Podium-worthy race ends in P12 for Sophia Floersch at 4H of Barcelona
Heartbreak – and then the recovery: forced to start from one lap down, Sophia Floersch charged from 39th to claim a P12 in Barcelona, in a podium-worthy race that leaves a bitter aftertaste.
The fourth round of the 2022 European Le Mans Series was initially off to a promising start for Sophia Floersch and Bent Viscaal, drivers of the #19 Algarve Pro Racing's LMP2 Oreca that have so far claimed a podium at the season opener, followed by an unbelievable streak of bad luck. Returning to the track after the summer break, the strong Silver-rated duo had really promising practice sessions, where they worked on qualifying runs and race pace and placed the #19 APR LMP2 prototype in second and fourth in the timing sheets. “It was really good to be back again in a racecar after a long summer break – I enjoyed it, but it’s been long." – Floersch told us, eager to get back on track and fight for the podium. "When we came to Barcelona we knew that we had a good package and I think we showed it already on Thursday."
"In the free practice sessions Bent was really good in the quali runs and we both were really strong in race pace: the whole time we were probably top-three-worthy", she continued. Viscaal contested the 10-minute LMP2 qualifying, after the Dutchman had been focusing all weekend on flying lap performance. He was sixth fastest after the first run, before pitting with 3 minutes to go for a new set of tyres. Everyone pitted except for provisional pole-sitter Chatin, as IDEC Sport opted to save a new set of tyres and stopped. After everyone completed their laps, Viscaal would end up P10, with a best lap of 1:35.620. With Chatin in pit lane, Nicolas Jamin and Ye Yifei snatched the front row at the last attempt, with Aitken third in the Racing Team Turkey ProAm entry. Bent Viscaal and Sophia Floersch would therefore have to build their recovery from the fifth row of the grid – but morale remained high: “In qualifying it’s so tight that everything needs to be perfect and we were P10" – Sophia said. "Still it wasn’t too bad, we actually finished on the podium already from tenth, so we were really motivated.” Everything changed in a split second on Sunday morning, when the #19 car couldn't line up on the starting grid in time. The mistake would send them one lap down – before the race had even started. “As a team you win and you lose together" – Floersch summed up. "There was some miscalculation so we couldn’t make it out of the pitlane on time for the grid – which meant we had to start from the pitlane and we were one lap down, which was obviously not a great start.” Per ELMS regulations, cars starting from the pitlane are not allowed to join the race on the same lap of the leader. A rule that effectively takes the car out of contention: at this level of competition, four-hour endurance races are increasingly looking like sprint races, decided by tenths of a second at times, and such a penalty arguably feels overly-punishing for the offense. A big shunt into turn 2 saw the #10 Eurointernational LMP3 driven by Freddie Hunt driving into the side of the GTE class-leading Ferrari of Sarah Bovy, who went into the wall at hard and ended her race with significant damage to the #83 Iron Dames Ferrari. In yet another heartbreaking moment at the very beginning of the race, Iron Dames were out, but Bovy was luckily unhurt. The Safety Car was deployed and Viscaal could catch up with the pack, albeit with one lap to recover. The #27 COOL Racing LMP3 of Foubert and the #3 United Autosport LMP3 were also out of the race, in an unrelated collision. The green flag waved again 15 minutes into the race, with Canal (Panis Racing) leading Yoluc (Team Turkey) and Kruetten (COOL Racing). GTE pole-sitter Al Harthy had a slow start and paved the way to Christian Ried after the retirement of Sarah Bovy. In the early stages, Yoluc dropped a few positions to Habsburg (Prema Racing) and Lafargue (IDEC Sport). Ferdinand Habsburg was then able to close in on Canal and, having made the most out of the first lapped GTE cars, the Austrian took the lead for Prema and never looked back. Bent Viscaal was the protagonist of a very good first stint and was starting to clear the GTE field for positions when he was hit and spun around at the chicane by the Rinaldi Racing Ferrari driven by Pierre Ehret. Viscaal continued, but had to build his comeback from scratch once again. On lap 26, Viscaal pitted for the first LMP2 stop, handing the #19 Algarve Pro Racing Oreca to Sophia Floersch from P26 overall, last in LMP2. One hour into the race, all the front runners had pitted and Habsburg led Canal, Kruetten and Fittipaldi. Intereuropol was in charge of the LMP3 field with Charles Crews, ahead of the #2 United Autosport of Caygill – who spun at Turn 1 having just taken the class lead. Floersch continued the recovery, navigated through the LMP3 traffic and started to battle for position with other LMP2 cars: she passed Team Virage's Ian Rodriguez and moved into P15. The second neutralization came when the #28 IDEC Sport of Lafargue went deep into Turn 1 and beached his LMP2 Oreca in the gravel. Floersch pitted under Full Course Yellow on lap 45 and set more good laps once the race went back to green. Lorenzo Colombo had taken over the lead in the #9 Prema, while an exciting battle for second saw Nico Jamin (Panis Racing) attacking the wounded COOL Racing of Nicolas Lapierre, who previously had contact with a LMP3 car. The third Full Course Yellow was deployed when the #14 Intereuropol LMP3 spun and got stuck in the gravel at Turn 12, midway through the race. Sophia Floersch took the opportunity once again to pit under yellow, and handed the car back to Bent Viscaal. They would move into 13th place when the #43 Intereuropol of Hainemeir-Hansson hit trouble and was wheeled back into the garage, losing several laps. Viscaal further moved up to P12, having passed Sergio Campana – as the latter picked up a puncture and limped back to the pitlane. Viscaal overtook Beche and reached the top-10 during the round of pit stops. He would pit on lap 91, after a really solid stint where he tried to unlap himself from some of the LMP2 competitors. He rejoined the race in P12. Lorenzo Colombo's 20 second lead was significantly reduced as the Italian hit traffic and Jamin closed in quickly – but at the final driver change, Louis Deletraz was back in control of the race. A final Full Course Yellow was called with 35 minutes to go for debris, and Algarve Pro pitted Bent Viscaal for the final driver change. Floersch was back behind the wheel for the last stint and continued to gain on the cars ahead, but with little chances to catch the 11th-placed TDS Racing Oreca. Louis Deletraz took the chequered flag to win the 4 Hours of Barcelona – and Prema’s third race of the season – ahead of the Panis Racing entry of Job Van Uitert and the COOL Racing of Ye Yifei. United Autosport and AF Corse rounded out the top five. With P12, Sophia Floersch and Bent Viscaal completed a podium-worthy race just outside the top ten, making the most out of the situation. The #19 LMP2 Oreca set the best sectors 1 and 2, the second fastest third sector and the best ideal time. They charged from P39 to P12. “At that point it was all about getting it done and trying to make the best out of it. We finished P12” – Sophia said. “Bent did a really good opening stint and if you compare it to the others lap time-wise, I think we were really strong on new tyres, but especially on the second stint tyres. But you know, that’s racing, that’s motorsport”, she commented. “It’s just annoying, because after the summer break we wanted to get a podium again. There were races where we always had the pace – in Monza, Imola and also Le Mans – but something happens out of your control, and today again. It’s just unfortunate.” After the Barcelona round, Sophia Floersch and Bent Viscaal are sixth in the drivers’ standings. The series will return to the track at Spa Francorchamps, on 25th September.