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Karen Gaillard claims Vice-Champion title in Ultimate Cup

"I really learned a lot this year and I am so excited to see what will come in 2024" - Swiss racer Karen Gaillard completed a stellar season in Ultimate Cup her first in prototype cars with a second place in the championship standings, having battled for the overall lead for most of the season finale at Le Castellet.

Karen Gaillard, DIMAB Motorsport by ANS team, Ultimate Cup 2023
Photo by: Paul Alliot / Iconic Studio

With a podium finish at the Ultimate Cup season finale, Karen Gaillard completed her first season of prototype cars with a second place in the Endurance Prototype Challenge standings, having conquered four podiums out of six races – and two top-fives overall.

This included the 4 hour race that concluded the 2023 season, where Gaillard and her DIMAB Motorsport by ANS team teammate battled for the class and overall victory for most of the competition.

Gaillard, 22, made the step to endurance racing early in her career, as the Swiss racer always made her long-term plan clear: rise to the top of international endurance racing and running the legendary Le Mans 24H. In 2019 she won the Young Driver Challenge and then graduated from the Filière Endurance program in 2020; in 2021 she contested a partial campaign in the Creventic 24H Series with Vortex, where she collected podium finishes and made her debut in 24-hour races at both Dubai and Barcelona. At the same time, she had a remarkable season in the Ultimate Cup in the Sprint GT3B class, also at the wheel of the Vortex.

In 2022 Gaillard made the switch to the highly-competitive French Mitjet 2L series, where she honed her skills in sprint races for the first time and claimed a best finish of sixth in a field that saw up to 60 entries.

One year later, the Swiss was ready to return to endurance competitions, this time in the biggest step to date: the Nova Proto NP02 prototype, a lightweight 840 kg machine that produces 400 hp and with performance almost comparable to LMP3 machinery.

Karen Gaillard, DIMAB Motorsport by ANS team, Ultimate Cup 2023
Photo by: Paul Alliot / Iconic Studio

At the wheel of the #11 NP02, Gaillard and teammate Gregory De Sybourg had a spectacular start of their campaign at Circuit Paul Ricard, where the DIMAB Motorsport by ANS duo took class pole position and went on to finish second in the NP02 class and in the overall top ten after a superb debut. They returned to the podium at Hockenheim, with a third place in class and sixth overall then topped by a fourth overall and another P3 in class at Estoril.

Gaillard's stellar rookie season continued with another overall top-10 at Magny-Cours and, with three podiums out of five races, she entered the final race meeting of the year fourth in the championship standings, with high hopes to replicate the early success claimed at Le Castellet, which would host also the final round of the season.

Gaillard and De Sybourg were eighth fastest in both practice sessions - then showed more of their potential in qualifying despite having to deal with a challenging situation: Gregory was third in Q1, after setting an early lap on new tyres before pitting early before the end of the session. Gaillard was up next in Q2, on used tyres, and having waited for the session to start, she had to bring the tyres back up to temperature in the first two laps - just as a red flag interrupted her effort.

Still without a representative time, Gaillard only had a handful of push laps at the end in traffic - but still salvaged a 2:01.232 which put the team in a good spot for the combined results. De Sybourg was then back in the driving seat for Q3, again on new tyres, where a fifth place in class resulted in a second place on the grid of the NP02 class, with an average lap of 1:59.912.

Karen Gaillard, DIMAB Motorsport by ANS team, Ultimate Cup 2023
Photo by: Paul Alliot / Iconic Studio

The story of the race

Karen Gaillard took the start of the race on Sunday afternoon, from a promising 14th place overall and second in class. Espirito Santo/King/Gutak had secured overall pole from Team Virage teammates De La Torre/Guzman/Gerbi, in a 33-car field for the season finale of the Endurance Proto Challenge at a chilly Circuit Paul Ricard.

Gaillard had a superb getaway and gained three places to slot into P11 overall, retaining second in class. She continued to make up places with good overtakes in the opening stages of the 4-hour race, moving up to ninth after passing Foubert and Faccioni. Karen was at one point the fastest of her class and steadily made up ground on the class leader - Frenchman Eric Trouillet in the #9 Norma.

Gaillard's pace meant that the Swiss was soon up to seventh and continued to hunt down Trouillet for the class lead, now gaining a few tenths per lap. Both overtook Francesco Dracone (BHK Motorsport) and, now separated by less than 2 seconds, the two Norma leaders were fourth and fifth overall. On lap 14, Gaillard gained fourth overall after passing Julien Gerbi, having been stuck behind the Spaniard's LMP3 entry with her class rival a couple of seconds up the road.

Overall race leader Hugo Rosati pitted at the 30 minute mark from the lead with a technical issue and his Ligier was brought back into the garage - leaving Torsten Kratz in the lead, ahead of Norma class leaders Eric Trouillet and Karen Gaillard. With a spectacular move into the Nord chicane, Gaillard took the lead from Trouillet on lap 18 and tried to pull away, almost setting the fastest lap of the race.

Trouillet pitted for the first time on lap 21; Gaillard went longer and continued to lap under the 2 minute mark, extending her lead. Karen soon gained three seconds and completed a brilliant move for the overall lead into the final corner on lap 26.

Having completed a stellar stint from the overall lead, she then handed over to her teammate Gregory De Sybourg on lap 28.

Karen Gaillard, DIMAB Motorsport by ANS team, Ultimate Cup 2023
Photo by: Paul Alliot / Iconic Studio

De Sybourg pitted again on lap 30, rejoining third among the cars on two stops.

On the single stop, Nerguti and Gerbi led overall as well as their respective classes. De Sybourg, meanwhile, had climbed back the order up to sixth overall and fourth in class - with most teams running on different strategies.

When the Full Course Yellow was deployed with 2 hours and 14 minutes to go for debris, De Sybourg took the opportunity to pit under caution for the third time, just before the race was back under green. Now second in class and third overall, Gaillard's teammate ran consistently and cleared some LMP3 traffic, but then fell to sixth, before Karen Gaillard was back aboard the #11 Norma at the half-way point.

Fifth in class, Gaillard resumed her chase of the #9 machine of Eric Trouillet, also on the same strategy. Karen climbed to third over the next 20 minutes. She again moved ahead of Trouillet and reclaimed the class lead with 1h and 30 minutes to go, then opened a 4 second gap, as the sun went down over the hills of Le Castellet, making place for the late November night.

Gaillard was again under the 2 minute mark and continued to gain on the #9 Norma, in one of the most impressive runs of the season for the Swiss driver. She would clinch back the top spot overall once Axel Gnos pitted in the #92 LMP3. Karen pitted a little over one hour to go and was shuffled down to ninth overall, but as the pit cycle progressed, she reclaimed second in class. After another strong stint, the #11 pitted one more time with 38 minutes to go, now with Gregory De Sybourg behind the wheel.

The #9 NP02 of David Droux retained the class lead, ahead of Maulini and De Sybourg, as the race approached the final 10 minutes. With positions now settled, Axel Gnos took the chequered flag in the overall lead after 4 hours of almost uninterrupted racing; David Droux and Erix Trouillet took victory in the NP02 class, ahead of Nicolas Maulini/Jacques Wolff. After one of their strongest races of the season, Karen Gaillard and Gregory De Sybourg crossed the finish line in third place in class and fifth overall, having battled for the win throughout the race.

Gaillard's pace was particularly impressive, as she was consistently one of the fastest in class during her stints and always left the wheel as the NP02 leader. With four podiums to her name in her first ever season of prototype racing, Gaillard and her DIMAB Motorsport by ANS teammate clinched second in the championship standings, rounding out a highly positive campaign in the new NP02 category and consistently battling close to the top five overall.

Karen Gaillard, DIMAB Motorsport by ANS team, Ultimate Cup 2023
Photo credits: / D.Delien

"I am really happy with my first season in prototype", Gaillard told us after the weekend. "We are vice-champion in Nova NP02", she highlights, having collected 99 points over six rounds, 0.5 more than ANS Motorsport's Frédéric Croullet.

"We finished the season on Sunday with our fourth podium of this season, I really want to thank the whole DIMAB Motorsport by ANS team for this amazing year. They did a really good job. And all my sponsors as well, because without them I could not do this", she stressed.

"I really learned a lot this year and I am so excited to see what will come in 2024", the Swiss young talent said, now looking forward to what will be coming next. "At the beginning of this year, I was not expecting the results we did with my teammate, because it was a big step for me going from Mitjet 2L to prototypes. I learned faster than I thought and had a lot of fun driving this nice car all the season", she concluded.

While her plans are yet to be confirmed, her debut season in prototypes is a major step for the career of a driver who has worked with a clear goal from the start of her career and is carving her way to the higher spheres of the ever-growing world of endurance racing.



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