Sophia Floersch makes history as first woman on overall ELMS podium
Updated: Nov 3, 2021
History was made at the ELMS season finale at Portimao, as Sophia Floersch - in a one-off with Algarve Pro Racing - took third and became the first ever woman to step on the overall podium in the series. With a great charging race, Iron Dames completed the GTE podium, their second of the season.
At Spa Francorchamps, one month ago, Iron Dames left the legendary circuit with their first trophy of the ELMS season, as Sarah Bovy, Michelle Gatting and Rahel Frey stepped on the podium after an exciting and tightly battled 4H of Spa.
Teams headed to Portimao, Portugal, for the sixth and final round of the 2021 season and, joining the Iron Dames trio on the grid of the European Le Mans Series was also another elite female driver: Sophia Floersch.
Floersch had previously competed in ELMS in 2020, as she made her first appearances in endurance and sportscar racing while still combining a program in FIA Formula 3.
As part of the Richard Mille Racing crew that made history at the 24H of Le Mans by becoming the first female trio in a prototype class to finish the legendary race, Floersch went on to score a Top-5 and two more Top-10 finishes throughout the ELMS season.
In 2021, Richard Mille Racing stepped up to the World Endurance Championship, confirming the same driver line up. Floersch, continued to combine a double racing program, this time in DTM.
"All year I’ve been jumping from GT3 machinery in the DTM to LMP2 in the FIA World Endurance Championship, so transitioning to a new team isn’t daunting." - she explains.
As the German racer is currently evaluating her options for 2022, she tested the Algarve Pro Racing's LMP2 Oreca at Estoril, before announcing that she was joining the team for their home race at the ELMS season finale at Circuit do Algarve.
"I’m currently in the process of working out what the best option is for me in 2022 and it’s important to cover as many kilometres as possible, and racing with Algarve Pro in the European Le Mans Series 4 Hours of Portimao is the right choice. I’ve been in endurance racing for a couple of seasons now and it will be interesting to see where I am in relation to Ferdinand [Habsburg] and Richard [Bradley], in a very competitive field.”
Floersch thus stepped in the #24 'Drive Fast, Act Faster' Oreca, a carbon negative project by Algarve Racing. She subbed in for Diego Menchaca.
The Portuguese track already hosted a round of the World Endurance championship in June, resulting in both Floersch and Iron Dames approaching the weekend with confidence.
And, indeed, the final round of the season started with the right foot: Floersch was quick in practice and immediately blended well within the team. In qualifying, Ferdinand Habsburg went out on track for the 15-minute session and set the second fastest lap overall, grabbing a front row start for Sunday's 4H race - behind COOL Racing's Charles Milesi.
It could have been an historic moment in GTE class, as Iron Dames' Rahel Frey was on provisional pole with less than a minute to go. The Swiss ace was looking strong for a front row start as well, but couldn't improve on her final attempt and, after the chequered flag, she ended sixth among the GTE field, with the TF Sport Aston Martin of Ross Gunn securing pole position, ahead of the #77 Porsche Proton Competition.
Sarah Bovy got behind the wheel of the Iron Lynx / Iron Dames #83 Ferrari 488 GTE Evo for the first stint of the race and the Belgian, at her second outing in the series, had a great start and moved up to third in class.
In a clean start throughout the field, COOL Racing's Milesi led overall, ahead of Richard Bradley - who started the first race section for Algarve Pro Racing - and Manuel Maldonado (#32 United Autosport). Maldonado dropped to fifth and Robert Kubica (Team WRT) snatched third place, also followed by the United Autosport LMP2 car of Hanson.
Bovy's impressive pace allowed her to join the fight for the GTE lead, right behind the sister car of Mastronardi (#80 Iron Lynx Ferrari) and the #88 AF Corse Ferrari driven by François Perrodo. Bovy was often the fastest car in GTE in the opening stages and, after an exciting battle, she overtook Perrodo making the most out of the traffic of a slower LMP3 car.
While LMP2 started to hit traffic of the lapped GT cars, the GT cars, Milesi held a 5 second margin on second placed Bradley, who was never under real threat from the WRT and United Autosport Orecas.
20 minutes into the race, Bovy spun at turn 1 as she battled Perrodo in traffic and dropped back to third in GTE. Soon after, though, the race was interrupted by a massive accident that would ultimately bring out the red flag.
Memo Rojas (# Duqueine Team) spun at the final corner after losing a rear wheel and spun out at speed on the main straight, as cars tried to avoid him left and right. Alex Fontana found a gap close to the pit wall, but Andreas Laskaratos (#18 Villorba Corse LMP3 Ligier) had little space to go and, having to choose between hitting Roja's LMP2 car and the pit wall entry, decided to veer towards the wall. The accident was brutal but, from the destroyed Ligier prototype, a shaken but overall unhurt Laskaratos emerged on his feet.
A lengthy interruption followed to clear the damaged vehicles and track repairs.
At the restart, action was intense among all categories as driver changes approached quickly. Sophia Floersch was next in the second-placed Algarve Pro Racing's Oreca and more LMP2 driver changes occurred.
Sarah Bovy, meanwhile, had made it back into second place with another strong move on Perrodo. After the round of pit stops, the previously leading COOL Racing Oreca left the pits with an open door that Alexandre Coigny eventually managed to close - but had dropped to eighth place. The United Autosport duo led the race thanks to a shorter pit stop for fuel only, ahead of the Panis Racing Oreca of Julien Canal and the G-Drive Aurus of Franco Colapinto. Sophia Floersch rejoined in P5. In GTE, Iron Lynx led the race with a commanding 1-2: Mastronardi preceded Bovy - who still had to defend from Perrodo in the #88 AF Corse Ferrari. After their pit stops, Bovy rejoined in fourth place, as the two AF Corse Ferrari of Perrodo and Dezoteux got by. Floersch showed great pace in the Top-5 and defended superbly from the attacks of championship leader Ye Yifei (Team WRT). Yifei continued to apply pressure, but Floersch masterfully managed traffic to hold off her rival. Bovy was again elbows-out in the GTE battles: despite being pushed off by the LMP3 leading car at Turn 1, she continued and caught up again with the #88 AF Corse Ferrari of Perrodo and, after more wheel-banging, she recovered to P2 in class during the next pit stop phase. Iron Lynx pitted a few laps after their competitors and Bovy handed over to Michelle Gatting - who rejoined in third place. The Dane had a great start to her stint and was fastest in class, quickly catching up with the second placed #93 Proton Competition Porsche. In LMP2, Franco Colapinto led the race before receiving a drive through for track limits. After the stops, the WRT of Yifei emerged in second place and Floersch in third. Gamble followed in the #22 United Autosport: he would close the gap to Floersch and a great battle saw Sophia again holding her own until lap 74. Unfortunately the German racer was brought back in 5 laps earlier towards the end of her driving shift due to a tyre failure. "We had a tyre failure on the front left while braking for Turn 5. It's a little bit frustrating, but the race is still long" - she said after handing over to her long-time friend Ferdinand Habsburg. "[The stint] was quite good I think, it's fun to be here to be honest, I enjoyed the weekend a lot and we'll try to finish as high as possible." Habsburg found himself in fourth place overall and, into the final hour, he closed the gap to Will Stevens and ultimately passed the Panis Racing's Oreca to regain third. United Autosport led with Gable behind the wheel and WRT also completed the final driver change as Deletraz started his run. The other United Autosport Oreca was forced into the pits for repairs when Job van Uitert collided with the #35 BHK Motorsport Oreca. Following a really solid stint, Michelle Gatting pitted from P3 in GTE and Rahel Frey took over the #83 Iron Dames Ferrari with approximately one hour left on the clock. Rahel's mission of closing the gap to Felipe Laser's Proton Competition Porsche was unfortunately halted by a contact with the #13 Intereuropol Competition Ligier of Ugo De Wilde - but despite serving a drive through, Frey still emerged in third place in the final stages. Positions were unchanged also in the overall classify after the final splash-and-dash stops: Gamble brought the United Autosport Oreca across the line to win the final race of the season, while Deletraz held off Ferdinand Habsburg for second place after the Austrian had significantly reduced the gap to the WRT Oreca. Nevertheless, Algarve Pro Racing's third place resulted in Sophia Floersch becoming the first ever woman to score an overall podium in the European Le Mans Series.
“I’m really happy to have been part of Algarve Pro Racing for the European Le Mans Series 4 Hours of Portimao." - Floersch said. "My time with the team and my teammates Ferdinand [Habsburg] and Richard [Bradley] was a lot of fun."
"It was pleasing to see we had the pace from the very start of testing, because that meant we were able to just work on the finer details, refining the car’s race and qualifying setup. Ferdy pulled it all together in qualifying to put us on the front row of the starting grid and our pace was strong in the race, but the Safety Car and red-flag stoppage didn’t help us, and I had a tyre failure."
"Nevertheless, we finished third and I’m really happy to have scored the first ELMS podium for myself and Algarve Pro Racing. It’s satisfying and cool to jump into the car and make everyone happy, and I hope there will be more interesting events for me and Algarve Pro in the future.” - she concluded.
Iron Dames also completed another very competitive race with a podium - the second of their ELMS campaign.
"Back to back podium to close the ELMS 2021 season" - wrote Bovy, who had a remarkable season across Le Mans Cup, WEC and ELMS after joining the Iron Dames program in April. "Damn it was a tough weekend to build but we supported each other, worked together and made it happen on track!" - she recalled.
"I was in the car for the first 2 hours and didn’t have a single quiet lap. Lot’s of fighting, lot’s of overtaking and lot’s of defending! I loved every single minute. Brough the car back in P2 just behind the sister car #80 from Iron Lynx".
"Michelle Gatting jumped in the car after me and did a fantastic job, being the fastest driver on track, making some strong moves to catch up on P2 again", Bovy continued.
And finally Rahel Frey jumped in for the last stint, pushing to the limit every lap in difficult track conditions, she was on a few seconds behind P2 until a few laps from the finish line but a drive through penalty ended the fight for the second position and we are very happy with another strong podium finish".
The GTE race was won by the #80 Iron Lynx Ferrari of Cressoni-Mastronardi-Molina, who also sealed the first ELMS title for Iron Lynx. Michael Fassbender and teammates Felipe Laser and Richard Lietz were second in the #93 Proton Competition entry.
Rahel, Michelle and Sarah - as well as Sophia Floersch - will now head to Bahrain for the final two rounds of the World Endurance Championship. Floersch will return to Richard Mille Racing and will partner Beitske Visser in the upcoming 6H race, as Tatiana Calderon will round out the Super Formula season in Japan.