By IMSA Wire Service
Cooper MacNeil already has a respectable record in the 24 Hours of Le Mans as he returns this week to the Circuit de la Sarthe.
“I’ve done Le Mans five times, this is my sixth time, and I’ve finished top five three of those times, so it’s all about consistency,” said the driver of the WeatherTech Ferrari. “It takes really good, hard, precise driving from the drivers as well. Luckily, this year, my two co-drivers have won the race at least one time. One of them has won it twice and the other’s won it once.”
MacNeil is sharing the No. 62 WeatherTech Racing Ferrari 488 GTE with co-drivers Toni Vilander – a two-time Le Mans winner in the GTE Pro class (2012 and 2014) – and Robert Smith, who won the GTE Am class in 2017. MacNeil’s best Le Mans result so far was a third-place showing in GTE Am in 2017.
But this could be the year where MacNeil joins the list of Le Mans winners as his co-drivers add to their win totals.
It’s already been a pretty good month of June, which is only two weekends old. Immediately following the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Chevrolet Sports Car Classic at Detroit’s Belle Isle Park, MacNeil and Vilander went to Le Mans for the mandatory test day on June 2, in which Vilander posted the fastest time of the GTE Am class.
Last weekend in Montreal, MacNeil won both Ferrari Challenge races run in support of the Formula 1 Canadian Grand Prix before returning to Le Mans. If nothing else, MacNeil and the WeatherTech team have good momentum as practice and qualifying get under way Wednesday.
But MacNeil and Vilander know they’ll need more than that this week.
“It’s going to take a lot of pace, a lot of luck and perfect execution, basically,” MacNeil said. “No wheels off the racetrack, no contact, no issues in pit lane, no penalties, no pit speed violations, no wheel spins exiting the pit box. It’s going to take a perfect race to win it.”
“Towards the race, you just try to increase the rhythm,” Vilander added. “It’s a long race, but over the years, we go faster and faster and the pace is literally that you go flat out for the whole 24 hours. Ferrari is a good car to have at Le Mans. We won the race in the Pro category twice. There’s another two times when we were leading towards the end of the race and it didn’t work out.
“This year with Cooper, we are in the Pro-Am class, so it’s a tight field again. There’s a lot of good drivers, a lot of good lineups, so it won’t be easy.”
MacNeil and Vilander are in their first year as full-season teammates in the WeatherTech Championship GT Daytona (GTD) class, sharing the No. 63 WeatherTech Ferrari 488 GT3. This will be their first Le Mans together also, but they’ve already become fast friends.
“Before the season, I didn’t know Cooper that well,” Vilander said. “We met in the end of last year. We met in Italy in the Ferrari finals in Monza, where Cooper was also racing in the Ferrari Challenge. So, coming to the season, I didn’t know what to expect. But I found a good friend, a funny guy and we actually do have a lot of fun.”
For MacNeil, the feeling is mutual.
“Having Toni with me this year has been phenomenal,” MacNeil said. “I mean, the guy’s one of the best out there. Obviously, a two-time Le Mans winner, a multiple-time professional championship winner, the guy’s quick, on it all the time. He never misses a beat, and I’ve been learning a lot from him. I take each session with an open mindset because he’s always got something new to teach me, and it’s important to be learning from him.”
Vilander’s tutelage, combined with MacNeil’s Le Mans previous experience, could be the combination that sends the familiar white No. 62 WeatherTech Ferrari to victory lane on Sunday afternoon.