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Laura van den Hengel and Alba Vazquez's strong run goes unrewarded at Hockenheim

Laura van den Hengel and teammate Alba Vazquez tackled the second round of the GT Cup Europe championship at Hockenheim, making more steps forward - but a series of misfortunes resulted in their potential going unrewarded and they eventually brought home a pair of P8 finishes in class - as well as plenty valuable learnings.


Laura van den Hengel, Alba Vazquez, Mertel Motorsport Ferrari 488 Challenge, GT Cup Open Europe, 2024 Hockenheim
Photo credits: GT Sport

Mertel Motorsport's all female crew continued their learning-oriented season in GT competitions as Laura van den Hengel and teammate Alba Vazquez tackled the second round of the GT Cup Europe championship at Hockenheimring, making more steps forward despite they couldn't collect results to show for it.


Van den Hengel's first stint in race 2 was particularly notable, as the Dutchwoman, in her first full season of car racing, navigated through the field and almost reached the AM class top three - but a series of misfortunes resulted in their potential going unrewarded, and the drivers of the white and turquoise #83 Ferrari 488 Challenge eventually brought home a pair of P8 finishes in class - as well as plenty valuable learnings for the remainder of the season.


At the season opener in Portimao van den Hengel and Vazquez - who has previously competed in Spanish national competitions in touring cars and is also in her first season of GT racing - offered a glimpse of their potential for a top ten overall: van den Hengel was again the protagonist of a brilliant start in race 1, while Vazquez made a significant improvement on Sunday in race 2, when she ran on competitive pace and gained three positions in her stint. They were therefore eager to carry momentum and capitalize on that speed at the second round in Hockenheim.


The German racetrack, though, would represent a new challenge for both drivers, at their first outing at the circuit and with no previous testing. All the focus in the free practice sessions were therefore on learning the track - and continuing the familiarization process with the car, new to both drivers.

They posted a 1:47.820 lap in FP1 and a 1:48.948 in FP2, which placed the #83 Ferrari ninth in the AM class in both sessions. There was more progress in the bronze-dedicated session, where they improved significantly, clocking a 1:46.106 which was fast enough for fourth in class.


With several red flags disrupting the sessions, though, it was not an easy task for van den Hengel and Vazquez to learn the secrets of the Hockenheimring while at the same time getting up to speed: "I think I did only seven laps in free practice, I didn't quite give me the time to know the track well", Laura told us. "So it was really hard."


On Saturday morning, it was Alba's time to take over the #83 Ferrari for the first qualifying of the weekend - and it was a red flag straight away, as the #17 Ferrari hit the tyre barriers at pit exit, requiring a lengthy track repair.


As the session got underway, Vazquez set a 1:47.672 that put her second in the AM class and seventh overall, before a second red flag was out for the big accident of Chen in the #82 Ferrari. In the final minutes, the Spaniard improved to a 1:45.742, with the all-female duo qualifying P8 in class and 16th overall, in a good effort.


Laura van den Hengel, Alba Vazquez, Mertel Motorsport Ferrari 488 Challenge, GT Cup Open Europe, 2024 Hockenheim
Photo credits: GT Sport
Race 1

Vazquez took the start of race 1 and had a really good getaway, although she was cautious into turn 1; despite losing an overall position she retained P8 in class. She kept up the pace with Davide Scannicchio's Tsunami RT Porsche, and was more consistent than the AM car ahead, the #7 Speed Lover Porsche driven by Philippe Wils.


An accident for Jan Lauryssen in the #54 ProAm entry brought out the safety car, which allowed Vazquez to get back in the fight with the cars ahead, closing the 4 second gap. After a quick clean up, the green flag waved again on lap 11; Alba held position and then pitted one lap later as the pit window opened, handing over to Laura van den Hangel.


The Dutchwoman swapped places with the ProAm Ferrari of Cabezas - then picked up a position on Philippe Wils' Porsche for seventh in class. Laura was at this point almost a second faster than Laurent Vandervelde ahead - who also fought Camil Perian. This battle helped van den Hengel to close in and, with two class rivals in sight, she found a way past Perian on lap 20.


Unfortunately, just as she had cleared the Porsche, a spin through the gravel ended her race prematurely while in sixth place.


"It was a good comeback, and it shows that there was some speed, but I made a mistake and that was it really", she commented, trying to regroup for Sunday's second race.


It would be Van den Hengel's turn to qualify in Q2 and she set an early 1:46.781 that put her sixth in class after the first runs. She improved to a 1:45.089 which was enough for seventh, before the red flag was out with 2 and a half minutes to go when the #21 Porsche spun in the gravel. The session resumed for one final flying lap - and Laura was the only driver to improve, clocking her first lap in the 1m44 bracket - although the lap was deleted for track limits. The #83 Mertel Motorsport Ferrari will therefore start from P8 in the AM class in race 2.


"Qualifying was disappointing", she recalled, with her usual frankness. "I know for sure I could have improved because I was blocked by another car and then we only had one lap left after a red flag - and it wasn't a clean one."

"I made two mistakes and I could have done a 1:44-low or maybe even a 1:43 if everything went perfect, instead it was a disappointing 1:44.8, and it also didn't count because of track limits."


Laura van den Hengel, Alba Vazquez, Mertel Motorsport Ferrari 488 Challenge, GT Cup Open Europe, 2024 Hockenheim
Photo credits: GT Sport
Race 2

While she couldn't quite get a clean lap in qualifying, van den Hengel was looking forward to making up positions in race 2, which she started from eighth among the AM entries. With a couple of cars going wide at turn 1, Laura had to check up but still managed to gain a position over the first few corners, as she overtook Philippe Wils in the Speed Lover Porsche - and then managed to get ahead of both Johannes Zelger - who made a mistake into turn 12 - and Leandro Martins, moving up to fifth place over a spectacular first lap.


Van den Hengel then started to chase Laurent Vandervelde, while also opening a small safe margin to the cars behind.

Lars Zaenen spun on lap 3 into the Motodrom - and amidst the cloud of tyre smoke he was collected by Evgenii Leonov, who was making up positions in the ProAm class. Both were out of the race - and unhurt - and the safety car was deployed.


David Kajaia led the AM class during the first laps, ahead of Fernando Navarrete and Nicolas Vandierendonck. Right behind, Vandervelde and van den Hengel followed, after a brilliant charge for the all-female crew at the start of the race.


The green flag waved again on lap 7 and Laura had a great restart, passed Vandervelde for fourth and started to put pressure on the #57 bright yellow Q1-trackracing Porsche of Vandierendonck for a potential class podium. The Dutchwoman was a couple of tenths faster and was again unchallenged from the cars behind; she continued to improve her personal best times and, as the pit window opened, she managed to break into the overall top ten while still trying to find a way past the #57 Porsche.


The #83 Mertel Ferrari eventually took the way of the pit lane on lap 12, pitting from P4 in AM after a stunning stint by Laura van den Hengel who handed over to Alba Vazquez mid-way through the race.


At the end of the pit sequence, the Spaniard had fallen to sixth in class, but settled in her rhythm, ahead of the #79 Tsunami RT Porsche and the #52 Q1-trackracing Porsche. Unfortunately, they were handed a drive through penalty for speeding in the pit lane during the driver change - which demoted Vazquez to ninth in class after serving the penalty on lap 17.

 

The AM class leader spun at turn 11 and dropped down the order, and Dieter Svepes (RACAR Motorsport Porsche) inherited the lead. Vazquez was faster than the #85 sister car driven by Anny Frosio - but had a 25 second gap to close. The safety car helped her to catch back the pack with 6 minutes to go, when Zelger and Innocenti made contact into turn 11.


Vazquez moved up to P8 in class and, with gaps now neutralized, she hoped to have one more chance to pick up positions at the end, but the clock eventually ticked down and Vazquez/van den Hengel crossed the finish line in P8, 15th overall.


"I'm not so satisfied about the weekend because there was more but I know it is also a thing of testing", she told us.

"The team gave me an assignment: to just take it slow and not take high risks or track limits", she explained. "So I did, but I still overtook quite a few people, so it was okay. And I did it really safe."


"I think with two more laps I would have probably overtaken the guy in front of me, and that would have put us P3. I was waiting for my moment in the hairpin, and I had the pace", she recalled. "And then I came into the pits, pressed my pit limiter, but it didn't work, and I was 6 km too fast in the pits, which gave us a drive through."


While it was not the deserved result, van den Hengel and Vazquez made good progress through the weekend, again showing potential to contest for the top five in class on a track where they had no prior mileage on. The speed at the start of race 2 was further proof that the Mertel Motorsport's duo certainly have positives to take home, as well as learnings.


"I need to be clean and maybe not really on the limit, but it's also because of the lack of testing", she said, as she already looks forward to the next areas of improvement. "The learning curve, the mental part - just sometimes you have not to be pushing to the limits. So I hope I can do some test days and get to know the car better."


The next round of the 2024 GT Cup Europe championship will be contested at the iconic Spa Francorchamps circuit, Belgium, on May 25-26.

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