Unlucky DNF for Reema Juffali despite impressive charge in first stint at Spa
Theeba Motorsport's Reema Juffali was able to charge back through the field after a tangle on the first corner - climbing back the order after a brilliant first stint. An unfortunate contact after the driver change put the Saudi team out of the GT Open endurance race at Spa.
Founded by Saudi racing star Reema Juffali, Theeba Motorsport made its official debut only one month ago at the second round of the International GT Open championship at Circuit Paul Ricard, taking a class win and an overall podium. It was the third ProAm win for Juffali, who shares the Mercedes AMG GT3 car with experienced factory driver Adam Christodolou in her first season in GT3 racing, having competed in single seaters until 2021.
The duo had in fact taken a remarkable double class victory at the Estoril season opener, under the banner of SPS Automotive Performance.
For its third round in GT Open, Theeba Motorsport would tackle some more challenges, as the series geared up for a special endurance event at Spa Francorchamps: for the first time, a single 2 hours and 20 minute race that awarded double-points.
After a challenging start to the weekend, the Saudi team went into the right direction with the car setup and after the two qualifying sessions, Juffali-Christodolou finished eighth overall and fourth in ProAm, which put them in a good position for the race on Sunday.
On a colder day – with also a few rain drops just before the race start – the lights went out at 12.30 local time with Team Oregon's Benjamin Hites leading the Optimum Motorsport's McLaren of Nick Moss.
At the tricky first corner – and with the renovated gravel runoff – the first dramatic moment saw Moss being spun around and then hit by several incoming cars. In the #18 Theeba Motorsport Mercedes, Reema Juffali had taken the start and the Saudi racer found herself stuck behind the stopped cars, as she had to go through the gravel to take evasive action. Juffali avoided damage, but had to rebuild her race from the back of the pack.
Meanwhile, the two Oregon Lamborghinis led the field, with Hites ahead of Gilardoni, followed by the two Audis of Max Hofer and Karol Basz.
Hofer attacked Gilardoni at the end of the first lap and the Austrian would eventually take the lead in the early stages with a great move at the Bus Stop chicane.
With an impressive first stint, Juffali was on fire and gained four positions in the first lap. With great pace, she hunted down the GetSpeed Performance Mercedes entries and passed them a few laps later, making her way back into the top-10.
Having started from P11 overall and seventh in ProAm, Janine Shoffner also had a good start into the race, as she battled in the midfield in the first stint.
A great battle for second saw Karol Basz (Olimp Racing) taking second place just before the pit stop window opened for the first time.
Juffali caught up and overtook Shoffner at Les Combes – before both moved ahead of the Singha Racing Porsche of Bhirombhakdi, who had spun before pitting.
After a great stint, Juffali handed over to Adam Christodolou from eighth overall and fourth in ProAm – the same position where they had started. The Briton rejoined just ahead of Earl Bamber (Singha Racing Porsche) and the two started a heated battle for position.
Unfortunately, Bamber attempted a move at Malmedy where there was simply no gap – which ended with the Theeba Motorsport Mercedes making contact with the barriers and the Porsche stuck in the gravel, requiring the intervention of the Safety Car.
Bamber could rejoin the track – albeit one lap down – while it was all over for Theeba Motorsport, in a costly incident for their ProAm championship standings.
“After losing ground at the start, Reema delivered a strong recovery drive and did a fantastic job to overtake nine cars in her first stint alone" – Christodolou explained. "I was fighting with [Earl] Bamber as soon as I got into the car and because we were battling for position, it was important to stay out in front."
"Turn Seven isn’t usually a corner that you see overtaking in but he put his nose up the inside and we made contact. Unfortunately, the car was too badly damaged for us to continue which is a big shame because I was confident that we could achieve a strong finish today."
Race leader Hofer had still not pitted and, once he handed over to Aust Motorsport's teammate Dino Steiner, they had to serve a drive through penalty for overtaking a lapped car outside the track limits on top of Radillon.
The Safety Car was not good news for Moritz Kranz either, as he lost a lap from the leading group after the driver change with Janine Shoffner in ninth place overall.
After the full round of pit stops, the Oregon Lamborghinis were back out in front, with Pulcini leading Van Berlo by a little over 2 seconds. Benjamin Hites further extended the lead into the third stint, when Bird (Haupt Racing Mercedes) started to put pressure on Gilardoni. Behind them, there was trouble for Steve Jans (GetSpeed Performance Mercedes) and Basz (Olimp Racing Audi), after the former pitted with technical issues and the latter received a eight second time penalty for a pit stop handicap infringement.
In her second stint behind the wheel of the #9 GetSpeed Performance Mercedes, Janine Shoffner was seventh overall and fourth in ProAm.
When the final pit window opened, Bhirombhakdi was again off in the gravel – this time triggering the Safety Car with most cars still having to pit.
After the stop, Leonardo Pulcini led the field, ahead of the Haupt Racing Mercedes of Jordan Love and the sister Oregon Lamborghini driven by Glenn Van Berlo. The Dutchman managed to get back ahead and restore a Oregon 1-2, but a double penalty for both the leading crews for track limits meant that Love-Bird could ultimately secure second place.
Benjamin Hites and Leonardo Pulcini took victory in an eventful endurance race, while fourth-placed Marcin Jedlinski and Karol Basz came home with the ProAm win – and the championship lead after Theeba Motorsport's unfortunate DNF.
Second in ProAm was the Ferrari of Cuhadaroglu and Fumanelli, preceding the Aust Motorsport Audi of Steiner/Hofer who had led in the early stages.
With a solid performance, Janine Shoffner and Moritz Kranz were fifth in ProAm.
“It’s disappointing for our weekend to end like this but that’s motorsport" – commented Reema Juffali, driver/owner of the #18 Theeba Motorsport Mercedes.
"At the start I was squeezed quite heavily, boxed in and hit from multiple angles which meant that I lost a lot of ground."
"Despite that, our pace was strong and I was able to fight forward to eighth by the end of my first stint. When Adam got into the car we were in a good position but he was unfortunately wiped out by the #39 Porsche which ended our race."
Despite the unfortunate end of their race, Juffali/Christodolou have shown remarkable pace and, with four rounds still on the calendar, Theeba Motorsport remains one of the strongest contenders for the ProAm title.
"It’s a long season and there are still plenty of opportunities", continued Juffali. "We just need to keep our heads up and come back fighting next month in Hungary.”
The next round will in fact see the cars hitting the track at Hungaroring in three weeks' time, for another double-header on 9-10 July.