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Sita Vanmeert makes car racing debut with class wins, overall top-5

Belgian up-and-coming talent Sita Vanmeert made her car racing debut at Circuit de Catalunya with a highly promising first round in Ligier European Series, where she collected a pair of victories in the ProAm class and a top five in the JS2 R category.


Sita Vanmeert, Ligier European Series, 2024 Barcelona
Photo courtesy: Sita Vanmeert

Belgian up-and-coming talent Sita Vanmeert made her car racing debut at Circuit de Catalunya with a highly promising first round in Ligier European Series, where she collected a pair of victories in the ProAm class and a top five in the JS2 R category.


Vanmeert joined the Les Deux Arbres team for the start of the season with a very late deal, and shared the #86 Ligier JS2 R car with Jacques Nicolet in the development series designed as an entry point into the world of sportscar racing. Launched in 2020, the Ligier European Series features two classes - one prototype and one GT class - on a calendar in conjunction with the European Le Mans Series on some of Europe's top circuits.


Vanmeert, 18, has been one of the most exciting prospects in international karting, with entries in highly competitive series such as the IAME Euro Series, IAME Benelux, IAME Winter Cup as well as the FIA Karting European Championship. She has moved up the ranks from the X30 Mini to the X30 Senior from 2017 to 2023, as she progressively prepared for her car racing debut. One of her career breakthroughs was also the participation at the 2022 FIA Motorsport Games, where she represented Belgium in the karting endurance discipline and won the gold medal.


In 2023, Vanmeert started a Formula 4 testing program and was also part of the Richard Mille Academy selection as one of the eight finalists; she then announced a deal to make her touring car debut as she joined the all-electric NXT Gen Cup. The series, though, was dropped from the Formula E support package a week before its first race and is currently working on a new calendar.


The change of plans gave Vanmeert the opportunity to experiment a new environment: she would make her sportscar debut at the wheel of the Ligier JS2 R, following one single test day in the car.


Despite the very limited track time in the car and at the circuit, Vanmeert highly impressed on her first outing. While Nicolet took on driving duties for the first practice session, Sita jumped in the car for FP2 in the afternoon and immediately clocked very respectable times: her 1:53.729 was just 1.4 seconds from the top of the timing sheets. The progression continued with a massive step forward in qualifying: she improved by over two seconds, setting a 1:51.555 in Q1 that placed her fourth overall and on ProAm pole position.


The racing season was thus underway, with a record presence of female drivers - three - for the Ligier championship. The first race started behind the safety car as two cars had separate issues during the formation lap and were retrieved by the marshals.

Action got underway with 52 minutes to go, and Vanmeert was immediately up to third place overall. A stellar start saw the Belgian attacking for second place into turn one, but unfortunately she went deep and had to take the escape road, thus dropping to fifth, while retaining the ProAm lead.

  

Iron Lynx's Matteo Pianezzola took the class lead in the JS2R class, but most of the field remained very tight, separated by a handful of seconds. On lap 7, Vanmeert lost fifth overall to the recovering Stern - but she continued on a consistent pace.


There was drama in the JS2R class when race leader Pianezzola suddenly slowed down and parked his car with a technical issue, bringing out the safety car on lap 12. Under caution, the pit window approached and, mid-way through the race, Sita Vanmeert completed her first stint in car racing in P5 overall and in the ProAm lead, as Jacques Nicolet took over the #86 Ligier.


Nicolet ran a steady stint, although lost one position to Cindy Gudet, who was charging from the back of the field after an incident on the formation lap. Nicolet would gain back fifth place overall in the JS2 R category when Clement Moreno spun in the gravel at turn 1, triggering a second safety car.

The action-packed first race of the season ended with a fifth place for Vanmeert/Nicolet, who also claimed the top spot in the ProAm class, in a highly promising first race for the Belgian racer.


Sita Vanmeert, Ligier European Series, 2024 Barcelona
Photo courtesy: Sita Vanmeert

Nicolet took the start in the Le Deux Arbres #86 machine for the second race on Saturday afternoon. From seventh on the grid, he had a strong start and overtook Moreno, settling in sixth overall - although the latter did fight back on lap 4.


In a clean and uninterrupted first stint, Nicolet pitted with 31 minutes to go and handed over the #86 Ligier to Vanmeert, who rejoined seventh in the JS2R category, top of the ProAm class. Sita immediately improved the car's fastest lap - setting a 1:53.176 on lap 18, followed by her first lap in the 1:52 bracket, as the Belgian continued to improve her sectors. Despite having taken over with a significant margin to the car ahead - almost one minute - Vanmeert showed great pace.


The sole safety car of the race was deployed with 6 minutes to go when the #66 Team Virage JSP4 came to a halt after a recurring technical hiccup; it was finally the opportunity for Vanmeert to close the gap to the rest of the pack for the final two laps.


She managed to catch Pianezzola - who had been involved in a contact and dropped down the order, although continued - and made a move stick for sixth on the final lap, taking the chequered flag again as the top ProAm, after a brilliant second stint for the Belgian young talent.


"The first training sessions went well, we were still finding the right setup but coming into the qualifying we had the pace and were able to get good starting positions in both qualifyings", Vanmeert said, summing up the weekend. "Ended up winning two 1st places together with my teammate in our class. Very happy with how the weekend went and very grateful to have been able to get this experience."


Despite the very limited track time in the car, it was evident that Vanmeert was getting more comfortable in the car after each lap - and the significant improvement throughout the sessions is testament of her potential. Her qualifying effort was particularly remarkable, showing that with more knowledge of the car under her belt, she is very likely to break into the top JS2 R positions overall very soon.

The second round of the Ligier European Series is scheduled for 3-4 May at Circuit Paul Ricard, France.


Sita Vanmeert, Ligier European Series, 2024 Barcelona
Photo courtesy: Sita Vanmeert

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