Katarina Kyvalova takes GT4 win at 24H of Portimao
At her first appearance of the season in the 24H Series, Katarina Kyvalova and her RAM Racing teammates swept the competition in the GT4 class to take a dominant victory in the 24H of Portimao. Class podium also for Jasmin Preisig in TCR, who overcame technical troubles to recover to third.
From the Le Mans Classic in a pre-war Bentley to contemporary GT4 machinery – the leap was significant, yet historic racing star Katarina Kyvalova pulled off an outstanding effort together with RAM Racing to win her first 24 Hours of Portimao.
The CREVENTIC 24H Series delivered once again some spectacular endurance racing for its second 24-hour race of the season after the Dubai season opener. And, as it's often the case in the series, female entries were again protagonists across multiple classes.
Kyvalova – a massive car enthusiast and collector – joined forces with British team RAM Racing, in the outfit's first ever GT4 race; she teamed up with John Minshaw, Phil Keen and Ian Loggie, at the wheel of her Mercedes AMG GT4.
Jon Minshaw and Phil Keen have been title contenders in British GT and claimed second overall from 2016 to 2018 aboard Porsche and Lamborghini machinery. Both have previously worked with Kyvalova. but for Keen, it was his first racing experience in GT4.
Also among the leading figures of the British-based GT championship, where he represents RAM Racing – Ian Loggie was the only member of the team to share the wheel with Kyvalova for the first time.
A racer with experiences such as the Le Mans Classic, Monaco Historique GP, Mille Miglia, Goodwood Festival among the others, Katarina is not new to contemporary GT racing either, having previously raced in two editions of the CREVENTIC 24 Hours of Dubai, in 2019 and 2020 respectively.
"I did the first Dubai in 2019 - that was my first outing in CREVENTIC. We were leading for 18 hours, a clean sweep almost" – she told us. Unfortunately, her race came to an early end in the closing stages due to a tyre issue. Her second participation was then the infamous rainstorm-affected edition of 2020, which ended up shortened to 7 hours of racing.
Her participation at Portimao was thus two years in the making: "We had planned to do the 24 Hours of Portimao last year, but the plan was called off because of the Covid [situation]. So it was a long wait for this particular race" – she explained. But the road to her 2022 win was not all plain sailing.
"May 2021 was the last time I sat in the car", she reveals. "We were going to do one test day in Silverstone for Portimao last year – that was the plan. Then I didn't test because there was no reason with the pandemic."
"My teammates convinced me that I was good enough, as I do enough historic races – and also for a lack of time, as I had many historic races in between".
"We started the week with the test days just to get our heads around – I had been racing in the historic Le Mans Classic just last weekend and it was quite a tricky goal to adapt from the pre-war Bentley to GT4" – she continued, explaining how the very different approach to the machinery represented one of her biggest challenges, understandably.
"I had to move the braking point from 300 meters to a bit closer", she joked.
The official race weekend, though, was off to a great start. Kyvalova/Loggie/Minshaw/Keen claimed GT4 pole position after the three sessions combined-lap times, well clear of the Lion Speed by Car Collection Motorsport Audi R8 LMS GT4 driven by Bakkerud-Garcia-Kolb-Miller and the Team ACP BMW M4 GT4 Jones-Spinoy-Goldberg-Norman.
"We had a very good start, no drama, the car was really good and we put it on pole" – Katarina recalled. "We had some super minor things, like a leaking cooler which we figured out before the race."
The 24 uninterrupted hours of racing at Autodromo do Algarve went underway on a very hot Saturday, with RAM Racing taking the early lead and building a solid gap. Loggie and Minshaw pulled a 3 lap gap in the opening stints, before a technical hiccup at the start of the fourth hour meant that the #405 Mercedes lost 14 minutes in the garage.
"After a very good start we then had an issue with the fuel valve; it was so hot that it got stuck." – Kyvalova said. "We couldn't get any single liter of fuel into the car – it was a quite unusual technical issue that was due to the heat. It was beyond hot the whole week."
After two extra stops for fuel, RAM Racing was able to fix the problem and the #405 Mercedes went back out, now 5 laps down.
"We had an almost four lap lead and then all of a sudden we were five down. It was an unfortunate start, but anyway we got back and with a very good strategy from the team, it all just worked out perfectly", she continued. "We then had absolutely no other technical issues and everything worked out with the Code60s. Night stints went also smooth".
After some drama and a few tyre punctures for the #499 Lion Speed Audi, Kyvalova, Minshaw, Loggie and Keen made their way back into the class lead and were unchallenged throughout the rest of the race, thanks to consistent stints and well timed strategy also throughout the critical night hours.
With now a 11-lap lead, Katarina Kyvalova took the #405 Mercedes AMG GT4 across the finish line to win the 24 Hours of Portimao at RAM Racing's first ever outing in GT4 – their first win in the series since 2015.
Their outstanding performance also gained them eighth place overall, after the disqualification of the third-placed #22 WTM Racing Ferrari 488 GT3.
In the overall classification, American outfit CP Racing (Mercedes AMG GT3) claimed their first ever outright win, with Charles Putman, Charles Espenlaub, Joe Foster and Shane Lewis behind the wheel. The #85 Mercedes traded positions at the top with the #18 Phoenix Racing Audi in between fuel stops, as the leading duo remained separated by less than 30 seconds until the final hour.
The pole-winner WTM Ferrari was disqualified post-race for a non-conforming exhaust, leaving the 992 class winning Red Ant Racing Porsche on the overall podium.
Kyvalova was not the only female racer on the entry list at Portimao: TCR specialist and series regular Jasmin Preisig was once again at the start in the #116 Worl-Power Racing Audi RS3 LMS TCR, sharing driving duties with Ivars Vallers, Calle Bergman and Charles Dawson. Second in the 2021 class standings, Jasmin qualified in second place in the TCR class and went on to settle in second throughout the first 14 hours of racing.
While still in contention for class victory, the #116 was then slowed down by two driveshaft failures and a differential issue, which dropped them over 50 laps down and out of the podium positions. With a good recovery drive in the final hours, Preisig and teammates were then able to re-claim third, behind the #159 BBR Monlau Competicion Cupra TCR and the #188 AC Motorsport Audi RS3 LMS DSG.
For Preisig it is her second podium of the season, after third place at the 12H of Mugello in March.
At Portimao, Thai racer Nattanid Leewattanavalagul also made her series debut – and her first start at a 24 hour race. After scoring pole position in TCR and having led the opening four hours, her #158 BBR Cupra suffered an alternator problem and would later retire with an engine failure.
With a female win and a podium, though, it was another successful weekend for women in the 24H Series – a trend that we hope can continue into the final two rounds.
At her first win in the championship, Kyvalova is also expected to expand her GT4 commitments in the future: "We really enjoyed it. It's really a great team, I loved racing with everyone", she told us. "It was a good start and I plan to do more".