Reema Juffali ProAm runner up in debut GT Open season
Saudi racer Reema Juffali completed her rookie season in GT3 racing with a double class podium in the GT Open season finale in Barcelona that gained Theeba Motorsport the runner up spot in the ProAm standings.
Reema Juffali's first season in GT3 racing after her step up from single seater turned out to be a highly successful one, as the Saudi racer brought her newly-founded Theeba Motorsport team to second place in the ProAm championship standings of the International GT Open. Juffali - who moved to the UK to start her professional racing career and contested two seasons in British F4 and one year in GB3 Championship - before focusing her efforts in GT racing. And her move paid off: in her first ever season in GT3, Juffali shared the wheel of the #18 Mercedes AMG GT3 with experienced British racer Adam Cristodoulou, winning her class in both the races at the opening round of International GT Open at Estoril, Portugal. As she launched her own racing team - Theeba Motorsport - at Circuit Paul Ricard, Juffali collected more silverware and was once again on the top step of the ProAm. Difficult weekends followed at Spa and Hungaroring, as the Theeba Motorsport's Mercedes was crashed out while in contention for the podium in the endurance race in Belgium. The Red Bull Ring round brought very mixed emotions: another ProAm win in race 1, followed by a massive accident in race 2, when Juffali was the innocent victim of a competitor's misjudged braking after a safety car restart. The damage, though, forced the Saudi team to a full rebuild of the #18 Mercedes, which had to sit out the entire Monza round at the end of September. Juffali and Christodoulou were back stronger than ever for the GT Open finale at Barcelona, where they aimed to end their season on a high. Despite the unfortunate incidents, in fact, the Saudi team remained in contention for the class title ahead of the final double-header.
The first of racing at Circuit de Catalunya was not an easy one, as the 70-minute race 1 turned out to be drama-filled throughout the grid.
After a fog delay in the morning, the qualifying session was further disrupted by a red flag for the incident involving the #33 Mercedes of Florian Scholze. Pole position went to Fabian Schiller (#77 GetSpeed Performance Mercedes), ahead of the Oregon Lamborghini driven by Leonardo Pulcini. Reema Juffali qualified the #18 Theeba Mercedes in P19 overall for the afternoon's race.
With a brilliant start, Juffali gained two positions and slotted into 17th place, just behind the Kessel Racing Ferrari of Zanotti and the Olimp Racing Audi of Jedlinski.
Schiller held the top spot, followed by the Lamborghini of Pulcini and Optimum Motorsport's Osborne, whose McLaren moved from fifth to third at the start.
The safety car was soon deployed for the #92 Herberth Motorsport Porsche of Ralf Bohn, who was hit by the championship contender #19 Oregon Lamborghini of Kevin Gilardoni.
At the green flag, Juffali was up into P16.
Approximately ten minutes after the restart, a second neutralization was required for the incident involving the #8 Lamborghini of Giuseppe Cipriani and the ProAm championship leading Ferrari - driven by Murat Cuhadaroglu - who was stranded in the gravel.
Reema Juffali was once again able to make the most out of the restart, passing the #777 Audi of Jedlinski who made a mistake in the final corner, moving into 15th place.
In these hectic stages, Scholze collided with Benyahia - and Juffali herself made a mistake at Turn 5 which dropped her to P21.
Midway through the race, the leading drivers pitted for their driver change - while Osborne extended his stint in the Optimum McLaren.
Juffali pitted and handed over the Theeba Motorsport Mercedes to Adam Christodoulou with 34 minutes left on the clock.
After the round of pit stops, Al Faisal Al Zubair held the lead in the #77 GetSpeed Performance Mercedes, ahead of the sister #911 car of Steve Jans and the two Oregon Lamborghinis. After receiving a penalty for the contact in the opening lap, though, the day of the #19 crew went from bad to worse when Van Berlo made contact with Nick Moss in the #72 Optimum McLaren with 29 minutes to go.
Meanwhile, the battle for the podium heated up: Andrew Gilbert (#44 Greystone GT McLaren had made it to second place, but was under pressure from the Jans, Hites and Bachler; the battle ended in tears for Gilbert and Jans, who collided and opened the door to the Dinamic Motorsport Porsche of Klaus Bachler.
Adam Christodoulou, meanwhile, had a tough battle with Karol Basz - as both navigated through the field, making up positions in the midfield. The Briton overtook Max Hofer (#3 Aust Audi) and Dexter Muller (#54 SPS Automotive Performance Mercedes), ultimately moving into third place in ProAm - ninth overall - after a brilliant recovery.
Just ahead of the Theeba Motorsport's driver, Basz could catch up with the class leading Ferrari and passed Michele Rugolo for the top spot in ProAm.
Positions remained unchanged in the closing minutes and Adam Christodoulou and Reema Juffali could celebrate another class podium at their return to GT Open.
“After missing Monza, it feels great to be back racing again today" - commented Juffali after the race. "Overall, I think we missed a couple of opportunities, but I’m very happy to be back on the podium."
"Qualifying was quite difficult and that left us with some work to do but we recovered well to take eighth overall and third in class. Tomorrow is the final race of the season and I’m going to give it my all so we can end our first year as a team on a high.”
Despite a 10-second pit stop handicap, the #77 Mercedes of Al Faisal Al Zubair/Fabian Schiller took a dominant race at series debut in the overall classification, ahead of Klaus Bachler/Riccardo Cazzaniga in the #24 Dinamic Porsche and the championship leading Oregon Lamborghini of Benjamin Hites/Leonardo Pulcini.
The third place in race 1 was unfortunately not enough for Theeba Motorsport to keep the ProAm title battle alive - but having entered the final round fifth in the standings, Juffali/Christodoulou remained in contention for the runner up position.
On a sunny Sunday morning, it was then Adam Christodouou's time to qualify the #18 Mercedes AMG GT3. After two more red flags in the session, Klaus Bachler secured pole position, ahead of Karol Basz and Glann Van Berlo.
With a 1:44.385, Christodoulou had a positive start of the day with seventh overall and fifth among the ProAm entries, which put Theeba Motorsport in a good starting position for the 60-minute final race of the season.
Caught in the battle with the Pro #63 Oregon Lamborghini entry of Benjamin Hites, though, Christodoulou slipped to eighth on the opening lap of the race, just behind Fumanelli, Valente and Renauer.
10 minutes into the race, Alex Villanueva went off at Turn 4 and the safety car was deployed. In the overall classification, Bachler (Dinamic Motorsport Porsche) retained first place from Basz, Van Berlo and Renauer. Christodoulou - who had just lost the position to the Audi of Hofer before the neutralization - was back ahead at the restart, climbing to fourth in class ahead of the driver change.
After the pit stops, Ralf Bohn emerged in the lead in the #92 Herberth Motorsport Porsche, preceding Gilardoni and Baud. Reema Juffali got behind the wheel of the #18 Mercedes and rejoined the race in seventh place overall, third in class, leapfrogging the #777 Audi now driven by Marcin Jedlinski.
Kevin Gilardoni would take the overall lead with 20 minutes to go, as the Bohn also dropped behind the #911 GetSpeed Mercedes, the #24 Dinamic Porsche and the #72 Optimum Racing McLaren - but remained in command of the ProAm classification.
With a flawless stint, Reema Juffali was always in control of the situation and held third place until the finish line - gaining Theeba Motorsport's second class podium of the weekend and its sixth of the season.
“What a race! It feels like yesterday since we started this journey, and I can’t quite believe that Theeba Motorsport’s first season is complete" - the driver/owner commented, having just sealed her team's runner up spot in the ProAm championship.
"Adam [Christodoulou] did a great job in qualifying and drove an awesome first stint to put us in contention for the podium", she recalled. "With a quick stop, we managed to jump into the top three and from there, we just had to bring it home."
Theeba Motorsport's inaugural season has been an incredible rollercoaster, with an impressive series of victories and podiums - as well as setbacks that forced the team to miss a few races. Nevertheless, second in the championship at debut represents an outstanding result for the Saudi squad.
"Given the different challenges we’ve faced this season, finishing as the runners-up in the Pro-Am Championship is a fantastic achievement, and it just shows the value of the hard work that goes on behind the scenes before and after each race", continued Juffali.
"I’m extremely proud of everyone.”