Representing Denmark, Christina Nielsen drove brilliantly in mixed conditions to claim a second place in the first GT Cup race of the FIA Motorsport Games.
The GT Cup class race closed Saturday's program at Vallelunga, as the Italian racetrack hosted the second day of the inaugural FIA Motorsport Games, the first motor racing "Olympics-style" competition.
The FIA event was a striking success so far, providing highly spectacular races throughout its categories and proving itself as a potential classic in the motorsport calendar.
As one of the three female drivers representing their countries (and the only one in the GT Cup class), Christina Nielsen lined-up alongside her co-driver Jens Reno Møller in the Danish entry Honda NSX GT3.
The Scandinavian duo completed Friday practice sessions respectively in P10 and P8, while Møller got behind the wheel for Saturday's first qualifying: in the very wet opening stages, the experienced driver climbed to second place, before having to settle for 7th as the track dried up and the front-runners improved their lap-times. The session was dominated by the Lamborghini Japanese entry, with Hamaguchi leading the field by more than 1.3 seconds on the closest rivals, Turkey's Aston Martin driven by Salih Yoluc.
48-year old Jens Reno Møller took the green flag for the first stint, moving up to sixth after the rolling start. The Japan entry sprinted away, but the Safety Car was immediately deployed following a huge shunt by the Kuwaiti driver Al Mudhaf, who ended his race against the barriers at turn 3.
At the restart, Hamaguchi once again opened up a gap, while behind him the fight bewteen Portugal and Russia for third emerged: Salikhov moved past Ramos and, soon after, claimed second from Yoluc as well. A few laps later, the Portuguese driver spun and damaged his Audi R8 LMS rear wing against the barriers, as the rain started to intensify again.
Møller took evasive action and gained more places, advancing to P4 after overtaking the USA team. In these hectic stages, Italian Gianluca Roda hit Görig in the German Porsche and then caused an incident with the USA driver Ferriol. He will later receive a drive through penalty.
Lewandowski brought the Polish Lamborghini into the pits and was the first to make the switch to wet-weather tyres, but more chaotic action forced the race direction to stop the race with a red flag: the Japanese leader went off surrendering two places, while both the Spanish and French entries ended up into the gravel in separate incidents caused by the heavy rainfall, right before the cars made their way back to the pitlane.
A 30 minutes-long stoppage followed, as the teams were allowed to complete their driver's change and gamble for tyre strategies. In fact, at the restart the rain had stopped once again and several teams opted for different tyre choices: Japan bolted slicks, while Turkey and Russia stayed on wets.
The race resumed with 5 minutes left on the clock, but was extended by further 21 minutes due to the long interruption. Christina Nielsen took over from Møller and had a brilliant start, moving up to third on Japan's Sasahara, who picked up a puncture a few corners later.
Nielsen was attacked by Thailand's Kusiri, while Belgian experienced driver Nico Verdonck, started from the last row, begun an impressive recovery up through the field.
Nielsen pulled off an extraordinary move on Thailand's Porsche at turn 3, before immediately moving past Guven for second, as the Turkish wet-tyres gamble didn't pay off.
On lap 19, Christina Nielsen was clearly one of the fastest drivers on track and decisively gained the lead of the race from Bulatov in the Russian Ferrari.
The Danish ace was closely followed by two very tough competitors though: Germany's Renauer and Belgium's Verdonck. The leading trio opened up a consistent gap on the rest of the field and ignited an exciting battle for the win. Behind them, Janosz in the Polish Lamborghini managed to unlap himself and recovered up to fourth after a stunning effort.
Nielsen's skilled defensive driving wasn't ultimately enough though, and Renauer made a move stick with ten minutes left on the clock at turn 7, bringing his Porsche into the race lead.
In the final minutes, Jim Pla and Patric Niederhauser (respectively 3 and 2 laps down) joined the action at the front: while Renauer was able to cross the finish line to take the victory with a 8.7 seconds advantage, Christina Nielsen claimed a remarkable second place ahead of Nico Verdonck.
"My co-driver Jens had a great opening stint driving from P7 to P4" - said the Danish lady, already a GT champion in the American IMSA series.
"It was a chaotic race stopped in the middle due to rain coming down. We returned on a damp track and got to battle it out. We led a good portion of the final half of the race but in the end finished P2." - commented Nielsen after the race on her social profiles.
Tomorrow's GT Cup second race will go green at 09:30 local time, with Christina Nielsen taking the start from the 15th position.
In Christina's words:
"Thank you Reno Racing and JAS Motorsport for a great car. Today’s race was fun!"
Ph credits: SRO / FIA Motorsport Games