"This one's for the girls" - Samantha Tan makes history at Mugello
With a flawless race, Samantha Tan and the talented group of people behind Samantha Tan Racing brought home a historic victory at the 12 Hours of Mugello – marking her first win overall and the first ever win for the new BMW M4 GT3. Podium finishes for Jasmin Preisig and Corinna Gostner in TCE and GT3-Am.
The 2022 edition of the 12 Hours of Mugello was a chapter in the history books for Samantha Tan, ST Racing and BMW Motorsport, as the CREVENTIC 24H Series reigning champions claimed their first overall victory - marking the first ever success for the brand-new BMW M4 GT3.
After a stunning season in 2021, the Canadian outfit had won the overall and GT4 class titles in 2021, as Samantha Tan was also crowned drivers' champion, female trophy champion and junior champion in her first international racing season outside of North America.
Driver/owner Samantha Tan then announced her team would move to the GT3 platform - in a mission to defend the 24H Series title alongside her debut in GT World Challenge America. Tan received the first global delivery of the new BMW M4 GT3, which made its debut at the 24H of Dubai.
The Dubai endurance classic was a big test for both ST Racing and BMW, as everyone learned the secrets of the new machine. At Mugello - the first round of the CREVENTIC's European season – Samantha Tan Racing was ready to battle at the top end of the strong 40-car field.
In qualifying, Nick Wittmer, Bryson Morris and Samantha Tan showed the car's potential and had strong runs to qualify in second position overall after the three 10-minute combined sessions. “The new car basically finished Dubai and came here, so we didn’t get to test at all, but the team gave us a very competitive car and I think we showed great pace today! I’m very very proud of us” – Samantha told us on Friday evening.
The story of the race
At only her second race in GT3, Tan and teammates brought home a dominant victory, consolidated on Sunday after the team had opted to go off-sequence in the fuel strategy early on on Saturday. All three drivers logged laps without taking risks on Saturday and alternated at the top end of the standings with the #25 Mann-Filter Team Landgraf Mercedes AMG GT3 and the #18 Phoenix Audi R8 during the rounds of pit stops. Consistency was ST Racing's strength throughout the race, as all drivers ran very close lap times and made no mistakes to end the first part of the race on Saturday evening in first position. “Everybody today drove great stints – Nick [Wittmer], Bryson [Morris] and I just tried to keep the car clean and we just basically ran laps" – commented Samantha. “We started in P2 today, but we ended in P1, so we’re just hoping to do it all again tomorrow and bring the car home in first overall.” “I just tried to run consistent laps”, she continued. “I started on my qualifying tyres, so they degraded a bit over the course of my stint, but overall I just tried to keep it consistent and it paid off.” The twelve-hour race - divided in two parts of five and a half and six and a half hours respectively - resumed on Sunday morning, in chilly weather conditions after a very sunny and warm Saturday at the Tuscan venue. Having been stationary on the main straight overnight, the race cars struggled for grip in the opening laps due the lower temperatures, but Nick Wittmer had a perfect restart and immediately took the overall lead into Turn 1, while the #25 Mercedes lost out to the lapped Kessel Ferrari. Wittmer, though, soon had to pit for fuel after only five minutes of racing, but re-built his lead when the third and second-placed drivers dived into the refuelling area. Jasmin Preisig restarted the race for the #116 Wolf-Power Racing's entry from third in the TCE and TCR classes. The Swiss racer - third in the TCE drivers' standings in 2021 and with two wins to her name last year in the Autorama Motorsport VW Golf TCR – had a good first day of racing having also led at one point the TCE division. She found herself back in the class lead during the pit sequence approximately one hour into the race, just before the first driver change of the day – leaving Marcus Menden at the helm of the #116 Audi RS3 LMS TCR.
In the #58 MP Racing's Mercedes AMG GT3, David Gostner restarted the race from third in GT3-Am and seventh overall; Manuela and Corinna's brother had a quick getaway and soon advanced into second in class and fifth overall. During the first Code60 of the day - triggered by an off track by the #215 Ligier - Gostner hit a competitor's tyre while leaving the pit box – which cost Kessel Racing a 10 second penalty. Nevertheless, David managed to gain fourth place overall before handing over to Corinna two hours into the race. Wittmer also completed his first stint and Bryson Morris got behind the wheel of the #1 BMW from the lead. The young American pulled a bit of a gap and had a flawless run. The closest pursuer, the bright yellow #25 Landgraf Racing Mercedes was temporarily off track due to the oil scattered on track by the #417 Orchid Racing Porsche, which ultimately brought out a Code-60. With 3 hours and 30 minutes to go, another Full Course Yellow saw the Sainteloc Audi and the Earl Bamber Motorsport's Porsche making contact and ending in the gravel. For Sainteloc, it was a race ending incident, while the Porsche – previously sixth overall - was wheeled back to the garage and would later rejoi, albeit several laps behind. During the neutralization, there was trouble for the #116 Audi of Preisig-Menden-Vallers, which had a long stop in the pits with mechanics working underneath the car that cost the team a few laps in their battle in TCE. Vallers would then end up in the gravel trap, triggering another Code-60. Despite the difficulties, the Wolf-Power Racing trio made it back into third place in class. Corinna Gostner completed a double-stint in the #58 Mercedes, always retaining third in GT3-Am and steadily in the overall top-ten. She handed over to her father Thomas and then to Sebring 12H winner Giorgio Sernagiotto.
During a Code-60 for the recovery of the #974 Ebimotors Porsche, Samantha Tan got in the driver's seat of her #1 BMW with 2 hours and a half left on the clock. She lapped very consistently, perfectly managed traffic and she matched the lap times of the front-runners having pulled a lap gap to the second placed Mercedes. With one hour to go, Tan pitted for the last driver change, handing over to Nick Wittmer. A caution gave the opportunity to the Phoenix Audi of Pierre Kaffer to gain time over the Landgraf Mercedes of DTM legend Bernd Schneider, but Wittmer's lead was never under threat. A late Code-60 with seven minutes to go freezed the gaps, but the race went back to green for the final two laps: Nick Wittmer brought it across the finish line to claim a historic victory for Samantha Tan Racing and for BMW Motorsport, returning to a 24H Series overall win after 2011 and marking the first success for the new M4 GT3. "We started the second part of the race P1 overall and there were some changes in the lead, obviously with the pit stops it was changing and we were in between P1 and P3". "We retook the lead maybe half-way through and we kept it all the way to the end. All the drivers – Bryson [Morris], Nick [Wittmer] and myself all drove consistent stints and brought the car home in one piece. We kept it clean and I can't thank my team enough for giving us a competitive car." Despite the physical challenges of the GT3 platform – as well as the Mugello layout – Samantha drove like a seasoned pro throughout the weekend. "Yesterday I was actually a little bit tired but I'm taking it one day at a time and today I brought my A-game and ran consistent laps, so it's all good!" "This is also the first victory for the BMW M4 GT3 and I couldn't be happier to do it with my own team, Samantha Tan Racing, and this is going to be the first one of many."
"Thank you to BMW, thank you to Motul for their support - This one's for the girls."
But Samantha's historic achievement was not the only female podium of the weekend: Corinna Gostner finally got to stand on the class podium at Mugello after an unfortunate 2021 edition, at her third running of the 12H of Mugello, and Jasmin Preisig led the Wolf-Power Racing's crew to a class and division podium. "My race was fantastic, I did a stint of two hours and Mugello is such a nice track, so fast and I love it so much", an ecstatic Corinna Gostner told us. "I'm here with my family, my father and my brother – it's really amazing to share it with my family". "Unfortunately last year we didn't finish as we had a suspension problem, but this year we finished the race, which was the most important thing for us." Corinna, a Ferrari Challenge regular, will also compete in the full season of Ferrari Challenge, but is still moving her first steps in endurance, as it was only her fifth race in this form of racing, but was seventh overall in third in GT3-Am. In TCE, Jasmin Preisig brought it home in third place after driving the final stint, returning to the Mugello podium after 2020. "Third place is okay – it could be better, but we had some meetings with the gravel", joked Jasmin at the end of the race. "We lost some time, it could have been possible to finish second but it's okay, we finished and that's all that matters".
Preisig's stints were very competitive and she often managed to recover precious time throughout her time behind the wheel of the #116 Audi RS3 LMS TCR. "The car was absolutely amazing", she continued. "I will do the whole season and the next one is Spa. I have never been there, it will be the first time so I'm looking forward to that, as everybody says that it's a nice track, also with the new Eau Rouge now. So let's see how it goes!" While the 24H Series will return to the track on 22-24 April at fan-favourite Spa Francorchamps, it will be a busier month for Samantha Tan, who is competing in three series in 2022: the young Canadian will be off to Daytona for the second round of the North American Ferrari Challenge championship, having made her debut with two pole positions and a victory at COTA – a few days before kicking off the SRO America season at Sonoma.