Belén García took victory in her second ever endurance race – in a charging race from 10th on the grid after an unfortunate qualifying to the top step of the podium in Le Castellet for the final round of the Ultimate Cup Series.
After a remarkable second season in the all-female W Series championship, Belén García made her endurance racing debut in October, as she entered the final round of the Michelin Le Mans Cup in the Ligier LMP3 prototype – her first ever race in sports cars.
García, 23, had a promising first outing at Portimao, but running time was severely limited in practice due to a series of red flags – as well as in the race, following a massive crash that shortened her driving stint to a little over 20 minutes. Nevertheless, the Catalan racer managed to climb to 17th place and set the fastest lap of her team throughout the weekend, as she progressively got in the rhythm of the new car.
With the aim of building on that experience, Belén García entered the final round of the Ultimate Cup Series in Le Castellet – also the venue of her W Series podium and historically a lucky charm for García – in the Graff Racing Ligier JS P320 LMP3.
“I am excited to return to Paul Ricard, which is one of the tracks that best suits me" – has given lately. Also, one of my short-term goals is to compete in the Michelin Le Mans Cup or the European Le Mans Series, two championships that include this circuit. For now I don't have anything closed, but I'm sure that doing kilometers with the LMP3 here will be very useful for me.”
García had previously tested with the French team, so she was confident for a strong result coming into the 4 hour race.
“I did a test with them in Portimao and the result was very satisfactory" – Belén added. "I felt very comfortable and I am looking forward to working with them again.”
García shared the 460 hp Nissan-powered Ligier with two Bronze-rated drivers, Sébastien Page and Eric Trouillet, who had won the 3-hour race held at Magny-Cours in Ultimate Cup alongside championship contender Lucca Allen.
“Competing with the dominant team in this championship is an extra injection of motivation for Sunday's race, in which I should cover a stint of approximately one hour and 10 minutes" – Belén explained. "My goal, in any case, will be to drive as much as possible from Friday practice, to keep learning the car and the category."
"Let's hope that this time the misfortunes of Portimao won't be repeated, where I completed far fewer kilometers than expected”.
At Circuit Paul Ricard, the drivers of the #57 Graff Racing Ligier were consistently in the top three in the practice session, with Belén posting the fastest times of her team.
In qualifying, though, the situation became more complicated. With average lap times from each driver shaping up the starting grid, Eric Trouillet was the first to set a flying lap in Q1. He would put the #57 Ligier in third place, but he then went off towards the end of the session, leaving Sebastian Page with no time on the leaderboard in Q2 as the car was retrieved.
Belén García did manage to go out in Q3 and, despite some damage, she was fourth fastest with a 1:57.003 that resulted in a tenth place on the grid for Sunday's 4-hour race.
Trouillet was in charge of the first stint and, proving once again the team's fast pace, he regained the lead over the opening 30 laps. He then handed over to Sébastien Page for a second 30-lap stint, before returning behind the wheel for 20 more laps.
It was then Belén García's turn, as the Barcelona-native took over on lap 80 and brought the Graff Racing Ligier to the finish line. With super consistent pace and no mistakes, Belén extended the lead and navigated through traffic with confidence; she set the fastest lap of her team on lap 100, with a 1:57.597 that was one tenth short of the fastest lap of the race overall.
After four intense hours of racing, Belén García crossed the finish line and took the chequered flag in first place, claiming her first win in only her second ever endurance race of her career.
“I am very satisfied with the overall results of the weekend, in which I think I was quite fast." – she stated. "The work with my teammates has always been very positive, and we have been able to save delicate moments, such as Eric's incident in qualifying."
“We have shown a good pace throughout the weekend and, furthermore, I am leaving with the happiness of closing the weekend on a high with the first place on the podium”.
It was Belén's first victory since the 2019 Spanish F4 round in Navarra, when García won race 2 at her single-seater debut, becoming the first woman to win a F4 race in Europe.
With the newly-found enthusiasm, García is expected to finalize her racing program for the 2023 season in the coming weeks – with endurance racing likely high on her priorities.