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Catching Up With.... Toni Vilander

Toni Vilander has become one of the stalwarts of Ferrari’s GT program in recent years.  The Finn is partnered for the 2012 WEC with Japanese driver Kamui Kobayashi in an AF Corse F458, and it’s a car he knows very well.  In fact, he did a lot of the development testing of both the 2013 version and its predecessors.

“I’ve done some running already with this car in a few places, set up for some other championships,” he begins.  “It’s different a little bit in each series.  I did some testing, mainly before Christmas, with Michelotto, so with the team car.  It’s a car that I know. But every championship has different rules.”

This championship, though, has some of the strongest competition anywhere in the world – including the much anticipated Porsche AG team.

“This year we should see all they’ve got,” states the Finn, with a wry smile; he clearly relishes the challenge.   “Obviously, with the Porsche and all the manufacturers it’s a continuous battle with the BoP.  Everybody wants more for themselves and less for the others.  It’s a continuous battle on the political side, and proving how things can be.  They definitely have good drivers, and obviously the best knowledge of the car.  I think they are serious.  But it’s not only Porsche, I think also Aston Martin can be quite strong so it’s gonna be tight.”

Balancing the rapidly developing (loosely) road based GT cars will always be a tough job for the FIA and ACO, and they’re damned if they do, damned if they don’t. 

“I think here, we’re starting to agree, all the drivers in the class, that we’d like to have more engine,” he opines.  “This looks to be the slowest championship.  I mean, the cars are the best but laptime wise, the top speed wise, we could go back to the old school style a little bit, have a bit more power. 

Despite starting in the champion car and team combination, the Finn has some cause for complaint.  After showing good fuel economy (something that is surely to be praised in modern times!) the team were docked five litres of fuel.

“It’s always a difficult battle for us.  If the car is good on fuel economy, they take five litres.  If we keep being one of the slowest cars on the straightline, they give us an even slower rear wing.  From our side we’re always complaining, and that’s normal.

“I hope we still have the great fuel economy.  I think after some point of the season we lost five litres.  That’s a big thing, we are always penalised quite strongly.  Five litres at some tracks I don’t know if it’s two laps or three laps or whatever.  That might change a lot.”

His experience, however, means he knows that this is not the be all and end all.

“I think in this type of racing, it is not the car that is fastest over one lap who wins the races.  We try to improve all the rest of the car where we can, considering pitstop and all that stuff, and to be in the top shape when all the races are done.”

He’s joined by a man with no GT racing experience at all (after doing the same in Giancarlo Fisichella’s first season), and Vilander is ready to help; but perhaps Kamui won’t need it on the track. 

“I hope my experience is a help to Kamui.  I can see already on this first day that he’s got a lot of ideas.  He’s really committed to the work and I think he wants good results as well, and a good job.  So we go through different ideas and then we put the best package together that we can manage.  I try to help.”

The experience he brings will be more useful to Kamui off the track, with his preparation and things like driver changes – something wholly new to the Japanese.

“Maybe more than driving it is the other things; driver changes, how to do the belts and stuff like that.  Maybe with the traffic, and the longer distance maybe he’s used to one hour, one hour twenty flat out, here it’s maybe six hours, 12 hours or 24 at 70 or 80% and that’s mainly the difference.”

For now, he’s staying guarded on the potential for the season.

“I think we are a little bit… I think it’s wrong to say we’re behind, but somehow I’ve got the feeling we really need to score points in every race and keep the game open until the end and then see what happens.  The car overall is good, and Kamui has done some testing on his own, and I think for Silverstone, maybe we won’t be 100% but we should be in good shape.  Hopefully we’ll do a good race and start the season in a positive way.”