Toni Vilander made a spectacular debut in the streets of St. Petersburg Saturday morning by driving the No. 61 R. Ferri Motorsports Ferrari 488 GT3 to a provisionally new Pirelli World Challenge GT qualifying track record in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
Vilander, the two-time 24 Hours of LeMans winner, posted a quick lap of 1m10.923s (91.36mph) to easily better the old GT qualifying mark set by Michael Lewis (Effort Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R) in 2016 at 1m13.017s (88.746 mph).
All GT qualifying times are unofficial until the stewards review and technical inspection is completed.
Vilander led both practice sessions Friday in his first runs at the tight, tricky 14-turn, 1.8-mile temporary street circuit near the St. Petersburg harbor. But the veteran improved his best clocking of the weekend in the middle of the 20-minute time trials.
“It’s a good qualifying here for us today,” said Vilander. “We had good pace in the pre-practice rounds and I really enjoy the circuit. It’s fun. It’s the first time for me at the St. Pete track. This is very positive to enter the first of the championship this right. The RFerri team has been working hard to prepare for this season. The race today will be different as I have to be really aggressive. I hope we can keep this momentum for the rest of the season.”
Not only was the pole winner making his first appearance at the St. Pete course, the second- and third-place qualifiers – Michael Christensen and Daniel Keilwitz – were also new to the street circuit.
Christensen, driving the Tampa-based No. 24 Alegra Motorsport Porsche 911 GT3 R, timed in the other front row spot Saturday with a 1m11.377s (90.78mph) with Keilwitz, in the popular No. 26 Callaway Competition USA Corvette C7 GT3-R, placing third at 1m11.419s (90.73mph).
The top seven GT cars included six different makes in qualifications with Ferrari, Porsche, Corvette, Aston-Martin, Porsche, Mercedes and Bentley.
Spencer Pumpelly, the 2017 Lime Rock Park GT SprintX winner, drove the No. 00 TRG Aston-Martin Vantage GT3 to fourth on the 12-car GT grid with a 1m11.514s (90.61mph) followed two-time 2017 GT SprintX race winner Daniel Morad in the No. 2 CRP Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 at 1m11.589s (90.51mph), 2016 GT champion Alvaro Parente of Portugal in the all-new No. 9 K-PAX Racing Bentley Continental GT3 at 1m12.125s (89.84mph) and Scott Hargrove in the No. 96 Pfaff Motorsports/Castrol Porsche 911 GT3 R at 1m12.256s (89.68mph).
Leading the GTA category in Saturday’s morning with 17-year-old high school junior Parker Chase in the No. 19 TruSpeed Motorsports Audi R8 LMS with a time of 1m12.945s (88.83mph).
Round 1 of the Pirelli World Challenge GT Sprint series is set for Saturday at 3:50 p.m. EST at St. Petersburg. Round 2 for the GT/GTA divisions is scheduled for Sunday at 3:15 p.m. EDT.