Strong race pace at Monza goes unrewarded for Floersch
After an outstanding start of the season, Sophia Floersch's ELMS campaign has been marked by unfortunate events out of her control: having shown once again great race pace and a perfect first part of the race, Floersch and Viscaal couldn't capitalize after an ill-timed stop at the 4 Hours of Monza.
It's been the story of the season: young racing star Sophia Floersch impresses with blistering race pace, only to miss out on podiums due to unfortunate circumstances. After scoring two consecutive podiums - at the 2021 season finale at Portimao, when she joined Algarve Pro Racing in a one-off appearance, and at the 2022 opener at Paul Ricard, Floersch had the chance to prove her speed when things didn't go horribly wrong. "Our race pace is super consistent compared to other cars", she told us at the previous round at Imola, when a late tyre puncture denied her of another likely podium. The unlucky streak carried on to the biggest race of the year, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, where Floersch's LMP2 Oreca got stuck in first gear at the race start due to a sensor overheating problem. The following 24 hours were painful for the young German, who clearly had winning ambitions and had to recover from 6 laps down. Sharing the car with Jack Aitken and John Falb, the trio were the fastest in class and ended 5th in LMP2 Pro/Am, with a flawless race and some impressive lap times. At the third round of the European Le Mans Series at the iconic venue of Autodromo Nazionale di Monza, Floersch and Viscaal seemed destined to another strong result after a stunning first part of the race, before a few unlucky events turned on their strategy, compromising their chances. On an extremely hot day at the Monza Park, Floersch was the absolute star of the field when she spent the whole hour leading up to the race on the starting grid taking pictures with racing fans, as the ELMS grid walk was again open to all spectators. Under scorching temperatures, the young German was one of the few drivers to stand beside her car, never denying a fan of their photo opportunity. Bent Viscaal took the start in the #19 Algarve Pro Racing Oreca, after Floersch had qualified it on P14 on Saturday. She was the fastest Silver-rated driver on the grid, continuing a trend that saw her being among the top-three Silvers at Le Mans. At lights out, Julien Canal moved into the lead in the #65 Panis Racing LMP2 having leapfrogged the pole sitting #31 TDS Racing x Vaillante of Cimadomo. The tricky Prima Variante was trouble-free for the whole field and, after contact between Cimadomo and Duncan Tappy, positions settled with Panis Racing leading Cool Racing and United Autosport. Bent Viscaal had a blistering getaway and gained 5 places on the opening lap, advancing into 9th place. After 10 minutes of racing, the Dutchman was already up to sixth - and showed no sign of holding back, as he continued to chase the LMP2 front runners. Ferdinand Habsburg (Prema Racing) was also on a charge and passed Canal for second as Niklas Kruetten took the overall lead and tried to open a gap. 30 minutes into the race, the first Safety Car was deployed when the #93 Proton Porsche of Michael Fassbender suffered a big shunt at the exit of Ascari following a light contact with the Spirit of Race Ferrari of Cameron , which resulted in Fassbender losing control and spinning into the path of the #30 Duqueine LMP2 Oreca of Memo Rojas and then against the inside barrier. Both cars were out of the race with no consequences for the drivers, while Cameron and Ehret, also involved in the accident, could continue. Fifth overall at the restart, Bent Viscaal overtook the #22 United Autosport of Tappy at the green flag and moved up to fourth. A second Safety Car interrupted the action once again, following an incident involving the #14 InterEuropol LMP3 at Prima Variante. When the race resumed, the prototypes were approaching their first pit window: Viscaal pitted from fourth, while there was drama in front, as Habsburg managed to come back out on track just behind the race leader Kruetten. The two traded places and, after cutting the second chicane, the Cool Racing Oreca was forced to drop one position. The third Safety Car was brought out by the #3 United Autosport LMP3 of James McGuire, who had gone off at speed at Ascari, requiring a lengthy barrier repair. That was the moment when the race of Viscaal/Floersch took a turn for the worse: Algarve Pro Racing opted to keep Viscaal out, due to an ill-positioned pit slot for the Portuguese outfit. “For some reason, the pit garages were allocated in such a way that three LMP2 teams were placed together, and that caused a lot of headaches, with teams blocking each other and people having to jump out of the way of cars coming into or exiting the pits." - explained Stewart Cox, APR Team Principal. "All three teams did as much as they could to create space but it was futile.” “This also influenced our strategy; we chose not to box the #19 Oreca during the third stoppage because those around us would have also pitted and blocked us in, and because our mechanics had to carry wheels and tyres over the cars, we were concerned about damaging dive planes and bodywork." With the race leaders coming in for their second stop during the neutralization, Bent Viscaal moved into the race lead, but went off-sequence. Having tried to keep the gap to the pursuers over 20 seconds ahead of the next stop, he pitted 1 hour and 38 minutes into the race, when Sophia Floersch got behind the wheel of the #19. Their strategy was though ultimately compromised when the #7 Nielsen Racing LMP3 and the #17 Cool Racing LMP3 made contact at the first chicane, bringing out a Full Course Yellow - just after the Algarve Pro crew had completed their driver change, and allowed the rest of the LMP2 field to get a free stop. Floersch rejoined in P13, while Lapierre (Cool Racing) and Pilet (IDEC Sport) inherited the lead. Floersch recovered to tenth in class and caught up with the #43 Intereuropol LMP2 driven by Fabio Scherer. The long battle was put on hold when Floersch pitted at the next round of stops at the two hour mark. Ahead, Lorenzo Colombo (Prema Racing) had gained second place from Lapierre, before handing over to Deletraz, who managed to rejoin in the lead of the race ahead of Paul-Loup Chatin (IDEC) and Jack Aitken (Racing Team Turkey). Chatin attacked Deletraz and brought the IDEC Oreca back in the lead - but they would then receive a 20 second penalty for not respecting the FCY procedure. All the leading three LMP2 entries were handed penalties, either for FCY or pit stop infringements. Floersch had climbed to eighth and, with one hour left on the clock, she pitted and handed over to Bent Viscaal for the final stint. After the fifth stops, Chatin led Van Uitert (Panis Racing) and Hanley (Nielsen Racing), the latter having passed Hanson (United Autosport). Deletraz (Prema) had dropped to fifth. Viscaal passed the #43 Intereuropol and moved ahead of the #88 AF Corse Oreca when it came to a halt at Lesmo before resuming its run. With 20 minutes to go, all the LMP2 entries had to pit for a final refuelling and positions remained unchanged: Chatin/Lafargue/Pilet crossed the finish line and conquered IDEC Sport's first win of the season, ahead of the Panis Racing Oreca of Canal/Van Uitert/Jamin and the Mühlner Motorsport of Kaiser/Laurant/De Wilde. Nielsen Racing conquered LMP2 Pro/Am victory, preceding Racing Team Turkey and the #47 Algarve Pro Racing driven by Falb/Allen/Peroni. After another unfortunate race, Bent Viscaal and Sophia Floersch were P10 in class, showing great pace but with little chances after the unfortunate strategy call and FCY timing. "We stayed out after the Safety Car came out - and that could have actually still worked out - but then the Full Course Yellow completely destroyed our strategy, as we had pitted just the lap before" - Floersch told us after the race. "We've had the pace for the podium pretty much everywhere but we've also had a lot of bad luck". "Because we didn’t box we knew we were exposed to stoppages for a few laps and, lo and behold, there was a Full Course Yellow immediately after we pulled the #19 car in, absolutely destroying the race for Bent and Sophia", continued Cox. "I don’t mind taking a chance on strategy, but the fact we did it purely because we didn’t want to cause an incident in pit lane is a hard pill to swallow." The 10th place is Floersch and Viscaal's third top ten of the season, having scored a third place at Paul Ricard and an eighth place at Imola. They now sit sixth in the drivers' standings at the mid-season point. With two of the fastest Silver-rated drivers, the #19 APR crew can still aim high in the second half of the season, with rounds at Barcelona, Spa Francorchamps and Portimao coming up. The 4 Hours of Barcelona is scheduled for 28th August at Circuit de Montmelo.