Superlative performance gains Sophia Floersch historic ELMS second place at Le Castellet
An outstanding first stint and a great strategy gave Sophia Floersch her second consecutive podium in ELMS, topping her history-making best finish with a second place at the 4 Hours of Le Castellet.
It's not the first time that Sophia Floersch makes motorsport history - and it won't likely be the last: the young German racer, 21, broke her own records and claimed an outstanding second place finish at the 4 Hours of Le Castellet, topping the female best result in the series. At her first participation with Algarve Pro Racing, Floersch was third at least year's season finale in Portimao, where she partnered Ferdinand Habsburg and Richard Bradley in a one-off for the Portuguese team. Having joined the squad in a full-time seat in 2022, Floersch teamed up with FIA F2 racer Bent Viscaal, at his sports car debut. Floersch has made her way up the motorsport ladder in single seaters, having competed in F4, European Formula 3, Formula Regional European Championship, FIA F3. In 2020, she made her debut at the wheel of the Oreca LMP2 car with Richard Mille Racing, in a fully-female line up that would bring her to her first Le Mans 24 Hours. Floersch combined an endurance program and her first DTM campaign in 2021, racing in the FIA World Endurance Championship as well as in the German-premier closed-wheel series, last year moving to GT3 regulations. She scored five top-10 finishes in WEC and secured her first points in DTM, before announcing a return to ELMS with Algarve Pro Racing. At the European Le Mans Series season opener at the French GP venue of Circuit Paul Ricard, Floersch and Viscaal showed promising pace since free practice, where they were fourth fastest and few tenths off the overall leaders. Unfortunately, a red flag in the closing minutes of Saturday's qualifying hampered their pole position chances, as Viscaal could not complete his final timed lap on new tyres and was P10 in the LMP2 class.
Floersch took the helm of the #19 Oreca-07 prototype for the race start and, with an outstanding opening lap, she immediately started to move up the order in one of the most competitive fields to date in the series. Surprise pole-sitting #31 TDS Racing x Vaillante led the opening stages, with Tijmen van der Helm controlling from the Prema Oreca of Lorenzo Colombo - once the latter had given back the position after going deep into Turn 1 at the start. At the end of the second lap, the first Safety Car was deployed for the incident involving the #3 United Autosport LMP3 and the leading GTE Aston of De Haan, in the fast Oman Racing with TF Sport entry. At the first race neutralization, Floersch was already up to sixth place from tenth on the grid. At the restart, Philip Hanson (#22 United Autosport) took over the lead and Floersch hunted down the Panis Racing's Oreca of Julien Canal - but a second Safety Car froze the action after Felbermayr spun in the #15 RLR Msport LMP3. At the 45 minute mark, the LMP2 field started the first round of pit stops and Sophia Floersch remained behind the wheel for a double stint that saw her rejoining in fourth place overall. The #31 TDS Racing of Van der Helm was back at the front, preceding the Prema of Colombo, the #43 InterEuropol driven by Scherer and Sophia Floersch at the one hour mark. Floersch was faster than Scherer throughout the second stint but couldn't find a way past until before the second stop, when Floersch pulled off a stunning move around the outside of the fast Signes corner, overtaking the InterEuropol Oreca, but losing a place to Yifei Ye (#37 COOL Racing) at the same time.
The first Full Course Yellow was then deployed for debris and Floersch pitted 1h and 23 minutes into the race, handing over to Bent Viscaal. Ferdinand Habsburg took over the #9 Prema from the LMP2 lead, followed by bronze-rated Cimadomo in the #31 TDS Racing, Niklas Kruetten (Cool Racing) and Bent Viscaal. Cimadomo soon had to give up a few positions and Viscaal could climb back to fourth. The rookie Dutchman also had a very solid stint and lapped closely to Floersch's average times, as the #19 APR remained within the top-five and in contention for a podium throughout the race. He would rejoin sixth after a pit stop on lap 59, with all the leading LMP2 cars only separated by less than 10 seconds. With 1 hour and 17 minutes left on the clock, Sophia Floersch returned behind the wheel and made it back to third place from fifth during the stops. A close battle saw Racing Team Turkey's Charlie Eastwood and Cool Racing's Nicola Lapierre closing in with around one hour to go - before a Full Course Yellow was triggered by the #4 DKR Engineering LMP3 stranded in the gravel. Algarve Pro Racing jumped on the opportunity and pitted Floersch under FCY, opting for a different strategy compared to the other front-running crews: Bent Viscaal rejoined in P6, but took the overall lead with 27 minutes to go when everyone pitted for their fifth and final stop. Viscaal ultimately had to take the way of the pits for a splash and dash in the final 15 minutes, but could keep the Panis Racing's Oreca of Van Uitert at bay to finish second.
Louis Deletraz took the #9 Prema Racing across the finish line to claim the Italian team's first win at ELMS debut, finishing ahead of Floersch/Viscaal in the #19 Algarve Pro Racing and Canal/Jamin/Van Uitert in the #65 Panis Racing. IDEC Sport and COOL Racing rounded out the top-five, while the long-frontrunning United Autosport of Hanson/Gamble/Tappy finished seventh after going off-sequence mid-way through the race. “I’m on a massive high right now! I can’t quite believe we’ve reached the podium in two consecutive races, especially when just racing here in Le Castellet is a win in itself." - said Floersch. "We worked really hard to prepare in Official Testing and kept believing in ourselves, but going from tenth to second with only a short gap to the eventual race winner is simply amazing, and more than we could have ever expected." Among the gold and platinum-rated crews in LMP2, two silver rated drivers came incredibly close to outright victory and showed pace all weekend. For Sophia Floersch, it was her second podium in a row, topping her best finish and the best result ever for a woman in the series. “I’m the first woman to stand on the second step of the overall ELMS podium and breaking those sort of records is really nice, and it’s fantastic to achieve this as two Silver-graded drivers against three-driver line-ups that include Golds and Platinums", she continued. "I’m hopeful Bent [Viscaal] and I can carry this form forward into the next round at Imola. Algarve Pro Racing’s mechanics worked perfectly in the pits and the strategy was on point, and this podium gives us the push we all needed. It’s the result of a real team effort, and it proves what we can do if we keep our heads down.” The ground-breaking result is in fact just the start for Floersch, who has proven to belong in the competitive elite in sports car racing. The European Le Mans Series will return to the track at Autodromo Enzo and Dino Ferrari in Imola - after a 6 year absence - on May 15th. Floersch previously raced at the venue in the 2019 Formula Regional, where she claimed a season-best of fourth.