MAGIC MOMENTS: Vilander’s race-breaking stint

WE’RE reflecting on some of the most remarkable moments and memories from the history of the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour as we count down towards the 2022 edition of Australia’s International Enduro. 

Today we look back on one of the moment dominant stints in the history of the race, a few hours of incredible driving that helped tilt the 2017 edition firmly towards Ferrari.

Sharing the Maranello Motorsport Ferrari 488 GT3 with Craig Lowndes and Jamie Whincup, Finnish ace Tony Vilander’s late-race double stint smashed the opposition into submission and remains one of the most crushing in race history.

His magic period between laps 163 and 231 of the race that year was crucial in building enough of a margin over the chasing pack, allowing Whincup to be in striking distance of the No. 22 Mercedes-AMG GT3 when it completed its final stop.

At the time it felt like something special, however a later delve deep into the numbers behind it show the crushing level of domination the Finnish ace had over the field for about an hour and a half during the bruising 2017 encounter.

Vilander jumped into the bright red 488 GT3 on lap 163 – a safety car rash of stops meaning nearest rivals the No. 12 Porsche, the No. 17 Bentley and No. 22 Mercedes-AMG all took new drivers.

Marc Lieb jumped into the Porsche, Guy Smith the Bentley and Craig Baird the Mercedes-AMG so all four leading cars were at that point on a similar strategy, with new (highly capable, it must be said) drivers and full fuel loads.

From there, Vilander set about smashing out 69 laps of pure domination.

Of the 54 laps run under green – taking out Safety Car laps and also in/out laps from pit stops – Vilander completed the stint at an average lap time of 2m05.3s.

The stint included seven laps in the 2m03s and 25 in the 2m04s.

By comparison the other three cars only had ONE lap in the 2m04s combined: Maro Engel snapping out a 2m04.7s effort in the No. 22 STM Mercedes-AMG. No one else went quicker than a 2m05.0!

The Porsche and the Mercedes-AMG completed the same stint in an average lap speed of 2m06.8 seconds while the Bentley was left trailing, lapping at an average lap of 2m08.1s.

For the entire stint the Ferrari was an average of 1.5 seconds per lap faster than anyone else during the green period of that stint.

Vilander double-stinted this run, while his nearest opposition changed drivers during a mid-stint Safety Car: Engel taking over the Mercedes AMG, Long the Porsche and Steven Kane the Bentley. But no one had an answer for the Ferrari at that point.

Between laps 216 and 220 Vilander was especially otherworldly; punching out consecutive laps of 2m03.93, 2m03.61, 2m03.64, 2m03.41 and a ‘slowish’ 2m04.07s with traffic.

At this point he was comfortably between 1.5 and two seconds per lap quicker than anything else moving on the race track. It was gobsmacking and deserved him the standing ovation the Maranello team gave him after he jumped out of the car.

In the end, the track position buffer the Flying Finn was able to create was enough to give the Maranello team confidence that they could put new rubber on the Ferrari for Jamie Whincup’s final stint to the flag.

When STM stopped for the final time, they gambled to save the thirty-seconds or so by not fitting new rubber on the basis it would give them track position – and it worked to an extent, van Gisbergen getting out of the lane about two seconds in front of the Ferrari.

However it wasn’t enough track position, and it took just a lap or two for Whincup to fight his way past SVG down Conrod the following lap in one of the most famous 12-Hour passes in history.

From there the pace advantage of the Ferrari was such that only misfortune was going to stop the Prancing Horse on that day.

In the end, of course, the Mercedes-AMG that struck well-documented dramas just laps from home while in second position, leaving the Ferrari to survive one tension-filled restart to stroke the car home a lap in front.

There was lots of drama during the 2017 race but ultimately it was all put in the background of one of the most dominant pieces of driving Bathurst has seen, especially given the depth of the field and the challenging conditions that hot, sunny Sunday.

In a stint run in the same track, traffic and weather conditions as everyone else, the simple fact is that Toni Vilander was an average of 1.5 seconds per lap quicker than anyone else on mount Panorama between laps 163 and 231 of the 2017 race.

It was perhaps THE stint that ensured Sunday, February 5 would be Ferrari’s day on the Mountain.

69 really was the lucky number for the Finn that day.

Absolutely one of the great Bathurst stints. Period.