Karen Gaillard steps up to prototypes, takes second place at debut
With a striking performance, Swiss racer Karen Gaillard finished second in her first race in the NP02 prototype, at the Ultimate Prototype Cup season opener at Paul Ricard.
Swiss racing driver Karen Gaillard, 21, made a spectacular return to the Ultimate Cup - an increasingly popular platform across Europe for prototype, GT as well as single seater racing. Gaillard finished runner-up in 2021 in the Sprint GT3B class, while she will now focus on her debut in the Endurance Prototype Challenge, under the banner of DIMAB Motorsport by ANS team. Gaillard - who has never hidden her long term goal of one day competing at the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans and has trained since the beginning of her sporting career for that goal - is one step closer to her dream, as she started her first season in prototypes sharing the Nova NP02 with her new teammate and compatriot Grégory De Sybourg. The Nova Proto NP02 is equipped with a Ford V8 series engine developing 400 horsepower, for a weight of 840 kg, and competes in the NP02 class. Karen won the Young Driver Challenge initiative in 2019 and graduated from the Endurance filiere in 2020, with the goal of climbing the ladder of endurance racing. She was part of the team Vortex squad in the Creventic 24H Series, where she collected podium finishes and contested her first 24-hour races in 2021. Always at the wheel of the Vortex, she had a highly competitive season in Ultimate Cup in 2021, before switching to the French Mitjet 2L series - where she contested her first season of sprint races in 2022. Almost 60 drivers took the start of at least one championship round, and Gaillard would finish 18th in the drivers' standings, with a best finish of sixth in Barcelona. "I am very happy to start this new adventure with DIMAB Group and drive for DIMAB Motorsport by ANS" - said Gaillard before the weekend. "I can't wait to start this new challenge this weekend for the first round at Circuit Paul Ricard"
The series opened its 2023 season in the South of France, for the first of the six scheduled rounds, with a four hour night race.
The Story of the race
When the sun set over the Le Castellet circuit, 27 cars lined up on the grid for the Ultimate Cup Series 5th Anniversary race. Manuel Espirito Santo / George King (Team Virage) took overall pole for the LMP3 class, while De Sybourg and Gaillard had claimed the top spot in the NP02 class and eighth overall with a remarkable start to their weekend. Grégory de Sybourg took the start in the #11 DIMAB Motorsport by ANS machine and, with a good start, moved up to seventh overall, retaining the class lead. Hugo Rosati had meanwhile found a way past George King for first place overall. The battle in the NP02 class was heated, as the #99 Nerguti Competition of Alban Nerguti followed De Sybourg by a few tenths of a second through the opening stages. On lap 7, Nerguti managed to get ahead, moving up into the class lead and also passing the LMP3 Ligier of Hugo Delacour. While some LMP3 climbed the order, De Sybourg kept second in class and in the overall top-10. After Nerguti's pit stop at the one hour mark, De Sybourg extended his stint and claimed back the lead in class, moving up to third overall. Nerguti hit trouble and had to pit again, dropping out of contention. Karen Gaillard climbed in the #11 Nova Proto with one hour and five minutes of racing elapsed. The Swiss young woman rejoined in fourth place in class and, once the leaders had also pitted, she found herself in third place. Michael Jensen and Marc Faggionato had in fact significantly gained during the first round of pit stops. After 1 hour and 20 minutes, the first full course yellow was deployed for a car coming to a halt on track. Gaillard overtook Faggionato mid way through the second hour, as she was the only driver in the top three to lap under the 2 minute mark. Karen hunted down Jensen and overtook the Danish driver on lap 51, taking the class lead. Gaillard soon opened a 10 second gap to Jensen and Faggionato, before pitting for the team's second stop with 2 hours to go. Grégory De Sybourg took over the #11 prototype once again, rejoining in second place - behind the #3 CD Sport of Jonathan Thomas. With consistent lap times, De Sybourg closed in on Thomas, bringing the gap from over 30 seconds down to 10. The leading NP02 went longer with their third stint and took over the overall lead after the LMP3 pit stops. It was then Gaillard's turn for the final stint of the race. On lap 91, Thomas pitted from the lead and handed over to Nicholas Adcock - who initially retained the top spot in class after the final pit stop, but then had to pit again, allowing past Karen Gaillard with 27 minutes to go. Gaillard was building up a gap, when she also had to pit with 15 minutes left on the clock, which dropped her to third in class. The Swiss driver recovered one position in the final minutes, and then had to manage the gap from the fast charging gold-rated Mathias Beche in third. After 4 hours of intense racing across the classes, Manuel Espirito Santo took overall victory for Team Virage, ahead of Georgi Dimitrov and Matthew Bell. Fourth overall, Nicholas Adcock claimed victory in the NP02 class, preceding Karen Gaillard and Mathias Beche. At her first race in prototypes, Gaillard secured a remarkable second place, often showing brilliant pace and cool head. The second round of the Ultimate Prototype Cup will be on April 28th-30th at Navarra, Spain - as Gaillard and her teammate will aim to finish one step higher and secure their first win of the season after such a promising start of the year.