"I'm getting back to why I started racing" – Sophia Floersch on being able to fight for podiums
Sophia Floersch is making strides in her LMP2 adventure and, ahead of her third Le Mans 24 Hours, she told us what it feels to enter the biggest race of the year having for the first time the chance to finish on the class podium.
At 21, Sophia Floersch is at her third 24 Hours of Le Mans participation – having finished in the top-ten at her debut in LMP2. Two years later, the young German continues to make strides in sportscar racing, having recently claimed two historic podiums in her return to the European Le Mans Series.
Floersch moved from Richard Mille Racing to Algarve Pro Racing, after a one off at the 2021 season finale at Portimao that brought her on the outright third step of the podium for the first time. She became the first woman to do so in the history of the championship.
After a full time move to the Portuguese outfit in 2022, Floersch – now partnering Bent Viscaal in a two Silver-rated drivers line up – even topped herself and was second at the 4 Hours of Paul Ricard.
With a charging race after an unlucky qualifying, Floersch and Viscaal moved through the pack and were a splash and dash short of a potential victory.
"Bent finished the race and when I got out of the car I didn't really understand what the strategy was – then they explained it to me and I was like Ok, I hope it's going to work out" – Sophia recalled.
"I was super nervous because we started 10th and our goal was to get top-five but we never expected to actually finish P2. The strategy we made was really good, but our race pace is really consistent compared to other cars."
Floersch and Viscaal – a former F2 racer – have been very close on lap times since the start of their campaign, and their consistent race pace compared to some other LMP2 entries continued to put them in contention for the podium.
"I am super happy, about the podiums with Algarve Pro – we don't want to stop that momentum", she told us in Imola, where she was denied another fight for a top-three after a late tyre puncture.
"Bent and I are pretty similar and we work well together so we actually enjoy it. We're just two drivers, so we drive a lot more. It's different from single seaters, when you're just arrogant, doing your own stuff. Here you work and share everything."
Floersch previously raced in European F3, Formula Regional European Championship and FIA F3 – before getting the chance to make her endurance debut. Albeit her results in formulas were not poor by any means – including six top five finishes in FREC – she seems to have found her happy place in the highest spheres of endurance racing, where she continues to impress weekend after weekend.
"I think formulas in general were really hard for me, because I never really had the equipment or the test days to perform and to show what I'm capable of doing", she explained. "But now with Algarve Pro, it's actually one of the first teams that gave me the chance to really be where I want to be. They trusted me as a driver and I'm enjoying it. I get along super well with the team, they really push for me."
"We had some good success in the past months – and if you have success while working, it makes for fun racing. I'm getting back to why I started racing. And especially now on this level, we have the car and line up to be top-four constantly. Sometimes stuff just doesn't work your way, but still we know what we can do."
Floersch is now ready for her third start at the most legendary race on the calendar – the 24 Hours of Le Mans, in a new line up that sees the German sharing the #47 Oreca with Jack Aitken and bronze-rated John Falb, in a ProAm entry.
"I'm going to Le Mans for the third time in a row and I'm really looking forward to it", she said. "I think actually with Jack and John – who is the Am, but actually one of the best amateurs out there and who did Le Mans already three times, so he knows what's important there – I think we really have chances", she added.
"You know, you always say you want to win, but I really do believe we have chances to win with this car and team line up."
Last year, a crash in the early hours took Floersch, Calderon and Visser out of the race after Sophia was hit and subsequently collected during a sudden rain shower. At the most important race of the year, everything can go wrong in the split of a second, wiping out the work of entire months.
"In Le Mans you never know what's happening", she told us. "Most of the time something happens and it's not in your control, so we need a lot of luck as well. But I do feel it's going to be good for us this year."
One of the crown jewels of motor racing, the 90th edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans will have even more magic, as the public returns to Circuit de la Sarthe after 2 years. Often described as a big festivity about motor racing, Le Mans is such a prestigious highlight on a drivers' resumé that often the pressure of that busy week can prevent the protagonists from fully enjoying the experience. That's not the case for Floersch.
"To be honest I enjoy everything", she told us. "Le Mans is everything you work for. I'm super looking forward to it and the whole week is really emotional – really stressful as well, but amazing at the same time. It's the first time for me doing Le Mans knowing that we can finish on the podium, it makes it even more special."
With a really strong LMP2 ProAm line up, in fact, Algarve Pro is aiming high, despite an unfortunate qualifying marked by Jack Aitken getting a lap time deleted for track limits, before a red flag and then the rain made setting a representative time even more challenging. But with a strong practice pace, Floersch, Aitken and Falb are expected to move up the order in the race.
The trio is sharing a car for the first time, but had the opportunity to complete a few test days last month to get to know each other.
"We had two test days in Monza, it was the first time with John Jack and me as a team" – Sophia explained. "We all went for dinner, we worked well together and I also think we like the car to be set pretty similar. You really feel we are all having the same goal and working for the team and not just for ourselves."
"Jack [Aitken] is one of the best drivers out there – he did one F1 race and I think he's proven in the past that he's a really good driver. It's his first Le Mans and he also has high ambitions, so obviously we're going to try to push. But at the same time, at Le Mans you have to try to keep it calm and clean and then we'll see where we end up."
There is no doubt that a female podium at Le Mans in a prototype category would represent another inspiring record for Floersch. But, she says, such records do not particularly interest her.
"I mean, obviously I'm a woman and obviously it's something special if I finish on the podium and break records, but in the end I want to be a racing driver and I want to perform against men and all the female-records just come as an additional thing."
In Imola, Floersch sported a new helmet, which is a natural evolution of her latest designs which now carry a set of coloured stripes to identify her. For the special occasion of Le Mans, the design has been slightly altered, to include some purple stripes.
"Every racing driver kinda has their special things – Schumacher had the stars, Senna had the Brazilian stripes and colours – and it's just something that fans normally remember from a driver's helmet", she explains. "You want something that always stays."
"I like the Sophia's stripes, I stayed with them and this year they're blue because the car's blue and glitter. I love the helmet, also with the purple padding. Bell and Jota did a really good job and hopefully it will bring us luck."
The 90th edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans gets underway on Saturday 11th June at 16:00 local time.