Sophia Floersch completes positive DTM debut season with more points at Norisring
Amidst a thrilling DTM finale at Norisring, Sophia Floersch had her strongest weekend in the series to date, showing improvements in qualifying and pace for the Top-10 – as she added more points to her rookie season tally.
The first season of the new DTM era was a spectacular success. A growing field with an increased number of manufacturers; an A-list of GT3 teams and drivers; a world-class calendar of European racing venues; exciting racing and a dramatic season ending.
And, last but not least, the debut of two female drivers.
If female participation in the most popular German series was considered the norm around ten years ago, DTM broke a 9-year hiatus with rookies Sophia Floersch and Esmee Hawkey.
The German 20-year old driver made her switch from single-seaters to closed cockpits in 2021, after a challenging season in FIA F3. Having moved her first steps in the LMP2 prototype by Richard Mille Racing in ELMS – and with her first running of the Le Mans 24 Hours – 2020 was a crucial season for Floersch, who flourished at the wheel of the Oreca prototype and stepped up to WEC alongside Tatiana Calderon and Beitske Visser.
Despite the young age, Floersch is turning into a really versatile driver and added to her 2021 racing schedule another elite series such as DTM when she joined ABT Sportsline.
Always a fan of the series, Sophia was nevertheless aware of the challenges posed by a switch to GT3 machinery in a championship filled with GT experts. With limited testing, the first half of the season proved challenging for Floersch, who was also pioneering the innovative 'Space Drive' electronic steering system by Schaeffler-Paravan.
Braking was also another area where Floersch – and all the drivers getting up to speed with the GT3 platform for the first time – had to work and adapt, with the ABS system representing an all-new feature for drivers coming from formula cars.
Esmee Hawkey had previously raced in GT cars, before being selected as one of the inaugural 18 official drivers in the all-female W Series championship. She had a mixed season in 2019, with flashes of greatness – including the Brands Hatch qualifying where she would line up in third on the grid. Hawkey was not confirmed for a second W Series season and returned to the British Porsche Carrera Cup in 2020. At her third participation in the series, Esmee took a series of storming victories in the ProAm class, ultimately securing the class title.
Despite her experience at the wheel of the Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car, when she joined T3 Motorsport at the eve of the DTM season, the 23 year-old British driver had very limited mileage under her belt in the Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo car.
At the season opener at Monza, though, Hawkey was immediately under the spotlight for some remarkable qualifying performances, which became a trademark of the young driver throughout the season.
Over the span of 16 weeks of intense racing, both Esmee Hawkey and Sophia Floersch made impressive progress and scored points – succeeding Rahel Frey as the last woman to secure points in DTM in 2012.
Their efforts were rewarded in Assen, when Floersch finished ninth and Hawkey in 11th place in Saturday's race and bagged 6 and 2 points respectively.
After missing the Nurburgring round due to a clash with WEC – and, incidentally, after switching back to the traditional steering system – Floersch started to show significant improvements in the second half of the season. The point-scoring round at Assen was followed by a P12 in Hockenheim.
Hawkey's qualifying efforts – which often brought her in the midfield on the starting grid - resulted in two 11th place finishes and a few more races completed just outside the Top-10.
After seven race meetings, Hawkey made her return to one of Germany's most famous street circuits – the Norisring – after racing on the 2.3km long circuit in W Series.
“The season has flown by and I can’t believe we’re already here at Norisring for the finale,” Esmee commented. “It’s been a great year with T3 Motorsport and I’m looking forward to ending on a positive note."
"You’re on the limit all the time here and the margins are very fine so it’s all to play for. I'd also like to say a huge thank you to ROKiT for all of their support in making this year possible.”
While Hawkey and Floersch were aiming to complete their debut season on a high, the attention was also focused on the title fight: Liam Lawson (AF Corse Ferrari) led the standings and eyed to become DTM's youngest ever champion - but was chased by Kelvin van der Linde (ABT Sportsline) and Maximilian Goetz (HRT Mercedes) – the latter with less title chances but determined to do well on his home track.
Lawson topped the first qualifying session and preceded his championship rival van der Linde on the front row – in a taste of what the DTM finale had in store.
Sophia Floersch had her best qualifying of the season with 15th place in Q1, but had to serve a 3-place grid drop following an accident with Esmee Hawkey in Hockenheim's second race.
Hawkey lined up from 18th on the grid.
It was a messy start to Race 1, with some of the drivers not even in formation when the leaders started to accelerate towards the tricky Turn 1. Kelvin van der Linde went for the move at the hairpin but went deep and lost out to his rivals; the South African was squeezed towards the wall and made contact, but continued – albeit in seventh place. Starting from the second row, Arjun Maini tagged Lawson and Ellis went through and into the lead. Sophia Floersch had a great start and moved from P19 to P16. Mike Rockenfeller (Audi ABT Sportsline) was also involved in the first corner contacts and pitted with a puncture, before eventually retiring to preserve tyres for Sunday's race. Esmee Hawkey was also pushed into the wall by Vincent Abril, but continued. Ellis led Lawson, Cassidy – the New Zealander making his debut in DTM for AF Corse in place of Alex Albon. On lap 7, Goetz found a way past Lawson, who didn't take risks and avoided hard battles. Sophia Floersch, on the other hand, wasn't holding back and fought with Wittmann and Glock, advancing to P13. She overtook the former F1 driver and slotted into P12, while the round of pit stops started. Esmee Hawkey spun at Turn 3 on lap 18, but luckily kept the #26 Lamborghini out of the wall. She pitted soon after for new tyres from P15, but received a drive through penalty for speeding in the pit lane. The short nature of the track meant that her race was compromised and she retired on lap 35, with 25 minutes left on the clock. Having been overtaken by Maximilian Goetz for the lead, Philip Ellis was tagged and spun around by Liam Lawson on lap 22; the driver of the #57 Winward Mercedes was luckily avoided by the rest of the pack but dropped down the order. After the stops, Goetz emerged in the lead, ahead of Arjun Maini and Liam Lawson. Sophia Floersch's team opted once again for a late stop and the German stayed out until the final minutes, together with Cassidy, Di Grassi and Glock. Floersch pulled away from Glock and closed in on Di Grassi, before stopping from third with 2 laps to go. She would rejoin in P14. Cassidy pitted from the lead on lap 65 and slotted just between championship rivals Lawson and van der Linde. The Audi contender made a great move at Turn 4 and cleared the AF Corse Ferrari despite some contact. When Lucas DI Grassi stopped on the final lap, Goetz could finally claim the lead and the victory – the second of the season – to remain in the title hunt. Indian racer Arjun Maini held off Lawson to finish second. Kelvin van der Linde was fourth. Sophia Floersch completed another positive race in P13.
Sunday was all about the final showdown. Liam Lawson and Kelvin van der Linde shared once again the first row of the grid and – in a dramatic turn of events – they would make contact at Turn 1 on the first lap: van der Linde had to make up for a 19-point deficit and went deep at the hairpin, hitting the Ferrari of Lawson and the second AF Corse driven by Nick Cassidy. The Red Bull sponsored Ferrari picked up steering damages and Lawson's race turned into a real nightmare. Having topped her best qualifying of the season on Sunday morning, Sophia Floersch started from 13th; she had a great launch and moved up to P11 after the opening laps. In a difficult weekend for the T3 Motorsport's driver Esmee Hawkey started from P17 and held position after the first hectic stages. From the chaos, Lucas Auer emerged in the lead, ahead of Kelvin van der Linde and Philip Ellis. Lawson limped back to the pits, but the team elected to send him out again several laps down, hoping for a retirement-filled race. Lucas Di Grassi made contact with Rockenfeller and was out at Turn 3, while Esteban Muth hit the wall with help from Sheldon van der Linde, who received a drive through penalty. Kelvin also was handed a drive through, as well as a 5 second time penalty for unsafe rejoin on the first lap. Juncadella was the first driver to complete his pit stop on lap 10, and Sophia Floersch advanced to ninth place, having passed Marco Wittmann after a stunning first part of the race. Hawkey pitted on lap 12 and rejoined in 18th, but received another drive through for speeding in the pit lane. Goetz had to win the race to secure the title and started his charge from fourth place. He pitted on lap 17, but rejoined behind Lucas Auer and Philip Ellis – after perfect pit stops by the Winward duo. Ellis, though, would receive a 5 second penalty for a pit infringement. By lap 40, Esmee Hawkey retired the T3 Motorsport's Lamborghini Huracan, completing an unfortunate weekend at Norisring. "We came to the Norisring with high hopes but sadly we leave with two DNF’s." – said Esmee. "I would like to say a big thank you to all my fantastic sponsors and supporters as well as T3 Motorsport for their hard work this year. Special thanks must go to ROKiT for making this season possible", she added.
Kelvin van der Linde pitted with 13 minutes to go: the South African was back on track just ahead of the two BMW-sponsored Mercedes of Maximilian Goetz and Daniel Juncadella. Van der Linde knew he had to keep Goetz at bay and the two made contact – crucially picking up a left-rear puncture that would end his race and title chances.
Sophia Floersch opted again for a late stop and continued to move up the field. At the 30 minute mark, she had climbed to P5, while moving into third place by lap 40. She would pit from second place on lap 52 and rejoined in eleventh position.
In the final laps, all the eyes were on Goetz: his last rival was Nick Cassidy, who tried to help his AF Corse Ferrari teammate and chased a Mercedes 1-2-3-4 on fresher tyres. When Cassidy made contact with Ellis, Goetz's title was in the hands of Mercedes' Lucas Auer. Team orders from the manufacturer followed, and Auer slowed down to let Goetz through with 2 laps to go.
Maximilian Goetz claimed a surprise back-to-back victory and sealed the 2021 DTM title after a thrilling finale, preceding Auer and Buhk.
Sophia Floersch was ninth across the finish line, equalling her best result in DTM and completing her first season in the series with her best weekend.
“The Norisring was a positive weekend." – commented Floersch. "Starting 13th was a good starting position for the last race. In the end, we finished ninth overall."
"I was extremely pleased to have scored points again in the season finale. I feel sorry for Kelvin. It was a tough head-to-head race and the team did a mega job. His time will come. I myself have taken a lot from the DTM this year."
Hopefully, Floersch and Hawkey will return to DTM in 2022, having proved in the second half of the season to belong to one of the most competitive GT3 fields in the world.
"I had many bad days, but also good days. Let’s see what happens next. I really enjoyed the last weekend. The Norisring is a great track.”