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  • Writer's pictureLIAM REDFORD

Inaugural Porsche Endurance Challenge North America event brings success for female drivers at Circuit of the Americas

The opening round of Porsche Endurance Challenge North America was a success and saw seven fast female drivers battle it out at Circuit of the Americas: Therese Lahlouh lead laps in the GT3 Cup division, while Caroline Candas and Madeline Stewart secured a top-10 result in the Cayman class. Paige Morales and Jem Hepworth were running well before a technical issue ended their day.


Therese Lahlouh, Porsche Endurance Challenge, Circuit of the Americas 2024
Photo credits: Kyle Schwab / Porsche North America

The opening round of Porsche Endurance Challenge North America saw Therese Lahlouh lead laps in the GT3 Cup division, while Caroline Candas and Madeline Stewart secured a top-10 result in the Cayman class at Circuit of the Americas. Seven female drivers were scheduled to take place in the first event of a four-race calendar, with the one-hour contest seeing strong performances from those in both classes.


Following the success of Porsche Sprint Challenge North America, an expansion into endurance racing was the logical next step. Therefore, four Porsche Endurance Challenge North America events have been added to the calendar with the opening event taking place at Circuit of the Americas.


The races are open to both Porsche GT3 Cup machinery as well as Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 RS Clubsport cars, with many drivers from Porsche Sprint Challenge North America choosing to supplement their weekend with an additional endurance event. The demand for the series was reflected in the stacked entry list for the opening round, with professional drivers including Patrick Long, Jan Magnussen and Riley Dickinson all entered.


After beginning the season at Circuit of the Americas in Texas, the Porsche Endurance Challenge North America drivers head to Road America in August. Visiting Sonoma for the final one-hour event in September, the season concludes with a marquee six-hour race as the drivers return to Circuit of the Americas. In the first three, one-hour events of the season, drivers can either race solo or with a co-driver and therefore these events feature one mandatory pit stop. For the final event of the year, three drivers will form the lineups in each car with a minimum of four pit stops required.


Madeline Stewart, Caroline Candas, RAFA Racing Team, Porsche Endurance Challenge North America, 2024 Circuit of the Americas
Photo credits: RAFA Racing Club

In total, seven female drivers were set to take part at Circuit of the Americas with three in the GT3 Cup class and four in the Cayman division. In the GT3 Cup division, all three drivers were familiar with the Porsche 992 GT3 Cup car: Ashley Frieberg, an overall podium finisher in the 992 division this season, teamed up with Laura Ely for Black Sheep Racing. Ely finished second in the Am class of Porsche Sprint Challenge West division in 2023 and therefore formed a strong partnership with Freiberg. Driving for JDX Racing, Therese Lahlouh has been a top-10 challenger in the 992 class and she formed a duo with Nik Romano.


In the Cayman division, all four female drivers competed for RAFA Racing Team by JDX and this included Porsche Sprint Challenge North America regulars Caroline Candas and Paige Morales. Candas drove alongside Madeline Stewart, a new face to RAFA Racing Team.


Stewart competes for JDX Racing in Porsche Carrera Cup North America, however this was her first start in the Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 RS Clubsport, therefore it would be a learning weekend for the young Kiwi racer. Morales partnered up with Jem Hepworth who currently drives for RAFA Racing Team in the GT4 European Series.


Initial testing and free practice sessions for Porsche Endurance Challenge North America were held in conjunction with Porsche Sprint Challenge North America in the respective classes, thus leading to a busy track. All drivers were able to bank valuable experience, despite red flags in both the second session on Thursday and the first session on Friday limiting the green flag running. Heading into the inaugural qualifying session, both GT3 Cup and Cayman machines would be on track together.


Laura Ely, Ashley Freiberg, Porsche Endurance Challenge, Circuit of the Americas 2024
Photo credits: Kyle Schwab / Porsche North America
GT3 Cup

Qualifying for the inaugural Porsche Endurance Challenge North America race would take place over forty-minutes, with both drivers in the two-driver lineups required to set a lap time. The aggregate times of both drivers would then be used in order to set the grid for the one-hour contest.


The #209 machine driven by Ashley Freiberg and Laura Ely immediately jumped near the top of the timing sheets with a strong opening lap time. Similarly, the #242 JDX Racing car of Therese Lahlouh and Nik Romano made a fast start to the session. The competition was fierce with a number of professional drivers competing at Circuit of Americas as they teamed up with similarly fast amateur racers. Freiberg and Ely set the seventh fastest combined time, just half a second away from the second row of the grid. Meanwhile Lahlouh and Romano would also line up inside the top-10, setting the tenth quickest time in a strong 16-car field.


Prior to the race getting underway, misfortune struck for Freiberg and Ely. An incident for Ely in the prior Porsche Sprint Challenge West solo race meant that the car was unable to be ready for the endurance contest. Nonetheless, the pair had formed an excellent partnership and will be aiming to return for future Porsche Endurance Challenge North America races. This promoted Lahlouh and Romano to ninth position on the grid and Nik made an excellent start to gain four positions on the opening lap, with the safety car deployed for a turn one incident.


When the race restarted, a second safety car period was called for soon after and this limited the green flag running during the opening stint. Nonetheless, Romano was able to pass Joel Johnson and set the fastest middle sector of any driver on lap seven, before overtaking Blake McDonald on lap eight. As the pit window opened, Nik remained on track to extend his stint and this saw him take the lead of the race while claiming the fastest lap of the race. Despite the traffic now posed by the Cayman class drivers, Romano’s lap times were excellent as he handed over to Therese on lap 14.


The JDX Racing crew completed an efficient pit stop which saw Lahlouh rejoin the race at the head of the field. However, a third safety car was deployed shortly after she left the pits and this erased a sizeable margin. Lahlouh’s task would now be made more challenging as she would have professional drivers including Parker Thompson, Trenton Estep and Jan Magnussen behind her.


Despite little experience of taking a safety car restart from the head of the field, Therese did an excellent job to initially hold the lead of the race. Despite losing out to Thompson and Estep on lap 19, she was holding well with the more experienced drivers. Darius Trinker then began applying pressure and after some good defending, her JDX Racing teammate found a way past.


On the final lap of the one-hour race, Lahlouh closed back in on her rival and attempted an overtake in the final turn which saw contact made between the drivers with Therese being awarded a penalty as a result.


Therese Lahlouh, Porsche Endurance Challenge, Circuit of the Americas 2024
Photo credits: Kyle Schwab / Porsche North America
Cayman

Similar to the drivers in the GT3 Cup class, the Cayman class competitors would have just forty-minutes for both drivers to set a qualifying time. Sharing the track with the GT3 Cup competitors, traffic management would be critical as clean air would be at a premium.

Improving their lap times throughout the session, the #84 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 RS Clubsport of Caroline Candas and Madeline Stewart ended qualifying in ninth overall.


Both drivers set a lap time within a tenth of a second of each other, therefore indicating a balanced lineup which would pay dividends in the race to follow. A strong effort from the #87 machine of Paige Morales and Jem Hepworth saw the second all-female crew line up 16th in a grid of 20 Cayman machines.


The first race within the Cayman division of Porsche Endurance Challenge North America was started by Caroline Candas in the #84 and Paige Morales in the #87. Both regular Porsche Sprint Challenge North America racers were now experienced in rolling starts and would be targeting immediate progress, with Candas in particular looking to make her speed count.


The one-hour race was neutralised as soon as it got underway, with an incident at turn one in the GT3 Cup class leading to a safety car period. With the yellow flags out at the first turn, neither driver was able to make initial progress. When the racing got back underway on lap four, there was just one lap of green flag running with Candas moving into eighth position with an overtake on Patrick Dempsey.


Madeline Stewart, Caroline Candas, RAFA Racing Team, Porsche Endurance Challenge North America, 2024 Circuit of the Americas
Photo credits: Kyle Schwab / Porsche North America

As a result of the second stoppage, a large portion of the opening stint would be spent behind the safety car with Candas in eighth and Morales holding position in 16th. Eager to make up ground, the resumption of green flag racing saw Caroline overtake both Tillman Schmid and William Peluchiwski to move into sixth, before moving ahead of RAFA Racing Club founder Rafael Martinez to advance into the top-5. The pit window then opened and with both RAFA Racing Team by JDX drivers remaining on track, Candas was up to second behind Nick Shaeffer while Morales had cracked the top-10.


Both drivers stayed out on track to the back end of the pit window and this saw them deal with traffic from the fastest GT3 Cup machines which had already made their pitstops. As cars #84 and #87 made their mandatory stop, Madeline Stewart took over from Candas while Jep Hepworth replaced Morales.


Following the pit cycle, Stewart was running in 13th and Hepworth in 16th as both drivers began their stints with extremely competitive lap times despite their relative inexperience in the Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 RS Clubsport. A third safety car period was brought out in the early stages of their stint, with Madeline able to catch the pack and Jem able to take the wave around to get back onto the lead lap. With the interruption being brief, Hepworth was unable to catch the tail of the field, however her lap times were competitive with those inside the top-10.


Madeline, meanwhile, was on the move and taking advantage of incidents around her. Despite initially falling behind Spencer Pumpelly, she moved ahead of Jared Thomas and Andrew Davis. A smart move on Mikel Miller put her into 11th position and on the fringes of the top-10.


Into the closing stages of the race, Hepworth was forced to pull to the side of the track with a technical issue which ended the race early for car #87. Stewart continued her good progress by taking the checkered flag in 11th position and was later promoted to tenth following a post-race penalty for Tristan Vautier.


Jem Hepworth, Paige Morales, RAFA Racing Team, Porsche Endurance Challenge North America, 2024 Circuit of the Americas
Photo credits: RAFA Racing Club

The opening round of Porsche Endurance Challenge North America was a success and saw a number of fast female drivers battle it out at Circuit of the Americas. Ashley Frieberg and Laura Ely were unfortunate not to start as they looked set to battle for a top-5 position.

A strong run by Therese Lahlouh in the GT3 Cup class saw her lead a number of laps in a high-quality field and she will be aiming to translate this into a podium finish next time out.


In the Cayman division, Caroline Candas and Madeline Stewart secured a hard-fought top-10 result, while Paige Morales and Jem Hepworth were running well before a technical issue ended their day. The second round of Porsche Endurance Challenge North America will take place at Road America on August 11th.

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