Freiberg sweeps Sebring, Stewart impresses with double podium in Porsche Sprint Challenge NA
Porsche Sprint Challenge North America was off to a spectacular start for Ashley Freiberg - who claimed two class victories at her series debut - and Madeline Stewart, who secured outright pole position and scored two podiums at Sebring.
Porsche Sprint Challenge North America by Yokohama started its season at Sebring International Raceway with the first of its double-headers, followed by seven more meetings that will crown the 2023 champions across the different classes.
Having joined the packed fields of the 992 Pro/Am and 991 categories are two highly promising and talented female athletes, both making their first appearance in the North American series, but certainly not new to sports car racing.
One of them is 22 year old New Zealander Madeline Stewart, who will compete with a 992 GT3 for JDX Racing. Stewart started her career in karting in 2010, where she was the first female to win a round of the Australian Rotax Pro Tour. In 2019 she moved to Australia, where she raced in the Kumho Tyres Super3 series and the AUS F1000 series, before contesting most recently the Porsche Sprint Challenge Australia.
“I’m really excited about this new opportunity, racing in America", Stewart said before the first race of the season. "JDX has such a great pedigree and had such a strong 2022 Carrera Cup campaign."
"I’m really looking forward to working with them and I’m confident that I’ll learn a lot. It’s also great to have Byers Porsche on board for 2023 and I’m excited to build a relationship with them. This will be my first time racing a Porsche 992 Cup Car and to have the chance to race at such iconic circuits as Sebring, Circuit of the Americas, and the Indy Road Course is a dream come true."
Stewart had the opportunity to test at Barber Motorsport Park prior to the season opener at Sebring.
Officially joining the series just a few days before the start of the season - Shift Up Now athlete Ashley Freiberg made her Porsche Sprint Challenge NA debut with sponsorship from Yokohama Tire, under the banner of MDK Motorsports. Ashley competed in open-wheel cars, sports car and endurance racing before and has often been one of the most promising female drivers on the IMSA platform.
She won two Skip Barber championship titles and became the first woman to win races in the IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge, before successful stints in IMSA and Lamborghini Super Trofeo. Funding issues, though, rarely allowed her to contest full seasons: she is in fact entering her first full time campaign since 2015.
Both of them would start to show their speed and make headlines straight from qualifying, when Madeline Stewart took outright pole position for the first race of the season, with a remarkable lap that put her 992 ahead of Zachary Vanier and David Williams.
Ashley Freiberg would start from second place in the 991 class and 11th overall, having struggled with traffic in the 31-car field.
At the race start, Vanier found a better start and moved up in the lead from second position - and could secure the first win of the season followed by Christian Hodneland and David Williams in the overall classification. While Madeline Stewart could eventually not capitalize her pole position, she was looking strong to finish fourth overall before a late Safety Car neutralization; the young Kiwi crossed the finish line in fifth overall, but scored her first 992 Pro/Am podium of the season with a solid run.
"We’re leaving today with a pole and a podium so it’s a great start to the Championship", Stewart commented on Saturday. "Unfortunately I made a couple of mistakes during the race which caused me to drop back a few positions but it’s all good learning!" - she added.
There could have been no better start of the season for Ashley Freiberg, who showed the world what she is capable of doing behind the wheel of a race car.
Freiberg was soon able to move ahead of class rival Roberto Tutino and mingled with the faster 992 cars, finishing eighth overall.
Triumphant at her racing return, Freiberg was never under pressure for her class win, finishing ahead of Roberto Tutino (P12 overall) and Scott Zdanis (P13 overall).
"Won my first ever Porsche Sprint Challenge North America race!" - she said. "So beyond grateful to be back behind the wheel doing what I love most, my heart is so full!"
But the second race of the weekend would be even more impressive for both drivers.
Madeline Stewart lined up in fourth place overall - third in Pro/Am - but had seemingly found more pace on Sunday: the driver of the #282 JDX Racing Porsche kept the pressure on the race leaders throughout the race, never made mistakes and was ultimately able to snatch third place overall in the second part of the race. Zachary Vainer had meanwhile pulled away and took a back-to-back victory, followed by Aidan Kenny and Madeline Stewart, whose double class podium put her in a strong position for the championship.
“I’m really happy with my debut weekend in Porsche Sprint Challenge North America", Stewart told us after the weekend. "It was a great feeling to show up to my first race in the USA and put it pole, and then lead 35 cars into Turn 1 on my first rolling start."
"We then came away with two podiums in the races, so it was a great start to the championship. It wasn’t a perfect weekend, I made a couple of mistakes and there are still plenty of things to work on so we’ll keep pushing to be ready for the next round. JDX Racing are such an awesome team and I can’t thank them enough, plus a special thank you to Jaxon Evans for his coaching and support throughout the weekend. Bring on Barber!”
Just behind the leading group, Ashley Freiberg started from tenth overall and second in the 991 class. From class pole, Roberto Tutino initially held on to the top spot, but had to endure the pressure of Freiberg, who constantly followed him by a couple of tenths of a second.
Freiberg managed to make a move stick and soon pulled away - again hunting down the 992 cars in the overall top-10.
She would start a battle with the 992 Porsche of Jody Miller in the final stages of the race, unchallenged for her second class win.
With tenth overall and first in class, it was a dominant performance for Freiberg, sweeping the weekend at Sebring at her series debut. She preceded Daniel Hanley (12th overall) and Tim Kezman (13th overall) to wrap up a spectacular first round.
Wow, what a start to the 2023 race season,” said Freiberg. “I am just so grateful that I’ve been given this opportunity to be back behind the wheel full time with a top-notch team. It was a super-hot weekend, which not only makes driving conditions challenging behind the wheel in extreme heat in the car, but Sebring is also a track that gets very greasy and slick in the heat."
“From the start, I knew that as long as I managed my tires properly over the course of the race, it would put me in a good position to win", she continued. "I certainly had some challenges along the way that left a few battle scars on my car, but I’m so glad I was able to make my way to the front cleanly and hold it to the end of both races."
“A huge thank you goes out to my supporters at MDK Motorsports, Yokohama Tire, Shift Up Now, Trakracer and Bell Helmets. I’m ready to make the most of this amazing opportunity and put the work in to go for the championship.”
The next event will take place at Barber Motorsports Park, from April 28-30.