After a fierce battle and a well-deserved third place finish in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GT Le Mans class in the 55th Rolex 24 At Daytona, Risi Competizione’s flying Finn Toni Vilander might have deserved a break. The week following the Rolex, however, he flew across the globe to visit New South Wales, Australia – where he competed in and won the Bathurst 12 Hour race on the demanding Mount Panorama circuit.
Vilander competed for Maranello Motorsports, joining a pair of Virgin Australia Supercars Championship stars – Australians Craig Lowndes and Jamie Whincup – in the No. 88 Ferrari 488 GT3.
“This is really awesome, behind the victories there’s always a lot of hard work – all these guys on the team are great – and I was honored to be a part of this race,” Vilander said shortly after the checkered flag. “We hardly made any changes to the car since taking it off the trailer. We were confident in what we had, and this was the result.”
After Vilander put the car on pole in a top 10 shootout-style final qualifying session, the race got underway at 1:45 p.m. ET on Saturday (5:45 a.m. local time Sunday morning). Vilander started the race and put in a solid stint as the sun rose over the horizon before handing off to his teammates. He got in the car again later that afternoon and during the car’s second to final stint, was able to turn incredible laps despite the rising heat and dominate the field.
“It’s never easy coming to a place like this,” said Lowndes. “To drive with these guys… Jamie I’ve obviously driven with before, but to get to drive with Toni was great, and he did a great job putting it on pole as well.”
“I’m no lone ranger, it’s been an amazing team effort,” added Whincup, who drove the car to the checkered flag. “As for Toni… I tell you, those Euros are quick, they’re really quick.”
The trio gave Ferrari its second win at Bathurst, with the marque having also won the race in 2014. For Vilander, the win had a little extra meaning.
“It’s quite incredible,” he said. “I now must say great things to Mika Salo, because now the argument is out that he’s the only Finn to win here, so we are even.”
Vilander is back in action in the WeatherTech Championship with Risi Competizione next month for the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh From Florida on March 15-18.
“MEMO BACK DRIVING” DAY PLANNED IN NORTHERN CALIFORNIA: Racing star Memo Gidley announced on Sunday, Feb. 5 that he will be back driving go-karts this Sunday, Feb. 12 at SIM Raceway Kart track at Sonoma Raceway. Memo is planning to make his first laps after being injured in an accident during the 2014 Rolex 24 At Daytona.
“I have been waiting, for what seems like an eternity, to get that OK from my doctors and most recent back surgeon that I was healed and could go back to doing the things I want to do,” said Gidley. “One big inspiration in my recovery was the day that I could announce me being back driving to my family, friends, and supporters who have helped me heal and get to this point.”
Gidley’s injuries included several fractures and a concussion. With such extensive injuries, he has gone through eight surgeries, numerous physical therapy treatments, and healing techniques, as recommended by dozens of doctors and specialists. Throughout his recovery, Gidley also battled nerve pain as a result of scar tissue from damaged vertebrae.
“The path to where I am today was extreme, but I was so determined to get better that I pushed hard,” he said. “I honestly don’t know how a person would survive it without the kind of support from family, friends and people trying to help like I was fortunate to have. I can’t measure how much I appreciate them or thank people enough.”
The “Memo Back Driving” day is an open invitation to anybody that is interested in attending to witness his first laps in the Team RattleSnake Racing /Cameron/Aluminos 125cc shifter kart around Sim Raceway. The “GIDLEY NATION” race van also will be there having a BBQ and refreshments for all of his guests.
“My desire to take laps is unreal.” Gidley added. “And I can’t think of a better way to do it than with my family and friends.”
PERFORMANCE TECH ADDS O’WARD TO FULL-SEASON LINEUP: Performance Tech Motorsports has named Patricio O’Ward as its second full-time driver in the No. 38 ORECA FLM09.
O’Ward will join James French in the Prototype Challenge (PC) class for the remaining rounds of the 2017 season. In O’Ward’s first WeatherTech Championship race, he earned aRolex watch for taking the PC class victory in the Rolex 24 with Performance Tech and co-drivers French, Nick Boulle and Kyle Masson. O’Ward is one of the youngest winners in the history of the endurance race, being only 176 days’ shy of being the youngest winner ever.
His strong performance at Daytona and ability to be a great teammate is what sealed the deal with Team Principal Brent O’Neill. However, the relationship between O’Neill and O’Ward has been one in the making for nearly a year. O’Ward first joined Performance Tech in 2016 for the first two rounds of the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda (formerly Prototype Lites) at Sebring International Raceway.
O’Ward and O’Neill stayed in touch over the year and eventually the possibility of joining the team again, this time in the PC class of the WeatherTech Championship, came to fruition. O’Ward joined Performance Tech at the Roar Before the Rolex 24 and impressed O’Neill with his ability to get up to speed quickly. After the three-day test, they began laying out details to have O’Ward for the full season.
“We had opportunities arise going into Daytona and if we had a good showing we could get Pato’s deal done,” O’Neill said. “He’s really just awesome, he and James will be great together. It’ll be a good pairing and a plus for us is that we have two silver [-rated drivers] that are really fast. It gives us options in the pits with what we can do with strategy.
“The only thing we’ll really be working on with Pato is how he still loses sight of time during the race. He comes from the format of 45-minutes races. He’s from the sprint race mentality so every once in a while, you have to tell him to reign it in. But he’s so professional in the car. He doesn’t throw the car off and he turns competitive lap times. They’ll be awesome teammates and I know James is excited about it. They’re both great kids.”
For O’Ward, it was the combination of enjoying the car and team that propelled him to race in the WeatherTech Championship.
“The PC car is so different than what I’ve driven before,” O’Ward said. “It’s heavy but it’s not a slow car. It was impressive when I drove it. The PC has 540 horsepower, roughly I think. It’s an enjoyable car to drive. In the rain, it’s not so enjoyable. With the cold weather and rain in the Rolex 24 it was difficult to handle. That’s more the weather, though, not the car. It’s not as physical as I thought it would be. It’s cool to be a part of the last year of the class.
“I’m really happy that Performance Tech accepted me as a person and driver,” O’Ward continued. “I loved working with James, Nick and Kyle. I’m excited for the rest of the season. We had a strong car at Daytona and I think we’ll have a strong car moving forward. The objective is always to win, it’s not always possible but that’s the target, to win the championship. I just want to say thank you to Brent, the team, my family and all my sponsors for this opportunity.”