At her third Le Mans 24 Hours, Sophia Floersch had a real shot at LMP2 ProAm victory, but a technical failure on the first lap wiped away her chances. With a great effort from 5 laps down, the German showed once again her potential and finished P5 in LMP2 ProAm.
Sophia Floersch, 21, entered her third 24 Hours of Le Mans in the LMP2 category, in a Pro-Am entry with Algarve Pro Racing's teammates John Falb and Jack Aitken.
Floersch, who is contesting the full European Le Mans Series campaign with the Portuguese outfit, had high hopes after two podiums with the team in ELMS and having shown great consistency and speed in her latest appearances.
A top-10 at her debut in the biggest endurance race in the world in 2020 was an encouraging sign, as she finished ninth in LMP2 with Richard Mille Racing – in an all-rookie line up – at her sports car debut.
Last year, luck was not on her side and she was crashed out of the race in the early hours of the night, when she was hit by another LMP2 car during a sudden rain shower and than collected by another car – ultimately triggering the medical light which meant retirement for the young German, who was fortunately uninjured in the crash.
"We had some good success in the past months – and if you have success while working, it makes for fun racing" – Floersch told us after the latest ELMS round at Imola. "I'm getting back to why I started racing. And especially now on this level, we have the car and line up to be top-four constantly. Sometimes stuff just doesn't work your way, but still we know what we can do."
"You know, you always say you want to win, but I really do believe we have chances to win with this car and team line up."
The 2022 24 hour race was about redemption, and her strong form at the helm of prototype cars was indeed carried into Le Mans week, as the #47 crew ran in contention for the top-three in LMP2 ProAm throughout the practice sessions.
An unlucky streak of events, though, meant that Aitken could not set a representative lap time after having one lap deleted for track limits, a red flag interruption and rain to disrupt his qualifying effort. They started from P21 in LMP2, with pace to quickly move up the order.
But was certainly not the start to the 90th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans that Sophia Floersch and APR were expecting.
With Sophia behind the wheel for the first stint of the race – the #47 APR Oreca came to a halt on track at the start of the first lap, with overheating issues ending up damaging the gear actuator. After a long and painful first lap, she eventually made it back to the pits and, 5 laps later, she would rejoin at the tail end of the 62-car pack.
After a double stint, Floersch handed over to Jack Aitken, as the first hours of racing became a rather lonely pursuit of the back of the field.
The trio moved up a few places when some of the cars hit trouble. In her second driving shift, Floersch continued to clear the GTE field and ran in P30 in LMP2, eighth in ProAm at the seven hour mark.
“It was a disappointing start to the race for Sophia, John and I, and we pretty much accepted that we’re never going to gain five laps back on the main LMP2 field on pace alone.” – Aitken commented.
“We’re slowly clawing our way back towards the pack, we’ve regained one lap on our Pro-Am rivals and we’re working on the second”, he added. “Everything’s going ok now so we’re just going to keep doing the laps.”
Sophia Floersch took over from John Falb around the 12 hour mark. Pace was never the issue for the #47 crew, which saw the sister #45 car – that had undergone an entire rebuild after a practice crash on Wednesday and had to miss qualifying – leading in Pro-Am.
The night – often the most challenging part of the race – was smooth for the charging trio, as they continued to make up positions in the overall standings.
“I did a quadruple stint towards the end of the night, stepping out of the car at around daybreak", explained Floersch mid-race. "It was a tough one with all the slow zones, but I’m pleased we survived the night ad we’re still trying hard to gain back the laps we lost in the first ten minutes of the race”
"The motivation hasn’t lessened but the goals have changed, because rather than targeting a podium finish in LMP2 ProAm it’s now all about making up as many places as possible and not finishing last.” – she added.
“Algarve Pro Racing has worked incredibly hard all week and it’s really sad that out car had the failure at the start, but it’s racing at the end of the day”.
Floersch had a close call with the #36 Ultimate LMP2 of Jean Baptiste Lahaye after the French driver hit the barriers at the Porsche curves, smashing into a polystyrene board and scattering debris all over the track; Floersch was skilled to avoid the accident happening just in front of her.
With a few hours left on the clock, Aitken had to pit with a tyre issue but was quickly back out again and Sophia, in her last stint, got ahead of two LMP2 ProAm entries, moving into P5 in class after an impressive charge from P62 overall at the end of the first lap. She lapped a few tenths from Aitken and at one point she was the fastest of the trio.
Current F1-reserve driver Jack Aitken brought the car across the finish line in P5 in ProAm, P20 in LMP2 and P25 overall.
It surely was a disappointment for Floersch and teammates, as they finished 3 laps down the ProAm leader – the sister #45 car – having recovered 2 laps throughout the 24-hour chase. The performance was there to win, but luck was again not on her side.
"Le Mans is one hell of a rollercoaster" – commented Algarve Pro Racing Team Principal Stewart Cox. "In fact, this year has been full of ups and downs."
“I’m a little bit disappointed with what happened to the #47 car away from the start", he continued. "We lost five laps, yet Sophia [Floersch], John [Falb] and Jack [Aitken] finished only three laps off the sister #45 car that won Pro-Am, and their pace suggests they had a real shout of victory, too. It was all because a gearbox actuator overheated and failed, which is immensely frustrating."
The competitive level in the LMP2 class was unprecedented, with 27 entries – and only one officially retired car in that class. But the obvious heartbreak for the result should not take away from the outstanding effort of the recovery drive.
While the podium wasn't yet meant to be, Floersch proved once again she belongs to that competitive elite. And, as with every truly remarkable achievement, today's hardships will make her first Le Mans success even sweeter.
Autodromo Nazionale di Monza hosts the next ELMS round on July 13th.