First-time teammates Molina, Vilander find quick SprintX success

Images by Richard S. James

First-time teammates Molina, Vilander find quick SprintX success

Blancpain GT World Challenge

First-time teammates Molina, Vilander find quick SprintX success

Toni Vilander could not have won the 2018 Pirelli World Challenge overall GT drivers’ championship (now the Blancpain GT World Challenge America series) without excellent performance in the Sprint races. But where he and his R. Ferri Motorsports team really shined was in the SprintX races. Teamed with Miguel Molina, a driver with whom he had not partnered before, the pair and their Ferrari 488 GT3 dominated the SprintX races to bring home that championship as well with six wins and two second-place finishes in 10 races.

“When Ferrari proposed that I was going to race with [Miguel], I was happy,” Vilander says. “SprintX is a big part of the overall championship and we did some really good races together as a team.”

Molina, for his part, was happy with the pairing as well.

“It was a really good experience to race here in America for the first time,” he says. “It was quite easy having Toni alongside, because he had a lot of experience in this kind of racing. For example, here we are racing with no [tire] blankets, so it was always with cold tires; he advised me well on these things, so it was quite easy for me to adapt myself to this kind of racing.”

The Spaniard credits his Blancpain Endurance Series experience for his World Challenge success, along with the fact that the team had the same engineer he had in Europe.

The team’s timing and execution on pit stops also helped.

“I remember in Austin that we were third, I think, and we went out of the pit stop in first position,” he recalled. “Salt Lake City I think was also the same. It was one of the keys of the wins this year, and I think the experience that we took from Europe helped here as well.”

Molina is relatively new to endurance racing, having spent 2010-16 in DTM after coming out of single-seaters. But he’s taken to it well, scoring four LMGTE-Am wins in the FIA World Endurance Championship last year in addition to a victory in Blancpain Endurance GT Cup. This year, in addition to World Challenge SprintX, he also had LMGTE wins in European Le Mans Series as well as Blancpain Endurance.

“I had really good times in DTM, seven years with Audi as a factory driver. I arrived there quite young and I learned a lot of stuff. I have to say that to drive the DTM car in qualifying mode – new tires, low fuel – is a really, really nice experience. But endurance racing is giving me another perspective and I’m enjoying sharing the car with colleagues, to have this relationship with all three or two trying to get better and improve the car together in the same way.”

As far as what made his pairing with Vilander click as they brought home Ferrari’s first World Challenge title, he thinks it came down to the right combination of personalities.

“I think Toni is warm Finnish – not so icy, so cold,” Molina joked. “And I’m quite relaxed and easygoing. I think this is a really good mix. Sometimes I have to calm him down, and sometimes he has to push me up. It was a really good compromise and at the end it paid off. He is one of the most successful drivers with Ferrari, and to have him as a teammate was really an honor. I learned a lot of his thinking, his way of working. It was a really positive year.”

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