"It’s not a great feeling, but this is sometimes the reality of racing" - Reema Juffali's Theeba Motorsport had an epic run at the 1000km of Paul Ricard but was taken out by floor damage while in fifth and potentially in contention for a class podium.
At her team's second race in the outstandingly competitive GT World Challenge Europe, Saudi racer Reema Juffali missed out on a top five - and potential podium fight - in the Bronze Cup after damage to the car's floor halted the team's progression with 90 minutes to go. Theeba Motorsport - at its second season of competition and first in the championship - had shown a superb improvement in pace compared to the season opener at Monza and Juffali, alongside Alain Valente and Ralf Aron, had started from fifth in class after showing top-three worthy pace in practice. Alain Valente had taken the reins of the Theeba Motorsport's #81 Mercedes AMG GT3 in Q1 in the morning and had set the seventh fastest time, with a 1:55.187. Juffali took over in Q2 and, with a 1:55.872 was in a solid P12 among the Bronze Cup entries. The team's fastest lap came in Q3 with Estonian Ralf Aron, who clocked a 1:54.260 that brought the average time down to 1:55.106. Juffali was the driver elected to take the start of the 1000km of Paul Ricard, scheduled for 6pm local time. With almost 60 cars on track, it was chaos in the midst of the massive pack: the #78 Barwell Lamborghini of Collard hit the barriers and was already out of the race, while more spins and incidents eventually triggered the safety car at the end of the first lap. Reema Juffali had to avoid an incident and slotted in sixth in the Theeba Motorsport's Mercedes, while the class pole sitting McLaren was down to fourth and the Pure Rxcing Porsche had grabbed the lead.
At the restart, 15 minutes into the race, the CSA Racing Audi of Legeret was on a charge passed Juffali for sixth, but the Saudi continued her run with consistent pace. Reema hunted down Ralf Bohn - in a five car battle that included also the Iron Dames' Lamborghini. Sarah Bovy and Juffali carved their way through traffic of other classes - until they both made brilliant moves stick on the Porsche of Bohn, gaining a place in class. The recovering Sky Tempesta McLaren of Eddie Cheever - who started last after missing qualifying - eventually got ahead after a small mistake at turn 1 by the Saudi driver. One hour into the race, Reema pitted from seventh in class for the first pit stop; she remained behind the wheel for a second stint. After light contact, Hubert Haupt (Haupt Racing Mercedes) took the lead in Bronze, passing the Pure Rxcing Porsche that had led since the first laps of the race. He would then receive a penalty for tagging the Porsche into a spin. At the end of the second hour of racing, Reema Juffali completed a very solid double stint filled with wheel to wheel duels. Alain Valente took over the #81 Theeba Motorsport Mercedes and the Swiss driver rejoined in eighth. At the 3 hour mark, Alain Valente remained at the wheel of the #81 Mercedes after a really strong stint that allowed Theeba Motorsport to close in on the cars battling ahead, eventually recovering to fifth. Mid-way through the race, the Saudi outfit remained in the mix for a top three in class. The sun was now moving behind the horizon and teams geared up for the dusk and night stints - which would be crucial in preparation of the 24 Hours of Spa, flagship event of the series. Ralf Aron would be up next in the Theeba Motorsport Mercedes, in his first ever night drive. The Estonian took over from fifth, targeting a potential top three. Around ten laps into his stint, though, Aron reported vibrations and had to stop for an unscheduled pit stop with around 90 minutes to go, amidst sparks coming out of the car's floor. The epic run for the Saudi team came to a sudden halt when a broken splitter was discovered, which had caused floor damage unrepairable on the spot. The car was wheeled back in the garage and eventually retired from the race.
While Reema Juffali will have no result to back up her team's improvement, Theeba Motorsport has clearly made a huge step forward from Monza, where the #81 Mercedes struggled for pace. At Paul Ricard, Juffali, Valente and Aron were clearly in for a top five and would have been in contention for a podium, also following the retirement of the race leader in the closing minutes. “I was first behind the wheel and had an enjoyable double stint to begin the race." - Juffali summed up. "Unfortunately, after managing to work our way up to P5, we had a mechanical failure with around an hour and a half left to go and had to retire the car." "It’s not a great feeling, but this is sometimes the reality of racing", she continued. "We’ll work hard to come back with the same momentum that we had at the beginning of the race at the next round in Spa.” Juffali's strong 56-lap stint and confidence in the battles was another positive take away from the 1000km of Paul Ricard, which offers a hints of the team's pace and potential at the upcoming 24 Hours of Spa - a race that Juffali won in the Bronze Cup at her first participation in 2022. The team's progression since the start of the season clearly suggests that Juffali may be once again in contention for a strong result at the most prestigious GT3 race of the year.