Hockenheim marks another step forward for Sophia Floersch ahead of DTM season finale
Saturday's DTM race at Hockenheim was another sign of Sophia Floersch's continuous progress in the series, ahead of the Norisring season finale. Esmee Hawkey continued to impress in qualifying.
At the seventh round of the 2021 DTM season - the first under the new GT3 regulations - the fight for the title took centre stage at Hockenheim, as Kelvin van der Linde and Liam Lawson continued to swap places at the top of the provisional points' table throughout the weekend.
At the home of the traditional DTM season finale – which this year will be held for the first time on the street circuit of Norisring – there were also other stories, such as the very positive first race for the two women of the championship, Sophia Floersch and Esmee Hawkey.
Both at their first season in the series – and for Floersch in GT3 machinery – the British and the German young women have experienced a learning-oriented campaign. Nevertheless, both scored points in one of the most exclusive and competitive GT championships in the world.
After scoring her first points at Assen, Esmee Hawkey in fact geared up for the penultimate round of the season at Hockenheim with confidence at the wheel of her #26 T3 motorsport's Lamborghini Huracan.
“It’s a track with lots of history and it always produces some great racing, particularly in DTM" – Esmee said before the race weekend. "I’m still riding high after scoring our first points at Assen and that’s given me a real confidence boost as we arrive here and aim for more of the same.”
With a P9 in the same race, Sophia Floersch had also claimed her first points of the season, becoming the first woman to score in the category since Rahel Frey in 2012.
On the 4,564 metres of the Hockenheimring, ABT Sportsline title contender Kelvin van der Linde claimed pole position on Saturday morning, sharing the front row with Lucas Auer and – crucially – one row ahead of main rival Liam Lawson (AF Corse Ferrari).
Since the Monza season opener, one of Esmee Hawkey's best strength has been the qualifying performance and the 26-year-old Brit once again gave proof of her single-lap speed with a 14th place on the grid of Race 1. Sophia Floersch had a more difficult session and lined up in 19th position.
At lights out, Auer and Juncadella battled for second place at Turn 2, before Liam Lawson made his way through the Mercedes of Gotz and Juncadella with a contact at the Parabolika – also paving the way to Arjun Maini. The Indian driver, moved into fourth place, went deep into the hairpin and sent into a spin Auer - igniting a multi-car pile up.
While Esmee Hawkey was pushed wide into the grass at the exit of Turn 6, Sophia Floersch took the inside line and recovered to 11th position before the Safety Car was deployed.
At the restart on lap 5, Floersch battled with Gore and defended well, but then lost out to teammate Mike Rockenfeller. Ahead, Van der Linde retained the lead from Goetz, Lawson, Ellis and Juncadella.
Alex Albon, ninth on the starting grid, started an impressive recovery and made a stunning move on Marvin Dienst – stepping in the #18 Muecke Motorsport's Mercedes of Maximilian Buhk - and on Timo Glock soon after.
The first pit stops started on lap 7, with front runners Goetz, Lawson, Ellis and Jucadella taking the way of the pit lane. Kelvin van der Linde would pit one lap later, rejoining as the first-placed among the stoppers. Sophia Floersch got stuck in the battles and showed determination before she pitted on lap 9 from eighth place, after a very good first stint.
Her race resumed from P18, just ahead of Hawkey who had also just pitted. Both drivers moved ahead of Dev Gore once the American pitted. Floersch would make her way up to P15.
On lap 10, Nico Muller dived on the inside of Timo Glock at Turn 12, but the move didn't work out and the Swiss driver spun out in the grass. Muth and Albon pitted from the provisional lead and the AF Corse driver moved up one more position with a better stop.
On fresher rubber, Albon was on a mission and passed Lucas Di Grassi – making his DTM debut for ABT Sportsline – Daniel Juncadella, his teammate Liam Lawson, Maximilian Goetz and Marco Wittmann, eventually advancing into third place.
Having taken a hit in the opening stages, Wittmann retired his Walkenhorst BMW due to a lack of pace; a few laps later, Sheldon van der Linde also had to pull into the pitlane to retire.
From the lead, Rockenfeller finally stopped on lap 25, leaving his teammate Kelvin van der Linde in free air.
Nico Muller's day went from bad to worse when his Team Rosberg Audi came to a halt on the way to Turn 11 – promoting Sophia Floersch and Esmee Hawkey to P13 and P14.
Alex Albon, second after the round of pit stops, was never able to catch up with van der Linde, but Lawson – after a long battle and helped by Goetz's braking issues – managed to find a way past the #4 HRT Mercedes with 1 minute left on the clock and move into third.
To level up the points' table again, though, would be Mike Rockenfeller, who stripped Lawson of the final podium step on the final lap of the race.
Glock and Dienst spared no contact and their battle allowed Sophia Floersch to close in and join the fight. Sophia ultimately moved into 12th position once Lucas Di Grassi pitted with 2 laps to go, dropping to P15.
Kelvin van der Linde took his fourth win of the season, ahead of Alex Albon and Mike Rockenfeller, thus going into Sunday level on points (188) with Liam Lawson, fourth across the finish line.
Floersch showed good pace throughout the race and fought elbows out in the midfield, bringing home a 12th position which represents her second-best result of the season. Esmee Hawkey was just behind her in 13th spot, and was demoted to 14th due to a 5 second time penalty for a pit stop infringement.
The second race day at Hockenheim, on the other hand, proved to be a more challenging race for both the women of the championship.
Esmee Hawkey continued to impress in qualifying and was P16, as also Floersch had a better session and started from 17th on the grid.
The first row rows were identical to the first race and Kelvin van der Linde aimed for more success - but it would be Auer to snatch the lead on the first lap. T3 Motorsport's Esmee Hawkey had a good start and gained two positions, while Floersch lost one.
In an important moment for the championship, van der Linde and Lawson went side by side and swapped places on lap 2 – with the Audi driver hitting the back of the Ferrari and picking up a penalty.
On lap 3, Sophia Floersch passed Dev Gore and, a few corners later, attacked Esmee Hawkey. Floersch found a way past, but the ROKiT-sponsored driver fought back. Floersch and Hawkey battled for a whole lap, before Sophia went for a gap at the hairpin and the two made contact; Floersch had to retire, while Hawkey dropped down but continued.
She would ultimately finish in P16 despite the damages.
Despite the unfortunate contact, both Floersch and Hawkey made significant progress throughout the season and are now almost consistently in the midfield of one of the world's top championships.
“Saturday was a positive day: I started 19th and finished 12th." – explained Floersch.
"The pace was quite okay. On Sunday, I had two collisions. After the first one the car was already a bit crooked, the second one unfortunately gave the car the rest. But of course, that’s not so important: my main thoughts are also with Manuel.” – she said, mentioning the ABT mechanic that was injured in Mike Rockenfeller's pit stop.
According to the team, the mechanic suffered injuries to two fingers on his left hand. He was taken to the hospital in Ludwigshafen where he underwent surgery.
The race turned into a nightmare also for Kelvin van der Linde, who struggled with the extra 25kg of success ballast. Lucas Auer won in dominant style, ahead of Liam Lawson and Maximilian Goetz. The New Zealander Ferrari driver is thus back in the championship lead with van der Linde only picking up one point in tenth place.
The final showdown will get underway at Norisring - another historic circuit back on the calendar after the 2020 cancellation – on 9-10 October.
Floersch will make her first visit to the short but spectacular street circuit, while Hawkey returns after a points-scoring weekend in W Series in 2019.