Samantha Tan returned to the Ferrari Challenge North American series claiming another podium, at her first ever start at Daytona International Speedway.
Ferrari Challenge - the Italian brand's one-make series this year at its 30th anniversary - has recently made headlines for its female protagonists: in 2018, W Series driver Fabienne Wohlwend became the first female world champion in the series and last year, Iron Dames' Michelle Gatting was crowned champion in the European series. This year, young Frenchwoman Doriane Pin has started where Gatting had left off, taking a dominant double-win at the season opener at Portimao. But the North American series is just as interesting regarding female participants: with a last minute entry at the 2022 season opener at COTA, rising star Samantha Tan took two pole positions and a race win at her very first race in the Ferrari 488 GT3 Challenge Evo - a performance that convinced the driver/owner of Samantha Tan Racing to add the Ferrari Challenge NA rounds to her already very busy schedule. The Canadian will in fact compete in a triple-program in 2022, alongside the 24H Series - where she is reigning champion - and GT World Challenge America, in her first GT3 campaign. Fresh off her historic first overall win at the 12H of Mugello, Tan headed to another iconic track, Daytona International Speedway, for her first race at the venue. "Yesterday was very productive, we tried a bunch of different things, it was my very first time here in Daytona International Speedway", said Tan after the free practice sessions. "I actually ran my fastest lap during night practice." After learning the track on her own and with no reference data or teammate for comparison, Tan continued to bring down lap times and had a very strong first qualifying session, where she was in contention for the Pirelli Trofeo ProAm pole position. After leading at one point during the session, Tan was second, finishing one tenth of a second adrift of Alfred Caiola (Ferrari of Long Island). "Today I went two seconds faster during qualifying, so I'm pretty happy, but unfortunately I missed pole by 1 tenth of a second." - she commented a bit disappointed, but nevertheless happy about the winning chances on Saturday. The night race - contested under the lights of a really scenic backdrop - saw Jeremy Clarke taking the overall lead at the start, followed by Franco and Kurzejewski in the Pro class, while pole-sitter Caiola had a good getaway in the ProAm category and put a Pro car between him and second-placed Samantha Tan. A stunning battle for the lead in both classes dominated the entire duration of the race: the top three pulled away from the pack and, with 17 minutes left on the clock, Samantha Tan completed a perfect move at the Bus Stop chicane to move into the top spot. At the same time, Manny Franco went for the overall lead at Turn 1, just before a Full Course Yellow freezed the action. Once the stranded car of Brad Horstmann was retrieved after contact, the race resumed for the final 7 minutes: Marc Muzzo spun as he tried to avoid the sliding Jason McCarthy at Turn 6, with everyone taking evasive action. Unfortunately, Samantha Tan lost the ProAm lead in the hectic stages. On the final lap, Manny Franco also spun at the same corner, handing the victory to Jeremy Clarke in dramatic fashion. Samantha prepared a last lap attack but came just 0.4 seconds short of victory across the line, despite another very strong performance in ProAm. Sunday turned out to be a more challenging day for the talented Canadian racer. After a colder morning qualifying, a spin on the cold tyres in the opening minutes resulted in a fifth place in Q2, setting the grid for the afternoon's race. Manny Franco and Jeremy Clarke again shared the front row of the Pro class, with Caiola and Toledo leading the ProAm pack. Tan held position on the first lap, then tried to start her comeback - but went deep into Turn 2 and lost a couple of positions on lap 2. The only Full Course Yellow of the race was deployed soon after, when Horstmann collided with the pit-exit tyre barrier head-on but was luckily unhurt. Musial Jr had moved into the ProAm lead and, at the restart, he also climbed the overall order. He was followed by Coleman, Toledo and Bergeron - with Tan in seventh place. From the action-packed second part of the race, it would be Caiola to emerge again: after a great recovery, he caught up with Musial Jr and engaged in a close battle for the class lead. On lap 12, Coleman and Toledo cut across the grass of the Bus Stop chicane, Tan took avoiding action. Unfortunately, she was collected at Turn 3, leaving her #8 Ferrari with damage. Manny Franco took a controlled victory overall, ahead of Clarke and Kurzejewski, while Musial Jr held off Caiola and Bergeron to win in ProAm. Samantha Tan was eighth across the finish line. "You win some, you lose some" - wrote the young driver afterwards. "Midway through Race 2, I was hit in T3 and the car just wasn’t the same after", she explained. "I kept pushing and brought the car home in P8. with the high from yesterday, you could say I wasn’t the happiest". "With no coach, no reference data, no onboard video, overcoming a 180mph+ blowout, and a podium finish, I should be satisfied with this inaugural weekend at Daytona!" Having added another podium to her resumé, Tan keeps momentum in her GT3 rookie campaign and will now head to Sonoma for the start of the SRO GT World Challenge America season, where she will partner Nick Wittmer in the #38 ProAm entry, at the wheel of her BMW M4 GT3.