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  • Writer's pictureRACERS

Laura Villars' pace goes unrewarded at Balaton Park

Ferrari Challenge Europe rookie Laura Villars showed great speed throughout the second round at Balaton Park, where she consistently battled in the top five in class and was in contention for a class podium before being taken out in race 2.

Laura Villars, Ferrari Challenge Pirelli Trophy 2024, Balaton Park
Photo credits: Ferrari Races

Swiss racer Laura Villars showed great speed throughout the second round of the 2024 Ferrari Challenge Europe championship at Balaton Park, Hungary, and consistently moved forward during the races, but unfortunate circumstances prevented her from achieving the deserved results – including a potential podium finish in race 2 before being taken out by a competitor.

Villars, 26, has made her GT racing debut just one round earlier, at the season opener in Mugello, already showing good potential at the wheel of the new Ferrari 296 Challenge car, operated by Zénith Scuderia team. Just two rounds in, she proved to have what it takes to run at the front of the Pirelli Trophy AM class, despite not having collected the results she deserved in the first two weekends.

Nevertheless, the progress made by the Swiss driver in 2024 has been highly positive. Her journey in motor racing is in fact relatively recent in itself: Villars contested the Ultimate Cup Monoplace Challenge in 2023 in the Formula Regional class, and claimed three top-five finishes. She entered the Abu Dhabi non-championship Trophy Round of the F4 UAE championship at the end of the season, making her international F4 debut – and then went on to contest the inaugural season of the F4 Saudi Arabian championship.

The Saudi-based series proved to be greatly formative for Villars: the significant track time offered by the Meritus-run championship saw Laura making progress at each round, collecting points, honing her racecraft in the battles and running at the front by starting on the front row in the reverse grid races on a number of occasions. She claimed six top-10 finishes, with a personal best of fifth at the Jeddah Corniche street circuit.

After some testing experience of GP2 machinery as well, Villars made the switch to GT competitions and joined the Pirelli division of the Ferrari Challenge Europe – for the first year featuring the new 296 Challenge machine.

On her first outing in Mugello, Villars had a very promising weekend and ran in the class top ten throughout the first race, before a late race incident took her out of contention in the final laps. In race 2, she could fight back and secured her first top-10 in the series with a solid run in the AM class.

WIth these premises, Villars headed to the brand-new Balaton Park circuit in Hungary aiming to keep up the progress and close in on the top five.

She built speed over the pre-event test as well as the official practice session and, on a track where everyone started from scratch, she entered qualifying on Saturday morning with high hopes.

And indeed the Swiss driver delivered another positive performance: she clocked the fifth fastest time in the first half of the session and, while she couldn't quite improve in the closing stages, she ended P13 overall and P8 in class for her second ever weekend in the series, equalling her best qualifying from the season opener in Mugello. Giacomo Altoè claimed overall pole position ahead of local hero Bence Valint, while Claus Zibrandtsen took pole in Pirelli-AM.

Despite several contacts into the tight turn 1 right hander at the start of race 1, the whole pack made it out uscathed and Laura Villars held eighth place – then made up two positions on lap two, advancing to sixth in class. Villars was fast and set purple sectors, as she hunted down Hanno Laskowski, less than a second ahead.

Faster than the cars ahead, she started to put pressure on Laskowski, but was caught out by a spin on lap 4 and dropped down the order.

Villars kept her head down and continued to push, then caught Otto Blank and, as she went for a move for tenth place, the two made contact and her #5 Ferrari lost the left wing mirror and had to slot back behind. Villars continued to put pressure but as she tried to find a gap she made a mistake and ended behind Eriksen as well, in P12.

James Owen spun on the final corner and ended his race against the pit wall; a few moments later, a separate incident saw Amin Arefpour spinning into the barriers and the race ended behind the safety car. The attrition in the final stages meant that Villars crossed the finish line in P11 in the Pirelli-AM class.

Sunday's race was another chance for redemption and Laura Villars was off to a great start in the second qualifying. Again fifth after the first timed laps, she found herself sixth overall just before a red flag was deployed for the spin by Laskowski with 11 minutes to go.

When the session resumed, Villars opted to stay in the pits and, while a few cars improved, she still bagged a seventh place in class on the grid of race 2 – in a new personal best in qualifying.

Philip Baron and Giacomo Altoè shared the front row and it would be the latter to snatch the lead after the first corner, as a few cars went around in the midfield. Laura Villars was quick to avoid and placed her #5 Ferrari in the perfect place, gaining several positions both overall and in class: after the first lap, the Swiss driver was up to fourth in AM, a couple of seconds behind Hendrik Viol and slightly faster than Giammarco Marzialetti, who followed her a little over half a second behind.

On lap 3, class leader Zibrandtsen locked up and slid off track, ending his race in the gravel trap. The safety car was therefore deployed and Zanasi inherited the AM lead, ahead of Viol and Villars – whose strong start now translated into a top-three.

Laura had a very good restart and immediately tried to attack Viol for second, having also a one second margin to the car behind, who battled with Owen for fourth.

The dust settled and Villars comfortably held third, although Owen and Laskowski were closing in. The latter got by Owen for fourth and, as the two caught Villars, Laskowski went for an overambitious move that took out Villars.

With rear wing damage, Laura tried to rejoin, unfortunately now from tenth in class. Laskowski was promptly handed a drive through penalty for causing the collision, but it was of little help to Villars, whose hanging rear wing resulted in a black and orange flag. She eventually pitted and retired.

While the ultimate results at Balaton Park were not representative of her pace shown at the Hungarian circuit, Villars showed potential to battle in the top five and was clearly in contention for a class podium before the unfortunate contact. Her improvements in such a short period of time are highly promising and she will be aiming to continue the positive trend and finally capitalize at the third race meeting, which is set to take place on 20-23 June at Jerez, Spain.



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