Sophia Floersch & Esmee Hawkey complete positive debut in DTM
At their second race in DTM, Sophia Floersch edged Esmee Hawkey for P16 - after having led her first lap in the series - as both drivers showed good pace progress throughout the weekend in Monza.
On Saturday, they made their DTM debut, in what was a remarkable start of the new GT3 era for the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters: 20-year old Sophia Floersch and 23-year old Esmee Hawkey kicked off their campaigns in one of the top GT championships worldwide with the target of building experience and improve session after session.
For Floersch, who has spent all her career so far in single-seaters and high-downforce cars, the debut in GT3 meant a whole new way of driving.
"I’m actually used to single seaters, and cars with more aerodynamics and less weight, so that is kind of the biggest change to be honest." - she explained after her first tests in the #99 Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo. "It’s a touring car now, so compared to F3 it’s double the weight and [it has] ABS, which is something completely new for me - braking is something I need to get used to. But it’s fun, I think I have a really good team behind me, two really good teammates and I can learn quite a lot from them."
Hawkey, a former W Series racer, is a bit more experienced in GT3 racing, as she claimed the Porsche Carrera Cup GB Pro-Am title in 2020, at her third participation. But the step up to DTM arguably represents a big leap, as she now has the opportunity to battle side by side with drivers of the likes of Alex Albon and Timo Glock.
“To qualify P12 ahead of people like Alex [Albon] and Timo [Glock] was a huge confidence boost and gave me a real buzz for the race. It was an exciting first few laps and my aim was to simply keep it on the track and avoid any possible dramas." - commented Hawkey after Saturday's sessions. She was an impressive 12th in qualifying and 16th in her first race, having enjoyed a prolonged battled with former Red Bull F1 driver Albon.
Liam Lawson became the youngest ever DTM winner after claiming in spectacular fashion the first race in Monza - also giving the first victory to Ferrari on home soil at its first participation.
Hawkey had a great first part of the race before dropping back towards the end; the Brit finished just ahead of Sophia Floersch, who spent vast part of the race in third position due to a different tyre strategy: the ABT Sportsline team opted for a late stop, which resulted in the German star slotting into 17th after the round of pitstops.
The second qualifying session proved to be another challenging one for Floersch, who was 19th fastest. The Audi driver was within the top-10 until the very final minutes, but she wasn't then able to improve and dropped down the order.
Esmee Hawkey had another positive qualifying and was 16th, even though the T£ Motorsport racer wasn't pleased as after Saturday's session.
“After a great day yesterday, I was really looking forward to getting back out on track today." - said Esmee Hawkey. "I was a bit disappointed in myself in qualifying as I left some time on the table during the final sector on my fast lap, I think I was just overly cautious and not wanting to push too hard and make a mistake. The fact I was disappointed with P16 today shows how quickly I'm getting to grips with the step up to this level."
Pole position went to birthday boy Kelvin van der Linde, who took his first pole position in DTM for ABT Sportsline. Behind him, Saturday's winner Lawson preceded Sheldon van der Linde in the first of the BMWs.
When the lights went out for the final time in Monza, van der Linde held off Lawson into the First Chicane, as the New Zealander slightly outbraked himself - giving the opportunity to the race leader to open a small gap early on.
Sophia Floersch had a good start from the back and battled Dev Gore and Mike Rockenfeller on the first corners, with also Maximilian Buhk dropping down the order as he clipped the gravel at Turn 1. Just ahead of this group of cars was Esmee Hawkey.
The battle for second place saw Nico Muller getting ahead of Liam lawson - with also Sheldon van der Linde trying to join the party in a three-way fight from La Roggia into Lesmo 1: the South African jumped ahead of both his competitors and slotted behind his brother Kelvin, who had meanwhile extended his lead. The T3 Motorsport Lamborghini of Esteban Muth wasn't far behind in fifth, looking for a way past Muller and Lawson.
Muller overtook the AF Corse Ferrari at Parabolica after a series of switchbacks - that gave Muth an opportunity to gain a position with an opportunistic move, but the two tangled at La Roggia and the race 1 winner spun, dropping all the way back to the tail end of the pack.
Vincent Abril had to take a trip to the gravel to avoid the spinning Ferrari, but everyone managed to escape unscathed.
Floersch passed the Audi of Dev Gore and advanced to 17th place, before quickly catching up with former F1 driver Timo Glock. She would go ahead of the ROWE Racing driver with an outstanding move at Parabolica on lap 5.
Hawkey was also on the move and made a move stick into Turn 1 on the Mercedes of Arjun Maini, taking advantage of a battle between the Indian and Rockenfeller and moving into 12th place.
Like for Race 1, the first pitstops came as early as the sixth lap: Auer, Wittmann, Juncadella, Gotz, Maini, Buhk and Glock all took the way of the pitlane to complete their mandatory tyre change. Rockenfeller, Abril, Gore and Lawson pitted one lap later.
Stuck behind the BMW of Sheldon van der Linde, Nico Muller tried an undercut and pitted on lap 8, followed by Esmee Hawkey. Muller's strategy did indeed work out in favour of the Team Rosberg driver, who rejoined just ahead of his rival - who also had lost out to Lucas Auer.
Sophia Floersch opted again to stay out and was the last driver to pit: on lap 10, the German driver led her first lap in DTM, before pitting for new tyres. She rejoined right behind Liam Lawson in P17, ahead of Glock and Gore.
Hawkey had again a great first part of the race, but she seemed to have lost the edge in her second stint, when she suffered of tyre degradation. Having rejoined in P13, Esmee came under pressure from Buhk and Lawson. These battles allowed Floersch to close in.
Floersch slipped behind Gore - the latter also managing to overtake Hawkey. A good battle between the two women then saw Floersch launching an attack at Parabolica: Esmee responded back on the main straight, but Sophia had the upper hand under braking at Turn 1.
Alexander Albon had a battling second race and had to force his way past Gotz at Prima Variante: the two made contact, but both continued.
On older tyres, Muth struggled to keep Rockenfeller behind; after a series of position changes, Muth would ultimately give up eighth place on lap 27 around the outside of Lesmo 1.
On the day of his birthday, Kelvin van der Linde took a miden DTM victory in commanding style, leading an Audi 1-2 at Autodromo Nazionale di Monza. While it was officially Kelvin's debut in DTM, the South African is among the most experienced GT3 driver on the field and he could take advantage from his knowledge of the Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo.
Second was Nico Muller, who preceded Lucas Auer and Sheldon van der Linde.
Marco Wittmann was able to claim fifth with a clean pass on Philip Ellis, as they finished ahead of Alex Albon in seventh.
Sophia Floersch turned around Saturday's result and finished 16th, just ahead of Esmee Hawkey in the T3 Motorsport Lamborghini.
"Leaving Monza with mixed feelings", said Sophia. "Expected more, but sometimes you gotta take it and try to get better for next time", she added, congratulating her teammate for the win."
Floersch will be back in Monza in three week's time, as she resumed her WEC commitments with Richard Mille Racing.
“I really enjoyed the first half of the race, I was able to get my elbows out a bit and really push myself." - said Hawkey. "My pace was really strong, I was able to overtake Glock quite quickly and I had a great battle with Maini and Rockenfeller just before my pit stop so I was fired up and really giving it my all."
"After my stop, I kept pushing but tyre degradation meant our pace dropped off more than we would’ve liked so that’s something we’ll look into between now and Lausitzring. Overall, it’s been a really positive weekend and I’ve learnt so much which I can’t wait to put to good use next time. As always, a huge thanks to the team for their support and efforts this weekend - the only way is forward from here.”
Having entered the first round with limited experience of their respective cars, both Floersch and Hawkey improved significantly throughout the weekend and showed evident progress in race pace. It is thus no stretch of the imagination to see them fighting for points in the next few rounds.
DTM will return to the track on 23-25th July, on the Lausitzring racetrack.