challenge debut this year in an effort to win races and the GT championships, and the two-time 24 Hours of Le Mans class winner accomplished both of his goals.
The Finn established himself immediately with a pole position in the GT season opener in the streets of St. Petersburg before going on to score six wins, alongside Miguel Molina in SprintX competition, five runner-up finishes, five additional top-fives and three poles in the No. 61 R. Ferri Motorsport Ferrari 488 GT3.
While winning both the GT Overall and GT SprintX titles, Vilander just missed out on the GT Sprint championship to Scott Hargrove.
“We really enjoyed the GT SprintX format this year with six wins,” said Vilander. “I qualified the car at every race this year and we scored three poles. But for some reason, we struggled a bit in the GT Sprint races. We have had strong race cars, but, like today at Watkins Glen, I just couldn’t overtake. From that side, it was a bit frustrating.
“My kiss with the wall at St. Petersburg hurt in the GT Sprint points this year. And Daniel (Mancinelli) overtaking me at Long Beach also hurt in points. Those things add up throughout the season. But, overall, it was great season with the GT Overall and GT SprintX championships.
“And Ferrari won the GT Manufacturers’ title and that is big. The Ferrari guys in Italy have been following us too. I get messages in the middle of the night even with the time difference. That is great for R. Ferri and I want more Ferrari involvement in North America in the future because the racing is just great here.
“I have done a lot of championships and I want to keep racing here. There are a lot of great drivers here and with a lot of big victories.”
Hargrove, Fuentes, Bacarella Score Class Titles
Hargrove made a splash in his PWC rookie season in the Sprint season-opener at St. Petersburg with a sweep of the weekend, before going onto place second in the Overall GT championship in his No. 96 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R.
Michael Christensen in the No. 24 Alegra Motorsports Porsche, ranked third in both GT Overall and GT Sprint, also with two wins over the course of the year.
“I can’t say enough about my team,” said Hargrove. “To come into a tough series like the Pirelli World Challenge and win the GT Sprint championship says so much about them. And we led the GT Overall points for the majority of the year. I just take my hat off to them for their efforts and professional operation.
“I didn’t know what to expect entering the year, but I would like to be the leading Porsche. And we were able to do that.
“Of course, we started off the season with a bang and two wins at St. Pete. That changed our goals then. So being the top Porsche team is something I’ll cherish.”
2016 GTA champion Martin Fuentes returned as GTA titleholder this year in his No. 07 Squadra Corse Italia Ferrari 488 GT3 with four class wins. Fuentes also teamed with Caesar Bacarella to win the GT SprintX Am-Am championship.
“It was an awesome season for our Squadra Corse Italia Ferrari team,” said Fuentes.
“First winning the GT SprintX Am-Am class title with Caesar was just great and then to capture the GTA Sprint championship again is a tremendous feeling. I couldn’t ask for more than to take home two championships this year. I want to thank our team as well as Ferrari for all of the assistance in 2018.”
Ferrari took its first GT manufacturers’ title in PWC history, edging out Porsche by five points.
In the GT Sprint teams’ championship, K-PAX Racing scored top honors with 188 points to Pfaff’s 181, R. Ferri’s 172 and Alegra’s 166.