WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Veteran racer Toni Vilander had competed around the world in all forms of sports car racing in his illustrious career, but the Pirelli World Challenge road racing tour was new to the Finnish star this season.
Driving the No. 61 R. Ferri Motorsport Ferrari 488 GT3, Vilander made his PWC debut this year in an effort to win GT races and GT championships, and the two-time 24 Hours of Le Mans race winner accomplished both of his goals.
In addition to his Le Mans wins, Vilander had driven sports cars, mostly Ferrari machines, to the winner’s circle in Europe, Japan, Asia, North America and Australia, as well as captured the 2015 WEC Sports Car championship. However, the PWC series was a different type of challenge for the factory Ferrari racer, as was driving for Remo Ferri’s Canadian-based team.
Vilander established himself immediately with a pole position in the GT season opener in the streets of St. Petersburg. He went on to score six wins (with Miguel Molina in GT SprintX), five runner-up finishes, five more top-five and three poles.
That spectacular performance by Toni captured the GT Overall and GT SprintX championships in his first PWC campaign. He just missed out of the GT Sprint title, finishing second 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 a 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,” noted Vilander. “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. A lot of great young talent here too. And having Miguel with me this year was so good. Not many poles, but our strategy and pit stops were so good. That was a key. We were consistent and that paid off. The whole series was more consistent too. That is important.”
Hargrove, a 23-year-old Canadian, also took a GT championship in his first PWC season by driving the No. 96 Pfaff Motorsports/Castrol Porsche 911 GT3 R to the GT Sprint crown. He earned two wins and five other podium finishes.
In addition, 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. It was a great effort by everyone involved with Squadra Corse Italia and our sponsors Hublot, Maxim and Alpha Prime.”
Hargrove, the open-wheel star who also scored Canadian Porsche GT3 Cup titles, made a huge splash in his rookie PWC season at the St. Petersburg doubleheader, with two 50-minute sprint victories to jump to the GT point lead.
The young racer also placed second to Vilander in GT Overall with 24 Hours of Le Mans class winner Michael Christensen in the No. 24 Alegra Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R, taking third in both the GT Overall and GT Sprint standings. Christensen recorded two GT wins in 2018.
“It is really great to be with an organization like Pfaff Motorsports and work with all of their partners throughout the season,” said Hargrove. “You see that we can be so strong as a first-year team in Pirelli World Challenge because of the assistance from all of the partners to help us be so competitive. I can’t say enough about my team. 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 wanted 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.”
The K-PAX Racing Bentley Continental GT3 duo of young Brazilian Rodrigo Baptista and former GT champion Alvaro Parente of Portugal finished fourth and fifth, respectively, in the GT Overall standings, with Parente fourth and Baptista fifth in GT Sprint. The K-PAX pair scored five GT wins between them.
Daniel Mancinelli captured the prestigious Long Beach event in the No. 31 TR3 Racing Ferrari 488 GT3 and Daniel Morad won the GT Sprint race at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in the No 2 CRP Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3.
In the coveted GT Manufacturers’ point championship, Ferrari took its first GT title in Pirelli World Challenge history, dating back to the inaugural 1990 season. Ferrari totaled 154 points to Porsche’s 149 and Bentley’s 128.
In the GT Sprint Team competition, K-PAX Racing scored top honors with 188 to Pfaff Motorsports’ 181, R. Ferri Motorsport’s 172 and Alegra Motorsports’ 166.