A great debut for Ira Sidorkova in endurance racing
Updated: Oct 25, 2022
Taking part for the first time in an endurance race - and at the wheel of a TCR car - Irina Sidorkova displayed great pace and was very satisfied by her performance in her almost 1.5 hour stint.
A day after the end of the 2022 RSKG season where she achieved her second victory of the year, Ira Sidorkova had the opportunity to take a new step in her career: the 19-year-old driver race-winner in karting, single-seaters, touring cars and even on ice tracks, participated for the first time in an endurance race.
In the last weeks of September, Irina announced on her social media that she was about to turn one of her dreams into reality and had the opportunity to enter her first endurance race – the Akhmat Race – in TCR machinery. After the announcement, Sidorkova tested her new car at the NRing, the venue of two of her victories claimed in her career – the most recent being in July.
Having also been invited to the Le Mans 24 Hours in the past, Sidorkova was very excited to see a childhood dream come true and make her endurance debut, as well as being for the first time behind the wheel of the Audi RS3 LMS TCR, which following a personal tradition, was affectionately named "Andrewsha".
And the big arrived: starting in the early afternoon of Sunday, October 9, 50 drivers hit the track at Fort Grozny Autodrom for the 4-hour racing marathon. Irina Sidorkova shared the #51 Audi RS3 LMS with two other drivers who were also part of the 2022 RSKG season: Timofei Buyanov – who competed in the S1600 class, and Sanvel Iskolyants – who was one of her teammates in the Sofit Racing Team, in the Super-Production class.
Expectations to see the trio in action were high, as Iskolyants had won the class title the day before in the last race of the year, which was won by Sidorkova. At 14:00 local time, the 23 cars lined up on the grid to start this long journey.
The team started the race with Sanvel Iskolyants aboard the Audi RS3 LMS #51, which occupied the fourth row in 8th position. With a good start, he defended well from some cars behind and even managed to gain a position over the Volkswagen Golf GTI #63.
From the first laps it was evident that the BR03 #72 prototype would dominate the overall classification: the prototype was driven by the experienced Mikhail Aleshin and Vitaly Petrov - drivers with participations in categories such as Formula 1, IndyCar and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The #72 crew, however, was ineligible for the final classification.
Two Mercedes-Benz AMG GT preceded Iskolyants; with a stronger pace compared to a TCR entry, they opened a gap - until on lap 7, the #17 Mercedes had problems and had to pit. Thus, the Audi #51 gained one more position.
They would hold 6th position overall in the first stages, until the first round of pit stops. Sanvel Iskoyants moved into the lead on lap 52, when he completed his stint and pitted for the team's first driver change.
Ira Sidorkova's long-awaited debut was about to happen, but during the pit stop, mechanics had to quickly get into action to replace the on-board fire extinguisher, which had unexpectedly been activated. The repairs ended up delaying Irina's restart, as the #51 Audi rejoined to the track on lap 56 with the 19-year-old driver at the wheel, however, in 10th place overall.
Sidorkova would have yet another challenging mission to tackle: making up for the time lost during the pit stop. A few laps later, the action was neutralized by the first FCY, to allow for safety repairs to the kerbs in a section of the circuit.
The green flags waved again on lap 64: despite the power differences to the cars in front, Ira Sidorkova managed to find a regular pace, lap after lap, maintaining an average time of 1:23.3 - and it didn't take long for her to start recovering positions. On lap 80 she had recovered to eighth place, albeit the gaps were difficult to close.
Ira remained focused and did a great job while behind the wheel, managing tyre wear and pushing the car until she reached P6 on lap 89. She hit her best position soon after, when the #47 Seat Cupra Leon pitted again, inheriting fifth place. After 53 laps aboard the #51 Audi RS3 LMS TCR, Sidorkova entered the pits, completing her stint, which lasted almost 1.5 hours.
"The race turned out to be good. I managed to better understand the car and show a great pace."
Timofei Buyanov brought the car back on the track in sixth place and would pit again approximately 30 minutes later for a fresh set of tyres - after which he rejoined in P7 overall.
Sunset was almost complete when the artificial lights of the 20 cars lit up the race, dominating the stage. With just under 30 minutes to go, the #47 Cupra pitted again and Buyanov claimed sixth place back.
However, in the last 15 minutes, the #51 car was overtaken by the #47 Cupra and the #63 VW Golf, dropping to 8th place overall. With a comfortable gap to the #53 Lada Vesta, it was up to Timofei Buyanov to just manage the pace until he crossed the finish line, after just over 4 hours and 2 minutes of racing and 154 completed laps.
"On my shift, I tried to save the tyres as much as possible for all 75 minutes that I had to drive. And I succeeded." - said Ira, about her stint in the 4 hour Akhmat Race. "The race turned out to be good! I managed to better understand the car and show a great pace." - she added.
Sidorkova also evaluated her physical condition after spending almost 1h30 aboard the Audi RS3 LMS TCR: "Well, I would say my Super Production class Subaru was more physically demanding for me, since it had a manual gear and my shoulder injury which I got before the season felt rather painful during the races, especially when I had to switch to 5th and 6th gears."
"In the Audi I had paddles on the steering wheel and the shoulder it felt absolutely calm. So, as for cardio, I could have raced 1 hour more."
Irina also spoke about the relationship with the team: "Working with any team is a two way road to exchange knowledge and experience", she said. "I believe we both gained a lot this year."
Wrapping up her season, she shared her desire to return to the traditional endurance race in 2023: "We'll be back stronger next year!"
It is potentially expected that there will be a prototype class in the upcoming editions of the Akhmat Race. Considering her experience in single-seaters, we asked Irina if she would like to be at the wheel of one of them.
"I would, but who knows...", she replied, as she now looks forward to another opportunity to return to the track in the future.