Reema Juffali returns to victory in GT Open
A weekend of highs and lows: Theeba Motorsport's Reema Juffali returned to victory in GT Open with an outstanding first race, but was forced to retire on Sunday after being crashed out in the closing minutes.
The fifth round of the 2022 International GT Open was the definition of a mixed feelings weekend for Theeba Motorsport, the team founded by Saudi racing star Reema Juffali.
At her first season in GT3 racing, Juffali impressed everyone with her first 24h race in Dubai, where she finished second in class after spending a few years in single-seaters. From there, Juffali focused her efforts in GT competitions, joining International GT Open at the wheel of the #18 Mercedes AMG GT3 machine - initially operated by SPS Automotive Performance.
Together with Adam Christodolou, Juffali claimed an outstanding double class victory at the Estoril season opener, followed by another ProAm win and overall podium at Le Castellet - where Juffali's own racing team Theeba Motorsport was officially launched.
The Saudi team always showed great pace in every weekend so far, but Juffali-Christodolou hit trouble in the following two rounds: a contact in the endurance race at Spa Francorchamps took the duo out of the race while again in contention for the ProAm win, while a streak of bad luck resulted in two DNFs at Hungaroring.
After a long summer break, the Austrian Red Bull Ring was the perfect opportunity for redemption and, with a brilliant performance in Race 1, Juffali and Christodolou delivered once again.
In a heavy rain-affected weekend, qualifying was disrupted by red flags, which prevented Reema Juffali from improving her starting position; she would line up in 14th place.
David Fumanelli (Kessel Racing) clinched pole position overall for Race 1 and pulled away quickly in the opening stages.
Reema Juffali was behind the wheel for the first stint and immediately gained two positions, passing the Optimum Motorsport McLaren and the AF Corse Ferrari of Rugolo, who was briefly off in the gravel.
The Saudi driver continued her progression and, now fourth in ProAm and at the doorsteps of the overall top-10, she chased the Olimp Racing Audi and the Mercedes of Martin Konrad before the pit window opened.
Everyone dived into the pitlane when the Safety Car was deployed, as Dino Steiner ended up in the gravel.
With 41 minutes to go, Adam Christodolou took over from Reema Juffali and resumed her charge: the Theeba Motorsport Mercedes quickly gained seventh place and third in ProAm as the Briton overtook Andrew Gilbert – who then spun off track after contact with another car.
The leading duo had extended their stints and pitted with 24 minutes to go: Cuhadaroglu and Gilardoni took over from Fumanelli and Van Berlo, and the Oregon Lamborghini was soon in the lead of the race, followed by Pulcini.
Adam Christodolou passed Janine Shoffner for second in ProAm – in another very solid race for the latter – and hunted down Osborne and Cuhadaroglu, eventually taking the class lead on lap 38.
In an exciting duel with the #911 Mercedes of Baud, Christodolou was almost put into the pitwall and on the grass, but held on and secured third overall. Behind him, Osborne and Baud had contact.
Kevin Gilardoni and Leonardo Pulcini took a 1-2 for Team Oregon, while Theeba Motorsport's Reema Juffali and Adam Christodolou were again on the overall podium and on the top step of the ProAm category.
“It feels great to be back on the podium and to kick-start the second half of 2022 with a win!" – commented Reema Juffali after the first race of the weekend.
"We’ve been working extremely hard behind the scenes over the summer break, and to have our efforts rewarded in this way is very satisfying."
"Qualifying left us with a little bit of work to do in the race but I was able to make some good progress during my stint. Adam then did an amazing job battling to the front in the second half to bring home our fourth win of the season but now, we need to get our heads down and focus on tomorrow where we’ll be pushing hard for another great result.”
After such a great comeback, Theeba Motorsport was aiming to keep momentum and pursue their fourth class win of the season – but the outcome of the second race was unfortunately not as pleasant.
Christodolou had qualified in P8, fifth in ProAm, and held position throughout the first part of the race. Karol Basz (Olimp Racing Audi) preceded Hofer and Osborne after the first lap, before the two leading Audis pulled away from the rest of the pack.
A brief Safety Car for the stranded Ferrari of Baron did not dramatically alter the order; the rain, though, intensified as the pit window approached.
With 29 minutes to go, Shoffner pitted and handed over to Krantz from P19 and Juffali climbed in the 18 Theeba Motorsport Mercedes in 13th place overall, after serving the success penalty during her pitstop.
Hofer took the lead over Basz after an outstanding battle just before pitting for driver change: Steiner and Jedlinski resumed the fight for the top step overall, but the Polish driver made a mistake and hit the barriers soon after, triggering the Safety Car.
Juffali, meanwhile, had moved ahead of Schraml and was back into fifth in ProAm.
At the restart with 12 minutes to go, Dominik Schraml – likely on cold brakes – missed his braking point at Turn 1 and ploughed into the back of the Theeba Motorsport driver, also involving Heiko Neumann in the accident. All three drivers were out of the race, with significant damage to their cars.
It was a very unfortunate end of an otherwise extremely positive weekend for Reema Juffali.
In the final minutes, Hites passed Steiner at the restart, as the Oregon Lamborghini claimed a back to back victory. Steve Jans made it into second, with Dino Steiner – first among the ProAm entries – completing the podium. With a strong comeback, Moritz Krantz and Janine Shoffner were fifth overall and second placed in ProAm.
“I’m frustrated that our race ended in this way today. With the success penalty, we knew that it was important to qualify well, and Adam did well to put the car on the fourth row." – said Reema Juffali. "He drove a great first stint and I managed to make up some ground after the pitstop."
"I think the Safety Car was going to play to our advantage, but then I was completely wiped out by the #15 Mercedes on the restart and that ended our race", she continued. "It’s a big shame after the race we had yesterday. This one hurts.”
With great pace across the sessions, Theeba Motorsport have plenty of positives to build on after the Austrian round – but also only around 10 days to rebuild the #18 Mercedes AMG GT3 in time for the next round, which will be at the Temple of Speed, Monza, in two weeks' time.