all-female GEAR Racing suffers technical troubles at Daytona 24H
It was a troubled race for the brand-new GEAR Racing team: a fuel pump issue forced the ladies to a lengthy stop, before a fire ultimately ruled the #19 Lamborghini out of the 24H race.
The brand new all-female GEAR Racing team kicked off its racing program with its first participation in the Rolex Daytona 24 Hours, one of the biggest races in the motoring calendar. The GEAR project (acronym for Girl Empowerment Around Racing) lined up some of the most talented female racers in sports car racing: Brit racing star Katherine Legge, two-times IMSA champion Christina Nielsen, GT ace Rahel Frey and Colombian Tatiana Calderon, as the first ever woman in the Formula 2 championship history made her endurance racing debut.
Calderon was also happy to celebrate another first: "I was born watching Juan Pablo Montoya racing and now, at this 24 Hours of Daytona, I will be sharing the track with him for the first time." - explained the Colombian before the weekend, speaking of her racing idol. "He has always been my idol and he inspired me to continue racing towards Formula 1. I have gone through several categories, starting here in the United States with the Pro Mazda series, then I went to Europe, where I did several years of Formula 3, GP3. Then I did a year in Formula 2, I tested for Alfa Romeo Racing in Formula 1 and now this is my great opportunity to race for the first time in the 24 Hours of Daytona. I think it is one of the most legendary and special races, which you have to do at least once in your life." - she added.
"I have the privilege of doing it with GEAR Racing and Lamborghini, along with three co-drivers with a lot of experience in endurance races. It will be my first 24 hours experience, but I think those are races that really motivate you. Returning to the United States is very special. The fans, the atmosphere and how the race is lived is credible, so I hope we have a good performance in the race, enjoy it and hopefully we are there fighting the podium".
After a positive ROAR Before the Daytona testing program, the GEAR Racing team qualified P14 in the GTD class for the first big race of the season, with Christina Nielsen completing both the 15 minutes qualifying session and the first stint of the race.
After initially gaining the 13th class position, the Dane settled in 17th after the first laps. Around the one hour mark, the team performed the first stop and the first driver change: Tatiana Calderon got behind the wheel for her first driving stint.
The drivers reported the first issues on the Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo during the opening stages, as Calderon pitted for fuel and the #19 entry lost time by switching off repeatedly. The team had also experienced small telemetry problems at the pitwall.
The third driver to complete her driving shift was Rahel Frey, who advanced to P14 after signing her best lap in 1:47.367 three hours and 30 minutes into the race.
Katherine Legge jumped in the "pop art" Lambo on lap 148 and rejoined in 34th overall position, before the first Full Course Yellow was called out for a big incident involving the #23 Aston Martin and the #47 Lamborghini on the main straight, which brought back the GEAR Racing team into the lead lap.
With an extremely consisent stint, Legge reached the class top-10 at the 05h43m mark and, when the pit strategies unfolded, she climbed the order until P1. After the stops, the experienced Brit had completed an impressive recovery and was steadily in the top-8.
The second FCY was deployed aroudn the seventh hour, when the #38 LMP2 car of Cassels wnet off and into the tyre barriers at turn 3. After the restart, Nielsen was down to P11 and in 30th place overall. But the real setback came on the 14th hour an into the night, when Tatiana Calderon stopped on track and triggered the third Safety Car period.
The GEAR Racing car was taken behind the wall, suffering a fuel pump issue which lost the ladies a 1h and 10 minutes stop. Despite the major blow, the team showed its character and worked hard to fix the issue and rejoin the race.
Among the fans acclaim, the #19 Lamborghini retook the way of the racetrack with Calderon classified P34 and 31 laps down the class leader.
Frey and Legge alternated again behind the wheel and the British driver went on to improve the team's personal best time, signing a 1:46.326 after 15 hours and 36 minutes.
One hour later, a second serious delay further hindered the race of the all-female squad: the fuel pressure issue reappeared and the #19 was stuck into the garage for more than two hours.
With five hours to go, Christina Nielsen re-emerged again on track - but the enthusiasm was cut short only one lap later, when a huge cloud of smoke started to come out of the back of the Lamborghini Huracan. Nielsen quickly stopped, as a scary fire had erupted and affected the cockpit as well. The Danish driver showed real cool-blood when she jumped out and manually activated the fire extinguisher button positioned on the front end of the car.
Despite all the effort from the Grasser team, the first Daytona 24H experience came to a premature end for the GEAR Racing team, following a series of technical misfortunes.
The overall race was won by the Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi driven by Scott Dixon, Ryan Briscoe, Kamui Kobayashi and Renger van der Zande, despite a penalty during the morning hours. An exciting battle only resolved in the very final minutes brought GTLM class victory to the BMW M8 GTE of John Edwards, Augusto Farfus, Jesse Krohn and Chaz Mostert, ahead of the #912 and #911 Porsches, separated by few seconds at the chequered flag.
GTD class honor went to the Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini, with Caldarelli, Lewis, Sellers and Snow behind the wheel.
"We showed a strong speed through all the sessions, unfortunately the luck was simply not on our side." - commented Rahel Frey. "In the end we gained valuable experience and we can be happy that we always walk away healthy! Daytona got one more big fan".
"When I was about to finish my second stint in the night, we had a problem with the fuel pump and I stopped on track."- summed up Calderon. "The team worked hard to fix it. It's a shame we couldn't finish, but I'm very happy with the experience and with what we did with the team. I have learned many things."
"The track changes a lot. You go out at night with new cold tyres and a cold track...it changes a lot and the traffic as well. The most difficult thing for me was to drive in traffic: cars are coming very fast and you don't know where they are going to try to pass you. You have to manage that. I have trained a lot physically, I really wanted to have longer shifts in the car", concluded the Colombian driver.
"Bit of a scary moment today" - added Christina Nielsen. "Sad this is how our day ended after everyone from the team worked hard to get the car back out so we could finish the race".
The next IMSA endurance race will be the 12 Hours of Sebring on March 21st, with the GEAR Racing team still expected to announce its full drivers line up after Brazilian Bia Figueiredo revealed her pregnancy a few days before the Daytona event.
In Tatiana's words:
"The team worked hard to fix it. It's a shame we couldn't finish, but I'm very happy with the experience and with what we did with the team. I have learned many things."
Cover Ph Credits: Jamey Price