A promising Saturday’s six-hour Grand Prix at Road Atlanta came to an abrupt end for Ferrari with only 12 minutes remaining when Ferrari factory driver Toni Vilander was eliminated in the closing moments of the race.
Vilander was on the verge of equaling the best points finish of the season for the No. 63 WeatherTech Ferrari 488 GT3 Evo 2020 that had been co-driven by Cooper MacNeil and endurance pilot Jeff Westphal in the second round of the Endurance Championship.
Being passed by DPi traffic, Vilander was bumped in the esses by a DPi and went to the grass.
Momentum carried him directly back on track, but unfortunately there was unavoidable contact made with another DPi machine. Both cars were eliminated, resulting in a ninth-place finish for Scuderia Corsa.
Westphal started eighth, and moved to second when the team opted not to pit on an early caution.
That moment of strategic thinking paid off by putting the team in contention for the remainder of the event. After making an unsuccessful bid for the lead on the ensuing restart, Westphal ran near the front for the remainder of his stint and turned the car over to MacNeil in second.
“We were in a good position for the finish,” Vilander said. “In my last stint I had some handling issues and then coming through the fast Esses things got crazy in a group of DPi cars and I went off. It is a tough end of the day when it looked like we were going to have a top five finish and then to end up parked and getting towed back is tough. The Scuderia Corsa crew worked hard on the WeatherTech Ferrari and they deserved a better result.”
From that point, MacNeil and then Vilander kept the Ferrari in contention, running fourth at the halfway point. Westphal passed veteran Townsend Bell for fourth shortly before the five-hour mark. Vilander was able to hold fourth after taking over following the final exchange of pit stops as he was closing in on a fight for the podium. Unfortunately, his charge was ended with the contact.
After a hot and fast six hours of racing, the sudden end to the race was even more disappointing as it marked the second-consecutive race that the Ferrari was eliminated in the final minutes.
“It was looking like we overcame our difficult day on Friday,” MacNeil said. “The Scuderia Corsa guys worked hard and we had a good handling car for the race. I had a couple of good stints, no real drama. Jeff and Toni did strong runs as well and I thought we had a solid top five run going. Then the incident in the Esses. I guess you just chalk that up to that’s racing. Now we need to get ready for Le Mans in two weeks.”
“The No. 63 WeatherTech Racing Ferrari was handling really, really well today,” Westphal said. “That’s probably the best balance I’ve ever had in the car. We were just really hurting in straight line speed. In the race it was extremely challenging because everyone could just pull out and drive around us and even in a draft, we couldn’t do anything with it. We executed well and I’m proud of the team for taking the car that probably shouldn’t have been able to finish fourth and driving it up there until we got taken out.”
The WeatherTech Championship next visits Mid-Ohio on Sept. 27 for the IMSA Sports Car Challenge as the No. 63 squad looks to turn the promising outings into a big result.