Vicky Piria makes Italian GT debut with P14 in Monza
In a significant step in her racing career, Vicky Piria made her GT debut at Monza, in a tricky yet learning-oriented first race in Italian GT. Alongside Francesca Linossi, the duo finished P14 in class in their first outing as a team, after an issue at the pitstop denied the all-female team their first top-10.
Italian top racer Vicky Piria, 28, made the next step in her career and started her journey in GT racing - choosing the competitive Italian GT Championship for her debut outside of single-seaters. Piria most recently competed in the all-female W Series championship and the move to the vast and exciting world of GT racing is the most natural development towards future opportunities in sports cars. The increasingly popular and international Italian GT, furthermore, gave Piria the chance to team up with long-time friend Francesca Linossi - a two time champion in the series and 2021 GT Cup class winner. With a significant experience of GT3 machinery, Linossi is the perfect reference for Piria, who tackles for the first time multi-class racing, driver changes, among the others. In a record-breaking 41 car field - and a stronger than ever GT Cup grid - the all-female crew is sharing the #301 Porsche 991 GT3 Cup by Tsunami RT, sporting a striking blue and leopard-pattern livery which won't certainly go unnoticed on the tracks of the 2022 GT Sprint series. Starting from the Temple of Speed of Monza, Piria and Linossi had to face yet another challenge: the weather conditions. On Friday, the two 60-minute practice sessions were contested in fully dry conditions despite the menacing forecasts - but the running time was severely limited by a series of FCY and red flags that posed yet another hurdle to Piria's learning process. Nevertheless, they were able to finish just outside the top-10. "It was a really intense first day of running, I had lots of fun." - told us Vicky on Friday. "In FP1 I unfortunately had not much driving time due to red flags and it still feels a bit strange for me to get on track with 40 cars around you, as I was used to 18 cars in W Series. It's all completely new, but I drove well; I am obviously still missing something compared to the top-drivers, but as a first step I'm really satisfied. I believe we're a good crew." Piria and Linossi only had a single test day - at Cremona Circuit - before the start of the season in Monza: "We start with not much testing and I have never driven a GT car in the rain, so that could be a bit of a worry, but I'm really excited", Piria added. It was also a day to shrug off the rust for class reigning champion Francesca Linossi, who raced in the Mercedes AMG GT3 in 2019 and in the Ferrari 488 Challenge Cup Car in 2021 and had to adapt to the characteristics of the Porsche. "It's a bit difficult for me to get used again to the Porsche driving style, because it's really quite different from all the other cars I drove in this championship in the past couple of years", told us Linossi. "I had raced a Porsche when I competed in the Carrera Cup Italy [in 2017] and I really liked it, but now I have to get used to it again." "We didn't get a lot of track time in practice and we couldn't test here last week, but we still had good runs and we're quite even as a crew. Vicky had a great lap time on new tyres, while I struggled a bit more with traffic and set my best lap at the very end on used tyre, but I think both of us have good pace for the race."
On an overcast Saturday morning, the first two 15-minute qualifying sessions of the season went underway - the very first one for Piria in GT racing.
Linossi was behind the wheel for Q1 and set the ninth fastest lap in GT Cup class.
Piria got in the driving seat for Q2 and was P15 for Sunday's race.
"I made a few mistakes in qualifying. It was my very first qualifying in GT racing and I went in very aggressive, so I had a few mistakes in my push lap" - she explained.
"You really don't have time for mistakes in these short qualifying sessions, but as they say, it's all about the learning. I knew that Monza would have been a challenging track for the Porsches, we had not tested and for me the most important thing was to improve after each session. And I did that."
The Story of the Race
Overall pole position for Race 1 went to Alberto Di Folco (#6 Imperiale Racing Lamborghini), followed by the BMW Italia's brand-new BMW M4 GT3 driven by Jens Klingmann. Scuderia Baldini's drivers Daniele di Amato and Nelson Panciatici locked out the second row. The Lamborghini of Martin Kodric was the first GT Cup entry, in ninth place overall. But it would be a two-way battle for victory between the Imperiale Lamborghini and the #50 BMW M4 GT3 throughout the race: Di Folco managed to retain the lead after the first corner, with all the pack immersed in a cloud of water spray for the pouring rain. Di Folco went deep into La Roggia chicane on a couple of occasions, but kept the lead over Klingmann, Guidetti (#55 Nova Race Honda NSX) and Di Amato. Guidetti closed in on Klingmann but was never able to challenge the German driver. The race remained green for the entire duration, despite a few off-track moments by the #305 Lamborghini and the #334 Ferrari. Among the hard battles in GT Cup, Francesca Linosi held ninth position throughout her first stint. When the pit window opened, both the leaders took the way of the pitlane, where Di Folco was supposed to hand over to Start Middleton. The British driver, though, was involuntarily hit by the BMW of Klingmann, who had to stop just ahead of the Imperiale garage. Middleton was promptly attended on the scene and Di Folco rejoined the race for a second stint. Later in the evening, Imperiale released a statement saying that: "after a first medical examination at the Medical Center of the track, the British driver has been transferred to the San Gerardo Hospital of Monza where further checks are underway. These examinations have excluded serious injuries." Former F1 driver and DTM racer Timo Glock had meanwhile taken over the #50 BMW M4 GT3, with Leonardo Moncini temporarily up to second.
Francesca Linossi also pitted from ninth in GT Cup and Vicky Piria started her first ever stint in GT. Unfortunately, a slow pit stop cost the Tsunami RT duo over 30 seconds and Piria rejoined in P15. With competitive lap times, Piria gained a significant amount of time to catch up with the EF Racing Porsche of Gianfranco Bronzini - which she passed in the final stages.
Unfortunately, she had to defend from the Bonaldi Motorsport's of Pavlovic: the Lamborghini's speed on the long Monza straights meant that Vicky took the chequered flag in the first race of the season in P14.
"In the race, the conditions were really tricky" - Piria explained. "Francesca started under the pouring rain and with very little visibility; she handled the car perfectly and, once at the driver change, we lost almost 40 seconds unfortunately. At that time the race was compromised, so it was free practice for me."
Once the track progressively dried out, Timo Glock extended his lead and comfortably won over the Nova Race Honda NSX of Guidetti/Mancini, as they were handed the position following a 60-second penalty di Di Folco - who failed to complete the driver change due to Middleton's injury.
Barri/Scalvini won the GT Cup class, ahead of Mazzola/Coluccio and Pera/Piccioli. Even though the result doesn't represent their pace, Linossi/Piria were protagonists of an encouraging race.
"I found my rhythm and improved lap after lap - I had my best time on the final lap", Vicky continued. "I recovered a few positions, which is always good, so I'm overall happy with the day!"
"Being back racing in such an environment is really amazing for me, and we have all the premises to do well - we just have to fix and polish a few things."
The second race of the weekend will get underway on Sunday at 15:15, with Vicky Piria behind the wheel for the first stint.