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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Winning championships is nothing new to Ander Vilarino, but sealing the 2012 Euro-Racecar NASCAR Touring Series crown represents a special achievement for the 32-year-old, as he is still quite new to stock-car racing.
As a stock-car rookie in 2011, Vilarino finished third in the standings with a pair of wins, six top fives and three pole positions which set the table for a title run in 2012. On Jan. 11, though, the stakes got a little higher.
“Jérôme Galpin (Euro-Racecar organizer) sent an e-mail to all of the drivers letting us know that a major announcement would be made the next day,” recalls Vilarino. “It didn’t take a genius to work out what it was – I didn’t sleep all night!”
The announcement was that a long-term partnership had been signed between Euro-Racecar and NASCAR, bringing the European championship under the NASCAR umbrella and become the first NASCAR-sanctioned series outside of North America.
After spending the winter working tirelessly with his TFT-Banco Santander team to ready their No. 2 Chevrolet Camaro, Vilarino set the tone for his season by winning the pole and both races at the season-opening Nogaro 200 in France.
“Nogaro is our test track as the team is based there,” explains Vilarino. “We needed to start well, because you carry that momentum with you throughout the season.”
He did just that by securing a third successive win at the Brands Hatch 200 (Great Britain) and recorded another Sprint Race triumph at the Spa 200 in Belgium. His title hopes were boosted still further by the fact that, even when he missed out on Victory Lane, he was racking up second-place finishes.
Vilarino arrived at Tours Speedway for the first European NASCAR race on an oval with a comfortable championship lead.
“There was a lot to learn. For the championship, my strategy was to have a good points day in the Michelin 100 and then give it everything during the Tours 100. With eighth place on Saturday the objective wasn’t completely fulfilled, but I did score a points victory the next day (race winner Eric Hélary competed as a guest driver and was thus ineligible for points).”
The playoffs began with the Semifinals at Valencia (Spain) and concluded with the Finals at iconic French venue, Le Mans. During these two meetings double points were awarded and, despite Vilarino’s strong performance, Romain Thievin (No. 99 Still Racing-Exotics Racing) and Javier Villa (No. 64 Gonneau Racing) remained firmly in contention for the title. But at Valencia, a circuit he had not visited since 2004, Vilarino missed pole but bagged two more race victories.
“Valencia was a turning point in the season,” said Vilarino. “You can’t afford an accident or mechanical issue during the playoffs. The two wins in Spain meant the title was nearly ours.”
At Le Mans he was big-picture racing. Seventh and 10th-place finishes were enough to secure the 2012 Euro-Racecar NASCAR Touring Series championship. Vilarino added to a résumé that includes Formula Super Toyota (2000), Spanish Formula 3 (2001) and the FIA European Hill Climb Championships (2005 and 2007).
“It is an honor to be the first champion of the Euro-Racecar NASCAR Touring Series. As for the future, I’d like to compete in NASCAR in the United States. I wouldn’t trade this championship or this organization for the world. I have to offer a big thank you to my TFT-Banco Santander team for the quality of their work this year.”
Thanks to the skills of crew chief Tony Pereira’s squad, Vilarino’s 2012 haul consisted of six victories, five poles, nine top-five and 12 top-10 finishes.
As reward for his title success, the Spaniard, who earned a locked-in position as a series champion, will compete in the inaugural UNOH Battle at the Beach on the .4-mile oval at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway during Speedweeks 2013.
“A dream will become reality,” concludes Vilarino.
First, though, Vilarino will be presented with the first Euro-Racecar NASCAR Touring championship trophy on Saturday, Dec. 8 as part of the NASCAR Night of Champions Touring Awards ceremony in the Crown Ballroom of the Charlotte (N.C) Convention Center inside the NASCAR Hall of Fame. The awards ceremony is slated to be streamed live online in three languages – English French and Spanish – at www.nascarhometracks.com.
In just his second season behind the wheel of a stock car, Ander Vilarino made history and took home the title. Courtesy Euro-Racecar