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Liona Theobald scores first podiums in GT Cup Championship

Liona Theobald enjoyed a breakthrough weekend in the GT Cup Championship at Snetterton, where she claimed her first podiums in the series - in both the endurance and the sprint solo race - and was named Driver of the Day, bouncing back from technical issues on Saturday.

Liona Theobald, SVG Motorsport Ginetta G56 GT4, GT Cup Championship, 2024 Snetterton
Photo credits: GT Cup Championship

18-year-old Liona Theobald enjoyed a breakthrough weekend in the GT Cup Championship at Snetterton, where she claimed her first podiums in the series - in both the endurance and the sprint solo race - at the wheel of the #86 Ginetta G56 GT4 operated by SVG Motorsport, also bagging the Driver of the Day award.

Theobald bounced back after a challenging first day, where technical issues had culminated in a retirement in the first pit stop race, but the drivers and team's relentless work resulted in third place finishes on Sunday, topping a previous personal best of sixth.

Liona stepped up to GT4 machinery in 2024 for the first time, moving from the Ginetta GT Championship, where she finished 6th overall in the Championship standings. Sharing the G56 GT4 with experienced Ginetta driver James Townsend, Theobald had a positive debut in GT Cup at Donington, collecting a best finish of sixth in class in both the endurance races as well as her solo sprint race. Her development continued at Brands Hatch, where she enjoyed close battles and secured a best result of seventh in the first pit stop race.

Coming into Snetterton, Theobald was therefore aiming to make a further step forward and aim for her first class podium.

Theobald and Townsend had a productive day of pre-event testing, despite rain slowing down the progress. The tricky changeable conditions still translated into valuable learnings for the weekend and, as the drivers entered the official practice session on Saturday morning, the #86 SVG Motorsport Ginetta ran fifth in class.

The first qualifying would see Liona's teammate taking on driving duties, followed by his solo sprint race. Despite a deleted time for track limits, Townsend clocked a 1:56.661 lap and qualified fourth in class, three tenths away from the top-three - in a performance that showed promise for the weekend.

James held position at the green flag of the first contest, while also making up positions overall. He soon closed in on the #11 McLaren Artura and, with great pace, he tried to put pressure on Michael Orant, but couldn't make a move stick. He thus settled just behind, waiting for an opportunity. Holding fourth place throughout, Townsend eventually finished 9 seconds from a podium finish, in a nevertheless positive start of the weekend.

It was then Liona Theobald's time to shine in the first endurance race: the young British racer took the start from row six - but there was soon trouble, as she was forced to pit on the first lap with a clutch issue. Albeit two laps down, she was sent back out on track and continued to log laps aiming to still collect valuable points for the championship despite the ongoing technical issue.

Theobald's efforts saw the #86 Ginetta improving lap times: she found almost nine seconds through her stint and pitted from fourth in class mid-way through the race. The problem, though, worsened and as soon as James Townsed rejoined, the Ginetta G56 GT4 came to a halt, forcing the two drivers to a retirement with 16 minutes to go.

"A very difficult day here at Snetterton with clutch issues worsening throughout the sessions and finally giving up in the endurance race leading to a DNF", Theobald commented. "It was tough to nurse the car to the end of my stint, but it’s all good experience and learning."

"Motorsport has its highs and lows but tomorrow is a new day, both James and I will come back fighting", she added.

And indeed on Sunday the tables were turned: in a remarkable effort, new spares were collected from the Ginetta factory and brought back to Snetterton, where SVG Motorsport fixed the clutch problems in time for the start of the second day of racing.

Practice highlighted a big step forward - and Theobald was then the protagonist of a remarkable qualifying: she set a 1:57.004 lap that placed the #86 Ginetta third on the grid, in what was by far her best qualifying effort of the season, only behind the Forsetti Motorsport duo in the GTH class.

The start of the second pit stop race had drama since lights out: a three-car contact into turn one saw Charlotte Gilbert, Shamus Jennings and Chris Murphy coming together, and a subsequent safety car neutralization.

With James Townsend behind the wheel for the opening stint, the SVG Motorsport Ginetta held third place in class after the hectic start, just behind Marc Warren and Matthew Higgins - although the neutralization was not great news as he aimed to build a gap over the first part of the race.

The green flag flew after the recovery of the stricken #33 Porsche was completed and Townsend resumed his brilliant run from third - initially also challenging the #9 Aston Martin Vantage, then settled a few seconds behind, as he managed the gap to the fourth-placed #11 McLaren Artura. The pit window opened and on lap 10 and Townsend pitted, handing over to Liona Theobald from third in class.

With success penalties at the pit stops for the Aston Martins, Liona emerged in the class lead, although with Mikey Porter right behind. The latter found a way past on lap 14, and the battle for the podium saw Theobald ahead of Rianna O'Meara-Hunt.

The New Zealander closed the gap and made a move stick for second; Theobald, however, had her eyes set firmly on the podium and would have to manage the gap to Adam Hatfield's McLaren with a handful of minutes to go.

Completing a brilliant drive, Liona Theobald perfectly handled the pressure and crossed the finish line to take her first podium in GT Cup Championship, with a very solid third place that also represented a morale boost ahead of her solo race later in the day.

But her great performance was just the beginning of a truly spectacular day for the young racer, who would then tackle her solo sprint race to wrap up the third round of the GT Cup Championship at Snetterton. Theobald held third in class and seventh overall at the start of race 4, a couple of seconds adrift the two Forsetti Aston Martins of Warren and Higgins.

She settled on competitive lap times, steadily under the 2 minute mark, and kept a 3 second gap to Hatfield's McLaren behind.

While the Forsetti Motorsport's drivers fought for the GTH class lead ahead, Theobald slowly kept chipping away, adding precious tenths at each lap. On lap 8, she set her personal best in 1:59.272 and brought the margin to Hatfield up to over 4 seconds, with now less than 10 minutes left on the clock. One lap later, the driver of the #86 Ginetta clocked her first lap under the 1m59 and kept her head down as she drove with determination towards her second podium of the day.

After 25 minutes of racing, Liona Theobald crossed the finish line and became a two-time GT Cup podium finisher, adding more silverware to her trophy cabinet.

Furthermore, Liona received the Driver of the Day award for her performance.

“Yesterday [Saturday] was a really tough day with the clutch going, I'm surprised it didn't go sooner, but the team and Ginetta worked really hard overnight and got the car fixed and it was absolutely amazing", Liona summed up. "Both James and I put in good stints, and I got my first podium! I'm so happy for James and I and the whole team. I did have a cry on the in-lap I got so emotional! It's so overwhelming but it's an amazing feeling."

In only three weekends of GT4 racing, Theobald has made leaps forward and was able to bounce back from a difficult first day to turn her weekend around, demonstrating significant improvements in both qualifying and race pace.

She will be aiming to carry momentum into the fourth round of the season, as GT Cup heads to Oulton Park International on 29th June.



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