Meet the Champ - how does that sound? A chat with Francesca Linossi, 2019 Italian GT-Am champion.
Earlier this month, the famous Mugello circuit in Tuscany hosted the final round of the Italian GT championship, one of the most competitive in Europe thanks to several prestigious entries.
It was a season finale to remember for Brescia-born driver Francesca Linossi, who was crowned for the first time Italian GT champion in the Pro-Am class, alongside her teammate.
Despite her young age, Francesca has already accumulated many experiences as a professional driver, but her freshly-won Italian title is undoubtedly one of the biggest goals achieved so far from the 27-year old Italian.
It all started at a very early age, as her father Luciano was a big name in the Italian racing scene. Francesca didn't miss the chance to follow in the footsteps of "Linos", and today she continues the family tradition in an environment where long-term continuity is a very difficult task, as in motorsport.
"I started racing because in my family I have my father who has been driving racing cars since I was child. When he started I was 5 years old, but I had watched Formula 1 races on TV even before." - she tells us.
"I never liked playing with dolls and the first time I asked for a go-kart, it was in our home the day after, so probably that was exactly what my father wished for!"
As previously mentioned, Francesca already amassed many important experiences in the highest-level GT championships so far, such Ferrari Challenge, Porsche Carrera Cup, Lamborghini Supertrofeo.
"I started racing cars at 15 and I immediately moved to touring cars as I never did formula racing. It was a decision based on budget, because formula championships are very different budget-wise. In any case, unless you aspire to Formula 1, and we all know that it's very very difficult, sooner or later you have to make the switch to GT cars, so I immediately wanted to start with touring cars. At 17 I did the Ferrari Challenge and I was the youngest driver in Italy to race with GT cars over 2000cc under 18."
"I had so many experiences, but it was only in the last 3-4 years that I was finally able to do championships in a proper way, with some testing days and in a very professional environment, because unfortunately budget is always an issue in motorsport.
The first few years certainly helped me, because I was straight away used to race with big cars such as Ferraris, Lamborghinis, and in the last few years I'm finally collecting some great results: so much so that at Mugello I raced for the Pro-Am title".
Francesca also raced in the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series, the European version of the famous American series: a peculiar experience, compared to the previously mentioned championships.
"Those were two unconventional years, let's say. At the beginning, when I was asked to race in the NASCAR, my very first thought was: «no way, I'm not going to race that.»
Instead, after I did the first test in Magione, the car was very enjoyable. It's something completely different, it has nothing to do with a GT car: there is no ABS, no electronic controls, you have have nothing. But I had a lot of fun in those two years, because the races are a bit different, it's not like the American NASCAR where you race on ovals. There are only a couple of those circuits here in Europe. They were short tracks, one was like in a large square! But I enjoyed it, I did a lot of side-by-side battles, in every race. Also, they tend to use the Safety Car quite often. Like, there's a debris on track and the Safety Car comes out. And the restarts are like the start of the race, paired on rows and not in line."
"I didn't aspire to continue in NASCAR: it has always been dictated by a budget factor, but it was a good experience."
Endurance races can be very challenging and require lot of physical energies, as well as mental ones: this is why many factors have to come together in order for the team to be successful. "It's my first year racing a long-race format, as I have been doing 50 minutes races previously. It's always a 2-drivers crew, but it's a 25 minutes stint each. Here it's a one-hour stint each, so it's much more challenging. I did the first two races in wet conditions and to keep focus for the entire hour is hard."
"Another important thing is that above all you have to get along well with your team-mates.
I race with Stefano [Colombo] who is also my partner in life, and a third team-mate that we changed in the various rounds, but we always found good ones.
The important thing is that you have to be in line with your team-mates regarding the feeling with the car, and for the time being it always happened. In fact, sometimes you may have a different feeling with the car compared to your co-drivers." Francesca Linossi was among the women selected last year to test for the inaugural season of the W-Series, the all-female formula championship. She would not describe it as a very satisfying experience, even though she proved to be as competitive as some of the drivers that would later took part in the championship. "It was my first experience in a single-seater, as I had never raced with a formula car. It's completely different from a GT, it's like driving a completely different car.
I did a test before the selection process, to understand how a formula car works and I have to say that the test went pretty well."
"When we arrived in Almeria I struggled because many of the girls were already racing in open-wheel championships. I thought I had made it in the 18 on laptimes, as I had been running around P15 or P16 in the two opening days. Then they altered the selection format on the last day, I don't know why. They picked me as a reserve driver, but I turned it down because I then had to miss my GT races and I didn't want to." The single-seater path is something that Francesca would not keep pursuing; at least not after her successes in one of the leading GT championships. "I have been racing in GT cars for many years and I struggled to adapt to the formula driving style. I love GT, maybe if I was racing in some lower championships I would consider some more outings in single-seaters, but certainly not now that I race in a GT3 car." It's always nice to talk about victories and positive moments in sports, but the negative moments are often the ones that show how passionate and determined an athlete is. They are the defining moments that take you back to your dream. "There have been a few difficult moments over the years. When I raced in the Superstars in 2011 it was the worst season: I had problems in every race. At the half season mark I thought I wanted to leave and give up racing. It had never happened to me before, to lose the desire to race cars."
"That year it all went wrong for various reasons, from the car to the crashes that happened in almost every race. I think I finished just one race and ultimately, I interrupted the Superstar campaign at mid-season. Then, my dad convinced me to enter a race with him and it was the first time that I drove the Ferrari 430 GT2, here at Mugello. I enjoyed it and I remember I though: «this year it went all wrong, but in the end you always come back». Francesca's team-mate is her fiance, Stefano Colombo. This is something that can be very motivating, but it could also prove to be an extra-challenge: it's not always easy to combine your private life with high-level sports, let alone within a relationship. "Last year the opportunity to race together came up and we said, let's try! We either argue and break up or it strengthens us even more. Everything was fine, we didn't have any issues during the season and at home, strangely, we almost never talk about racing, except maybe when we travel from racetracks. We get along well, we are happy and there's also a bit of competition between us." Although both Francesca and Stefano come from the motorsport world, their relationship was born off the racetrack. "We knew each other because in the paddock everyone knows everyone, but we actually met outside the circuits. He is from Novara, while I live near Lake Garda. Stefano moved there and we started to hang out through mutual friends. So our relationship is not really born on the track". Motorsport is often a place where people form bonds that become real friendships that transcend the sport itself. "The most important thing that W-Series left me is that as a woman, we usually are put one against the other. We are not many and if there is another woman in your same championship, they immediately start to compare you with how she did. Maybe there are thirty other drivers, but everyone always compares you to the other girl."
"In W-Series I met the other Italian drivers, Carlotta Fedeli and Alessandra Brena. I already knew them, but we had the chance to establish a better relationship. And then Vicky Piria, who I had never met personally before. We met at the W-Series and a great friendship was born, I am very happy about it. She comes to see my races, I go to hers, but we also see each other outside the paddock. This was certainly a very positive thing". After proving herself as one of the top names of Italian motorsport in 2019, Francesca Linossi aims to keep making the difference in the championship that crowned her Italian GT Pro-Am champion at Mugello, at the wheel of the Antonelli Motorsport Mercedes AMG GT3. "My career always depends on the sponsors that we manage to find every year. My goal, until now unfortunately unachieved, is to run at least two consecutive years with the same car, because we all know that the more kilometres you run with a car, the more you learn."
"My goal is to stay with the AMG GT3 car because I like the car and I'm doing well. Probably next year there will be a new kit and it'll look even more beautiful, so I hope to stay with Mercedes and with the Antonelli Team."
Ph credits: Racers-BehindTheHelmet.com