Francesca Linossi's comeback in CIGT Endurance: a thrilling weekend ends with Pro-Am podium
Francesca Linossi, a well-known face in the Italian GT paddock, returned to her historic team, Antonelli Motorsport, for the Mugello endurance race, where she stepped on the podium of the PRO AM category.
Two races into the Italian GT Sprint championship, Francesca Linossi returns to the Endurance championship with team Antonelli Motorsport, with whom she won a title back in 2019. Linossi was thus back behind the wheel of the stunning #44 Mercedes AMG GT3-EVO, teaming up with young Italian Emidio Pesce and the fast Dutchman Jop Rappange. Pesce/Rappange had already competed in the Sprint championship and were joined at Mugello by Linossi on their debut in the Endurance series.
Francesca had to readjust herself to the GT3 machinery, very different from the Porsche 991 GT3 Cup she got used to drive together Vicky Piria and Tsunami RT team: "It was a good return to GT3 Mercedes, a car I already knew and raced a few years ago", Francesca told us.
"I had to readjust a bit after a season and a half with the GT Cup: this car is completely different, a bit tougher physically as well", she revealed.
The Mugello weekend started with a P9 in the FP1 - and FP2 went even better, as the team put the #44 Mercedes in P4. Qualifying, though, wasn't an easy one: Francesca, who participated in Q2 (Pesce was out on track in Q1 and Rappange was in for the final Q3) had to deal with two red flags. The first one was caused by Stefano Comandini in the BMW M4 GT3 (BMW Team Italia by Ceccato Racing), who spun into the gravel.
Only 2 minutes before the end of the session, Diego Locanto (Krypton Motorsport) had contact with Luciano Privitelio (FFF Racing Team) at the San Donato corner and caused the second red flag of the session.
Luckily, the three combined lap times were enough to put Pesce/Linossi/Rappange in 6th place on the grid (P3 PRO AM) and Francesca was ready and steady for the race start.
Lights went out at 16:20 on the sunniest Sunday of Autodromo del Mugello. Francesca lined up on the grid for the start and, after the formation lap behind the Safety car, she managed to have an amazing start, gaining immediately the position over the Imperiale Racing's #9 Lamborghini at the first chicane. The start didn't lead to much trouble for the rest of the pack either, as poleman Benjamin Hites (#63 VSR Lamborghini) fought for the lead with the sister car, the n. 19 driven by Yuki Nemoto. Francesca then started to battle with Dan Pijl (Imperiale Racing) for the fifth position, which she eventually gained after a few laps. Nilsson was also under the spotlight for an impressive performance: forced to a comeback after his car couldn't finish the qualifying session, the young BMW driver managed to overtake more than ten cars in the first few laps. As the race went on smoothly - except for a few hiccups for some of the entries; the #9 Imperiale Racing Lamborghini of Balthasar had an excursion through the gravel trap, the #327 GT Cup AF Corse Ferrari had mechanical issues, and the #333 Ferrari driven by L. Cossu (SR&R) had a tyre blow. Francesca's battle for 5th position continued and Dan Pijl overtook the Italian at the end of the main straight. Then she found herself with two of the fastest drivers of the championship glued to her Mercedes' rear: Moulin (#66 VSR Lamborghini) and Nilsson (#50 BMW Team Italia by Ceccato Racing). The three were the protagonists of one of the most engaging battles of the race, which actually ended with the Swedish driver ahead of this group. Francesca lost a few seconds due to a lapped Ferrari and ended up behind the Lamborghini as well. As the first Pit window, the pit-stops opened, Francesca Linossi handed the car over to Jop Rappange - who was great at picking up the pace and gained back some positions. Only some laps after the driver change, the #55 Nova Race Honda impacted heavily into the barriers at Arrabbiata 2. Luckily, the marshals were able to recover the car without the deployment of the Safety car and the race could continue uninterrupted.
Mateo LLarena jumped in the #6 Imperiale Racing Lamborghini and started to battle with Fabio Scholze (#17 Antonelli Motorsport), which led to a thrilling battle with frequent position swaps. Ultimately, the Guatemalan driver had the better hand.
The second pit window opened for the last stint of the race; Jop Rappange handed over to young Italian Emidio Pesce from fourth position, after an amazing comeback. Emidio managed to do an incredible stint and rejoined the track in P7 overall.
Kikko Galbiati, at the wheel of the other Antonelli Motorsport Mercedes, struggled to keep behind the #66 Lamborghini, evidently faster, who managed to overtake him after a little contact. Pesce took the checkered flag in 6th position overall, which resulted in a podium finish in the PRO AM class for Linossi/Pesce/Rappange.
Lamborghinis were dominant up ahead, with the #19 Vand the #63 VSR Lambo Huracans finishing 1-2, followed by the #6 Imperiale Racing Lamborghini.
At their first race together, Francesca and her teammates proved to work really very well together and took home a great result for their first race in the Endurance championship.
"Let's say my race went quite well: I'm happy with the start and the first part of the race while I struggled a bit more towards the end to manage the car on used tyres" - Linossi told us after the race. "It was a bit of a 'test race' and I'm happy with the result in the end, third in PRO AM is good for us." - she concluded.
The Italian GT Endurance series will be back on track in Vallelunga on the 17th/18th of September.