"Before the race, we discussed our strategy and tactics and made the main conclusion: the main thing for us would be to race without mistakes" - At her racing debut in GT3 machinery - and at only her second endurance race of her career - Irina Sidorkova took her first podium at her first ever participation in the RSKG Endurance series.
The 2023 RSKG Endurance season launched Irina Sidorkova's racing season. Just over 7 months since her last appearance in a motor race, Sidorkova competed in the 4-hour "marathon" that took place at the Igora Drive Circuit in St. Petersburg. Her debut in the newly opened national endurance racing series should have taken place at the beginning of April, but unexpected problems during the delivery of some of her team's equipment to the Sochi Autodrom postponed her return to the race tracks.
During this further wait, Sidorkova remained focused on her preparation routine, aiming to be in the best physical shape possible; but the wait was finally over. Irina had already had contact with the Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 that she is set to drive this season during pre-season testing carried out in Sochi before the first round, before entering the event free practice sessions on May 25th and 26th.
"Well, it didn't take me long to get used to it a little bit, because last year I spent it in Subaru and this Ferrari is a completely different technique. The formula cars I last used was about 3 years ago, so of course, it took me a while to remember how to drive such fast vehicles with a lot of aerodynamics. But yes, the knowledge of the past is still remembered and a little easier of course." - explained Irina, on how her previous experience in formula cars helped her adapt to the Ferrari GT3, even with few opportunities to practice.
The duo - as Sidorkova teamed up with Alex Skryabin - set the 4th fastest lap of qualifying, held on the afternoon of May 27th, just 5 hours before the race. A lap time of 1:53.147 put the #71 Ferrari of Skryabin and Sidorkova on the second row of the grid, alongside the prototype BR03 #11, driven by former Formula 1 drivers Vitaly Petrov and Sergey Sirotkin.
At 18:01 local time, the marathon that would last for the next 4 hours began with 17 cars on the Igora Drive Circuit, with the front row led by the #48 Mercedes AMG GT3 from Yadro Motorsport and the #13 from Capital Racing Team.
The first hours of the race showed that both Mercedes had a better pace than the Ferrari 458 Italia GT3, which had Alex Skryabin behind the wheel during the first stint. With just over 30 minutes, the Ferrari #71 was 15 seconds behind the leaders, while the BR03 #11 driven by Vitaly Petrov pressed the Mercedes #13.
Towards the end of the first hour, Petrov pitted and Sirotkin took over the #11 car. Thus, the Ferrari moved up to 3rd position for a few laps, until Skryabin also made his first stop. While Ira Sidorkova was waiting to make her debut in the competition, there was the first incident of the race, as the Toyota Supra #98 of Vremya BMV rolled and ended up in the run-off area. Despite the scare, the car rejoined the race.
Sidorkova brought the #71 Ferrari in third position, but was caught by Sirotkin shortly afterwards. During her first stint in the race, she tried to drive "Laura" - the name given to her Ferrari 458 Italia, following the tradition of naming her cars - at the best possible pace, in spite of the initial dominance of the two Mercedes.
The #13 Capital RT car took the lead as the #48 Mercedes made its first stop. Sidorkova spent 1 hour and 20 minutes behind the wheel of the car #71 and, before pitting, she held 3rd place, just over 50 seconds from second.
"I am also happy with my performance, as well as the whole team!"
"This is important for us because we understand what is here. We prefer to challenge ourselves because our technology is slightly inferior in innovation to our competitors, but even so, we try to improve our pace, work on our mistakes and besides, any long run is a training first of all in the mind." - said Irina after completing her first stint.
Alex Skryabin returned behind the wheel of the #71 Ferrari still in third position and was briefly up to second during the pit stop cycle. By this time, the lead was in the hands of the BR03 prototype driven by Petrov and Sirotkin. Skryabin was overtaken by the #48 Mercedes AMG GT of Yadro Motorsport, but concluded his second stint in again in second position.
The sunset was already approaching when Ira Sidorkova left the pit lane for the last time, with the clock showing just over 50 minutes to the end of the race. By this time, Capital Racing's Mercedes #13 was leading, followed by the BR03 #11 driven by Sergey Sirotkin. While Skryabin and Sidorkova were changing the command of the Ferrari 458 Italia, Yadro's Mercedes #48 hit trouble and the team lost time, leaving them in fourth place and well away from the car #71.
The last 30 minutes of the 4-hour race still had some crucial moments that contributed to the final result: with 23 minutes to go, Sirotkin took the lead for good after Capital Racing pitted for the third time.
3 minutes later, the action was neutralized by a FCY, as the #37 Toyota Supra from Iskra Motorsport - in the GT4 class - was retreived by the marshals after going off track and getting stuck in the gravel.
The restart happened with just over 13 minutes to go and Irina Sidorkova was still strong in fulfilling the team's mission, maintaining a consistent performance, even with a slightly older machine compared to the main competitors.
After another FCY - triggered by the only competitor in the Historic class - the #99 VAZ 2106 - came to a halt. When the action resumed, the #11 BR03 prototype crossed the finish line to take victory, followed by the #13 Mercedes in second. Sidorkova led the #71 Ferrari to the podium and took the checkered flag in third place.
"When we first came to Igora Drive, we knew that our main competitors would be the Mercedes GT3 and the BR03 prototypes. Our Ferrari - named Laura - is no longer a 'young girl'. She is 10 years older than her competitors." - joked Sidorkova, about the difference in age of her GT3 car to the others.
"We knew that it would not be very easy for us to compete, but we were ready for this and tuned in to our maximum."
"Initially, before the race, we discussed our strategy and tactics and made the main conclusion: the main thing for us would be to race without mistakes - for both the drivers and the team. We did an excellent job, everything was as fast as possible within the rules. Alexander and I changed every hour, and he also did an excellent job, showed a stable pace, did not make mistakes, and followed the white line."
Ira Sidorkova concluded by highlighting her satisfaction with the work carried out by the entire team, which was decisive for the result obtained, saying: "A well-coordinated work gave a result, we got to the 3rd place. I think the race was a clear success for us! Let's keep working!"
Sidorkova then spoke about her physical condition during the race, comparing it to her first experience in endurance racing last year in a TCR entry: "Indeed, compared to the Akhmat race, I had a stint twice as long, plus a much more difficult and faster car", she told us. "But actually, I felt great. I started boxing, and now I noticed very well what an increase in endurance it gave me."
"Shoulders and arms are also not tired at all, after all, this is not formulas, and there is no such load to them. Now I also continue to do boxing, cardio, and go to gym to be in even better shape." - she added, mentioning her recovery from a shoulder injury that accompanied her for part of last season.
The next round of the RSKG Endurance will only take place on October 8th, and will be part of the traditional Akhmat Race, held annually at Fort Grozny Circuit.
Until then, expectations will remain if she will have an opportunity to race during that break: "Right now I don't have exact information regarding my racing schedule for the summer. I hope that I get the opportunity to spend a lot of time behind the wheel. As soon as something is known, I will definitely tell."