Reema Juffali continues stunning GT Open campaign with pole position and class win at Le Castellet
At her first outing as a driver/team owner, Reema Juffali claimed a pole position, a proAm victory and yet another overall podium in GT Open, as the Saudi racer continues her outstanding International GT Open campaign.
Reema Juffali - the first Saudi female racing driver - made an important step in her career in motor racing when she announced last week the launch of her own racing team, Theeba Motorsport. Juffali, who had competed in single-seaters until 2021, switched her focus to GT racing this year and completed her first GT3 race in January at the 24H of Dubai. She was second in class in her first endurance race, showing impressive speed straight away. With Theeba Motorsport, she aims to take her involvement in the sport even further, targeting a participation at the prestigious 24H of Le Mans in the future under the Saudi flag. The team aspires to improve the Kingdom’s access to motorsport, providing opportunities and increasing representation, diversity and inclusion in motor racing - as it shares its roots with the career of its groundbreaking founder. Juffali will race for her own team alongside coach and mentor Adam Christodolou, as they will share a Mercedes AMG GT3 in International GT Open. Juffali and Christodolou entered the inaugural round at Estoril - under the banner of Theeba Motorsport but with a car prepared by SPS Automotive Performance - and immediately left their mark with two ProAm class victories and an overall podium at series debut. Theeba Motorsport hit the track for what was effectively its first race meeting at Le Castellet, in the South of France, as Juffali/Christodolou tackled the second round of GT Open. And Juffali's team immediately meant business: they were soon in the overall top-three in the second practice and Juffali led the practice for bronze-rated drivers, before Adam Christodolou brought the team its first ever pole position. With blistering pace at Circuit Paul Ricard, the experienced Briton beat Axcil Jefferies with a best time of 2:00.313 in the first qualifying session, over half a second faster of his competitor on the final run. In a historic moment, Juffali claimed her first pole position as a team owner at her team's first appearance.
Christodolou put in a flawless run in the opening stages of the race to pull away from the competition, ahead of the GetSpeed Performance Mercedes of Moritz Kranz, Glenn van Berlo and Benjamin Hites. A post-qualifying penalty had in fact demoted the Kessel Racing Ferrari of Axcil Jefferies to last place for a technical irregularity. The driver from Zimbabwe, though, had an impressive charge through the field and gained four places on the first lap; he would climb to seventh after only a handful of laps. Adam Christodolou was in control of the race and had opened a safe gap when the Safety Car was deployed on lap 8, following the retirement of the #3 Aust Motorsport Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo of Dino Steiner who had come to a halt on track for a technical issue. The Safety Car was bad news for Theeba Motorsport's strategy, as it wiped away all their margin, but Christodolou had a great restart and was soon pushing to build a gap again. Behind him, Krantz was overtaken by the two Lamborghinis of Van Berlo and Hites. The pit window opened and teams pitted for their driver changes: Theeba Motorsport had to serve a 20 second success penalty at the stop due to its class victories at Estoril - which proved a costly: Juffali rejoined the track in seventh place overall and fifth in ProAm, with Kevin Gilardoni taking the overall lead in the #19 Oregon Team Lamborghini. Having just started their driving shifts, Leonardo Pulcini (Oregon Lamborghini) and Yannick Mettler (SPS Automotive Performance Mercedes) tangled and lost valuable time. David Fumanelli (Kessel Racing), who had taken over from Murat Cuhadaroglu, was in second position but had to keep at bay a group of several fast cars that included Joe Osborne and Karol Basz. Osborne and Basz would eventually find a way past Gilardoni for the overall lead; the Swiss came under pressure from Fumanelli as well - and the two made contact after a fierce battle that saw Gilardoni eventually getting a 5-second penalty. Joe Osborne and Nick Moss claimed their first Pro win and brought the Optimum Motorsport's McLaren to the top of the series' standings. They preceded Jedlinski/Basz and Cuhadaroglu/Fumanelli on the podium - as the Polish Olimp Racing squad secured ProAm victory. Reema Juffali held onto fifth in ProAm after showing brilliant racecraft and superb defensive driving in the final stages, surviving the attacks of Alain Valante. "Adam did such a great job today", commented Juffali on Saturday. "He built a gap that was unfortunately hurt by the Safety Car, and we had a success penalty that we had to serve during the pitstop, too." "Early on the car felt good, but midway through my run I started getting a bit of understeer and I lost a place because of that. But through consistency, I came back stronger. Today was a good experience and I feel like I know what I need to do to improve tomorrow.”
Saturday's winners kept momentum and were back on top of the time-sheets on Sunday morning, as Joe Osborne secured pole position ahead of David Fumanelli and Karol Basz. Reema Juffali qualified in 13th position after a challenging session, but the young Saudi racer was soon on the move at the start of Race 2, when she gained two places on the opening lap. The pole sitting McLaren held position at lights out and Osborne extended his lead to over 6 seconds over the Kessel Racing's Ferrari of Fumanelli just before the pit window opener. Behind them, there were a few exciting duels for position: Pulcini overtook Gilardoni for fifth overall and Korzeniowski had to defend from Juffali. On lap 13, Reema Juffali pitted for her driver change and handed over to Adam Christodolou, as well as Janine Shoffner - who also had a solid stint after an unlucky spin on Saturday - handed the helm of the GetSpeed Mercedes to Moritz Kranz. Axcil Jefferies and Giuseppe Cipriani made contact at the start of their stints and dropped down the order. After the round of pit stops, Cuhadaroglu preceded Nick Moss and Marcin Jedlinski. The Theeba Motorsport's Mercedes rejoined the race from P15 - but Christodolou's pace soon proved once again to be unmatched. The British ace was able to undercut some of the cars ahead and moved into sixth place in ProAm; he then cleared Jackson, Leber, Muller, Jefferies to further climb the ProAm order. A fierce battle for the overall lead also saw Cuhadaroglu losing the lead to Moss - before clashing with the Lamborghini of Hites, who would receive a 3-second penalty. As Nick Moss opened a gap, the fight for the overall podium - and the ProAm victory - was all to play for in the final laps: with an outstanding charge it would be Theeba Motorsport's Adam Christodolou to claim the third spot overall and the class win after a series of spectacular passes. Sebastien Baud preceded Axcil Jefferies for fourth, while Benjamin Hites ended sixth after the penalty, ahead of Shoffner/Kranz - who also finished fourth in ProAm. The third ProAm win over four GT Open races is yet another proof of the strong Theeba Motorsport's driver pairing. "It's a first overall podium for the team and first in class, so I couldn't be happier" - commented Reema Juffali. "I'm really proud of what we have achieved as a team in such a short space of time." "It's very different being purely a driver compared to a driver who manages her own team, but I think it makes it more exciting", she continued. "Adam did an amazing job today, keeping it clean and getting us across the line despite the handicap. Now it’s about getting our head down and building on what we have achieved this weekend. I’m already ready for the next race!” "As far as races go, they don’t get much better than that!" - echoed Christodolou. "We had a third overall and a win in class so a brilliant weekend overall. Reema drove really well, the team was great and the car felt perfect all weekend. To fight for the win was the cherry on top." Juffali/Christodolou now sit fourth in the overall standings, 32 points behind Optimum Motorsport's Osborne/Moss. In ProAm, Reema Juffali leads by six points the class standings after four races.
The Saudi team will eye yet another strong weekend at the next International GT Open round, which is scheduled in a month's time at the iconic Spa Francorchamps circuit on 18-19 June