Sophia Flörsch shines in Macau Grand Prix, battles for the Top-10
The prestige, the challenge, the comeback: after an impressive weekend at the mighty Guia Circuit, Sophia Flörsch had a flawless, clean charge to take the chequered flag in 11th position at the 70th edition of the Macau Grand Prix, having battled for the top ten until the last lap.
Macau isn't really just a race like any other - especially for young German driver Sophia Flörsch. She is back on the grid of one of the most prestigious races on the planet for the third time this year - and for the first time since 2019. Many will remember her horrendous accident in 2018, at her first participation - and a recently released documentary, RACEGIRL - The Comeback of Sophia Flörsch, perfectly sums up her heroic recovery after a spinal fracture. Sophia is much more than the girl from the accident, as she immediately made it clear by returning behind the wheel three months later. One year after the shocking crash, she was back at Macau - in one of the most memorable moments of the year. Since then, she has raced at the top of endurance racing, made her Le Mans debut, competed in DTM - as well as returned to single seaters, with a highly impressive campaign in FIA F3, where she scored her first points. Flörsch is not in the sport for the headlines, she is there to win races. And the iconic Macau Grand Prix has always been one of her races, one that she has a special bond with. Already in her debut in 2018, she had shown great pace until the accident - and the positive feelings continued one year later, although her run was halted by a technical issue. Four years later, when the opportunity arose to return to the Guia Street Circuit with Van Amersfoort Racing, it was soon evident that Flörsch had the chance to fight in the top half of the leaderboard: her relationship with the Dutch team worked well in the past and continues to bear fruits in 2023.
"So hyped to be back on my favorite track!"
As soon as the first free practice session was underway at the tight Macau circuit, several red flag interruptions disrupted the 40 minute session. The first driver to taste the challenges of the circuit was Laurens Van Hoepen (ART Grand Prix), who carried too much speed and hit the wall.
The session resumed with 14 minutes to go and Sophia Flörsch went for a fast lap, but a yellow flag in sector 2 due a spin for Alex Dunne (Hitech Pulse-Eight) slowed her down. The green waved again with 8 minutes to go and the German driver climbed to 15th place with her first timed lap - and showed that she had likely pace for a top-ten with a purple sector one.
At the end of the session, she was 12th fastest, with Gabriele Minì (SJM Theodore Prema Racing) topping th etimesheets ahead of Luke Browning (Hitech Pulse-Eight) and Richard Verschoor (Trident Motorsport).
"FP1 was decent with P12", the Munich-based driver said after the first session on her favorite track.
The first qualifying session of the weekend was again defined by red flags that stretched the 40 minutes session after many interruptions. The first came out just 7 minutes into Q1, when Sebastian Montoya (Campos Racing) hit the wall, before Ugo Ugochukwu stopped on track, reset the car and limped back to the pits. At the next green-flag phase, drivers attempted to set fast laps but were severely slowed down by traffic, until the third red flag appeared when Zane Maloney's accident required barrier repairs.
The final minutes were extremely busy, as cars headed out in a traffic jungle; Sophia Flörsch couldn't improve and dropped down to P24, although she clearly showed a much faster pace. Minì was fastest and preceded Browning and Beganovic.
"Q1 didn't go our way for different reasons", she commented. "We keep pushing for tomorrow."
The second practice session was another heavily interrupted session, as the drivers tried to find their rhythm between the tight Macau barriers. After 4 minutes a car pile up disrupted the session, initially with a yellow flag before the red was deployed as marshals tried to clear the stricken cars out of their misery.
Six minutes of action followed and Sophia Flörsch was up to 6th fastest in between virtual safety car interruptions; the second red flag of the practice was required when Nikola Tsolov (ART Grand Prix) hit the wall.
In the final five minutes, everyone was eager to improve on their lap times and Paul Aron (SJM Theodore Prema Racing) went on top, ahead of Browning and Mari Boya (MP Motorsport). Sophia had some traffic on her second run and ended P12 once again, showcasing again top-10 worthy pace after the challenging Q1.
Q2 was up next - and a new record for the weekend saw the first red flag out after just 4 minutes: Tsolov was off again into the barriers, having lost the rear and hit the wall.
Flörsch showed her strength in sector 1 - as she set purple after purple times in the first part of the track; yet, she had no luck with traffic, which slowed her down at each outing. The red flags didn't help either - first a yellow in turn 13 due to a spin for Isack Hadjar (Hitech Pulse-Eight), followed by a red when Montoya hit the wall.
Armstrong was the next driver to make a rendezvous with the macanese barriers; the session was halted only to get back underway for one final flying lap. With all cars out on track, it made it incredibly difficult to avoid any traffic - and the walls, as Hadjar crashed hard and effectively ended the session. Browning was quickest overall and scored the pole position for the qualifying race ahead of Mini and Beganovic. Sophia clocked the 16th fastest time in the session and would start the following race from P17 from combined Q1 and Q2 results, not having run a flying lap on her new set of tyres.
"Well, that's Macau", she commented. "P12 in FP2 with too many red flags. P16 in Q2 with too many red flags. Was P12 on the first set but due to red flags and traffic wasn't able to do one lap on set two."
The Qualifying Race started with some delay due a big crash in the GT3 race before, which resulted in barrier repairs, but finally the race was underway with all 26 cars making it through the first corner unscathed. Browning led the field after he battled side by side with Mini for the top spot, and soon pulled away. Sophia Flörsch had a good start after the first metres, but the run down towards turn 3 was too busy to overtake and she opted to keep it clean. Although she initially got stuck behind some cars, she managed to pass Van Hoepen with a great move, claiming back 16th position. The first incident happened on lap 2, when rookie Ugo Ugochukwu and two-time Macau GP winner Dan Ticktum (Rodin Carlin) made contact at Lisboa corner. The Virtual Safety Car was deployed and Sophia held a positive 14th place. Browning retained the lead, but Dunne snatched second place at the restart after the leaders went almost three-wide through Mandarin Bend. Sophia lost a place at the restart and dropped back to 15th place. Browning pulled away once again and won the qualifying race ahead of Dunne - on his F3 debut - and Mini. Flörsch claimed a top-15 in a smart and clean race around the 6.1 km Guia Circuit, where she moved up the order and crucially gained places for the final while taking no unnecessary risks. "Started P17, finished P15", she said. "The goal was to have a clean one. Now we go for all or nothing tomorrow."
In the Final, Sophia Flörsch had a great start and instantly moved from 15th on the grid to 12th place, while Browning kept the lead at the front of the field, but was soon slowed down by a virtual safety cars for the incident involving Dunne, who understeered into the Lisboa Corner barrier.
At the restart, Browning was unchallenged and was never under real pressure; Sophia Flörsch battled hard in a group fighting for the top ten and, while she tried to put pressure on Van Hoepen, she lost a place to Verschoor that shuffled her back to P13. Nevertheless, she followed right on his tail and made up the position soon after, when Beganovic made a mistake.
On lap 9, there was drama when Paul Aron's Prema machine hit the barriers at speed and caught fire; luckily the Estonian was quickly out of the car under his own power. The race, though, was red flagged to recover the car and fix the heavily damaged barriers.
When the pitlane opened, Charlie Wurz couldn't rejoin having picked up damage from the Aron crash and Flörsch, up to P11, was right in the mix for the top-ten battle.
After two laps behind the Safety Car, the race resumed with a final 4 lap showdown: Sophia made it up to P10 at the final restart.
Browning retained the lead, while Dennis Hauger (MP Motorsport) made a move stick over Mini to snatch second position. The Norwegian also attempted an attack on Browning for the lead, but found himself on the wrong line and had to settle for second - as Browning eventually could break away.
Flörsch was faster than Van Hoepen and attacked the Dutchman for ninth; unfortunately, she was left the outside line at Lisboa, which gave the chance to Oliver Goethe to dive in and pass both. At the same time, Nikola Tsolov crashed hard into the outside wall at Fishermen's Bend.
The race would end behind the safety car, with Flörsch crossing the finish line in P11, three tenths of a second away from a top ten at the legendary Macau Grand Prix. With a 323.3 km/h speed trap, Sophia recorded the top speed in both races.
Luke Browning took a convincing victory, ahead of Hauger and Minì.
"What a race! P9 until last lap", Sophia wrote. "SC and DRS didn't mean well. Despite contact, more risk wasn't possible. A cool event. An amazing race. An amazing team."
Following a superb weekend, Sophia Flörsch proved once again her racecraft, especially on such a difficult and fast circuit. With great pace, clean and smart driving, she made her way through the field to take the chequered flag the first time in the Macau final - and nearly clinched a Top-10 result in the process. Around the unreal streets of Macau, Sophia has put her accident behind also in the eyes of the spectators, who saw the fighter hiding behind the new, sparkly, purple helmet.