Promising season opener for the 3 female racers on the grid of BMW M2 Cup
The BMW M2 Cup has established itself as an important stepping stone on the DTM platform - and the 2023 season opener at Oschersleben showed some good potential from its three female rookie drivers.
It might be a young series, but the BMW M2 Cup has already established itself as an important stepping stone on the DTM platform, with young drivers making their first steps in touring cars in a highly competitive and international environment, with a calendar featuring some of the most iconic race tracks in central Europe.
Entering its third season of competitions, BMW M2 Cup has also provided opportunities to several female drivers, with now nine young women having started at least one race of the single-make series: at its inaugural race in 2021, five female drivers were on the grid, including Alesia and Jacqueline Kreutzpointner that would continue into the second season.
Several more took part in testing days and three committed to the start of the 2023 season: Claudia Henning, Carmen Kraav and Luisa Kahler.
Henning, 19, has raced competitively in karting at national and European level and is making her race car debut in the Project1-promoted series.
Estonian talent Carmen Kraav is also a familiar face to followers of high-level karting: the 17 year old has in fact entered the world's top IAME competitions as well as last year's FIA World Karting Championship and FIA Motorsport Games. Additionally, Kraav has also started her race car journey in 2022, competing in the Baltic Touring Car Championship. But the 2023 BMW M2 Cup will be another big step forward for Kraav, who made good steps forward in the shootout as well as pre-season testing.
Luisa Kahler, 17, also with a karting background on home soil in Germany, is at her racecar debut. After two years in the RMC Germany series, Kahler tested a BMW 328i E36 for the first time at the beginning of the year, before she took part in the BMW M2 Cup shootout, where she proved herself.
A few months later, they were on the starting grid of the first round at Oschersleben - ready to take on a new challenge in their motorsport careers.
The first race of the season featured mostly all new, young drivers - in a traditionally equal opportunity format with cars being randomly allocated every weekend.
Denny Berndt secured the first pole position of the season, ahead of returning driver Julius Dienesen. Claudia Henning qualified in P12, Carmen Kraav in P14 and Luisa Kahler in P15 for their first race in the series.
Berndt had a perfect getaway and led by some margin as the pack entered the first narrow section of the Oschersleben track; Henning had a good start and soon closed in on the top ten, but then came under pressure from Link and Matyas, as she then had to defend from Kraav, who had retained 14th place after the opening laps.
A huge battle for the podium saw Max Rosam moving up to second, followed by Leyton Fourie - both overtaking Dienesen. Colin Bonighausen hit trouble and pitted with a left-rear brake issue. Henning meanwhile had caught back up with Luca Link and made a move stick on lap 8, recovering to eleventh. Kraav followed through a few laps later, with a bold move that allowed the young Estonian to advance to 12th.
Having made a small contact in the process, though, Kraav was forced to give up the position and - while she allowed Link to go through at turn 1, she was hit by Adrian Rziczny - who saw a gap and dived in without enough real estate to make the move stick. Unfortunately, Kraav went around and dropped at the tail end of the pack.
Henning continued her progress and made it in the top ten by lap 13 - then further advanced to ninth when Jan Matyas lost positions due to damages picked up in the fierce battles. Despite a tricky start, Luisa Kahler also had a very strong race; the German driver had great battles and, with top ten ambitions, she fought hard with Luca Link in the final minutes.
Denny Berndt claimed victory in a very entertaining first race of the season, preceding Max Rosam and Leyton Fourie on the podium. With a highly positive debut, Claudia Henning scored her first top 10 at debut, ahead of Luca Link and Luisa Kahler, eventually eleventh across the line. Carmen Kraav was 12th after being sent into a spin midway through the race.
"It was an undescribable feeling to drive the first BMW M2 Cup race in Oschersleben", Kahler commented. "I started on P15 and finished on P11, which made me really, really happy and proud!"
Denny Berndt, Leyton Fourie and Bartholomew Horsten kept the top three positions at the start of the second race on Sunday morning, while Julius Dienesen dropped down the order after a slow start from the second row. Starting from P13, Carmen Kraav had a strong start and gained two positions, with Henning - protagonist of a brilliant first race - following in P13. Luisa Kahler had a cautious start but remained close to the pack in P16.
Positions at the front quickly settled, but the midfield was action packed as always in the BMW M2 Cup: Kraav overtook Luca Link, grabbing tenth place with 20 minutes left on the clock - but the German driver fought back a few laps later. Kraav, though, wasn't clearly ready to give up and she made another move stick on lap 10.
Henning was also trying to climb the order and, following a close battle with Colin Bonighausen, she gained P12. Bonighausen slipped down the order and had to defend from Rziczny and Kahler - who all gained a position when McAfee slided into the grass at Turn 2 on lap 12.
Henning caught up with Kraav and Link - and the two young women traded positions - but the Estonian eventually had the upper hand.
Ahead, Berndt was unchallenged, over a second up the road - but behind him, Max Rosam had managed to get ahead of Fourie and Horsten to slot into second place, as the South African had a few trips to the gravel. Denny Berndt claimed his second win and swept the Oschersleben weekend, ahead of Rosam and Horsten - after Fourie dropped to sixth in the final laps.
Claudia Henning eventually found a way past Kraav in the closing stages and finished eleventh. Carmen Kraav scored two P12 finishes in her BMW M2 Cup debut. Luisa Kahler also scored points with a P14, to round out her first weekend in the series.
"I’m not satisfied with the race results", Kraav told us. "The first race was difficult for me since I haven’t had a lot of track time in the car. But in the end, it is about learning, since it’s my first season in the series and it will be a longer journey from here", the Estonian wisely added. "Currently for me, the most important thing is that I showed a lot of progress even during that short weekend. Also, all the tracks in the series' calendar are new for me, but I’m very excited about that and it’s going to get a lot easier from now on."
The BMW M2 Cup will be back on one of the most iconic tracks of the calendar, the Norisring street circuit, where the women of the championship will aim to make further steps forward in a very popular event for German motorsport on 7-9 July.