WEC: Floersch and Calderon miss out on top6 after late FCY in Monza 6H
At the WEC 6H of Monza, it was all about Le Mans preparation for Richard Mille Racing's Sophia Floersch and Tatiana Calderon - who were not far from another top-6 in LMP2.
With just one season of European Le Mans Series under their belt, the first all-female crew in LMP2 stepped up to the World Endurance Championship in 2021, with a powerhouse team composed of formula stars Sophia Floersch, Tatiana Calderon and Beitske Visser.
The line-up - already a Le Mans top-ten finisher at their debut - had a really encouraging start to their WEC campaign and finished in the top-10 at Spa, before further climb up the order at Portimao, where they were just outside the top-5.
With the iconic Autodromo Nazionale di Monza making its debut on the WEC calendar, the Temple of Speed was the perfect place for teams to prepare for the legendary 24H of Le Mans, coming up in a month's time.
The battle for the overall lead in Hypercar class was tighter than expected, as the Alpine and the Glickenhaus - at only its second participation and for the first time with a two-car entry - remained in contention until the final hour of the 6-hour race.
On Saturday, the Toyota of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez clinched the pole position ahead of the sister car of Buemi/Nakajima/Hartley, but the Alpine driven by Negrao/Lapierre/Vaxiviere - after a big shunt in FP2 - was two tenths adrift pole position.
In LMP2, Team WRT claimed their first class pole thanks to a remarkable lap by rookie Charles Milesi, who edged the United Autosport Oreca of Hanson/Scherer/Albuquerque.
Sophia Floersch got behind the wheel of the #1 Richard Mille Racing entry for the 10-minute qualifying session and was ninth fastest: "I wanted a little bit more but at the end it’s endurance, we have six hours coming up tomorrow.” - she told us.
Floersch partnered Calderon at the third round, as Visser was unavailable due to W Series commitments in Silverstone.
“There was a little bit of a mess with the red flag, but it was the same for everyone." - continued the German 20-year old, mentioning a stoppage with 2 minutes left on the clock following an accident by Stoffel Vandoorne in the #28 JOTA at Lesmo 2.
"In the end, I need to look into what I did a little bit wrong and then prepare for tomorrow, because we have a 6H race with Tatiana and I’m really looking forward to it, because our race pace is quite strong I’d say. It’s going to be interesting and hopefully a lot of overtaking and fun.”
Colombian racing star Tatiana Calderon was back in the driving seat for the first part of the race; she had a clean start at the always tricky Prima Variante and slotted into tenth place.
A mistake into the first corner by the pole-sitting car meant that after the opening lap, the LMP2 class was led by the United Autosport Oreca, with Racing Team Nederland - this weekend without Giedo van der Garde following a positive Covid test - snatching third from the Dragonspeed of Juan Pablo Montoya.
By lap 8, the Toyotas started to hit traffic, and the Glickenhaus was catching up with Negrao's Alpine. The American team showed impressive improvements from its debut in Portimao and, with the understandable reliability issues sorted, can really take on the challenge to the established teams.
Calderon moved into ninth when the #34 Inter Europol Competition LMP2 Oreca of Alex Brundle tagged the #70 Realteam Racing of Loic Duval and the Frenchman dropped down the order. A little over 30 minutes into the race, the first Full Course Yellow was triggered by the #88 Dempsey Proton Porsche of Andrew Haryanto, who had spun into the gravel at La Roggia chicane. The beached car managed to find its way back into the race, but the first neutralization gave the opportunity to the prototypes to dive into the pitlane for their first stop of the day.
Tatiana Calderon pitted and rejoined in P11, while there was drama for the #708 Glickenhaus of Pipo Derani that was wheeled back in the garage. At the first half-hour, Conway led the sister Toyota of Buemi, with Negrao (Alpine) in third and Westbrook (Glickenhaus) in fourth.
In LMP2, Hanson got behind the wheel of the United Autosport and preceded Frijns (WRT) and De Vries (Team Nederland).
At the restart, Jarvis jumped ahead of Hedman as soon as the FCY ended, gaining fourth place. After the teams had performed their first driver changes, Calderon was back to her initial starting position, in P9. She started an outstanding and prolonged battle with Oliver Webb (ARC Bratislava), Henrik Hedman (Dragonspeed) and Alex Brundle (Inter Europol); the latter moved into eighth, while Calderon launched an attack at La Roggia on Webb. The two swapped positions all the way after Lesmo 2, in what was one of the closest and most exciting racing of the first part of the race.
Calderon and Webb battled hard but fair, just before pitting at the end of her first double-stint and handing over to Sophia Floersch.
The big development for the overall lead came just after into the second hour of racing: the #8 Toyota in second place slowed down and limped back to the pits, where it remained stationary for a couple of laps. After repair, Brendon Hartley went back out, but soon he found himself in a couple of close calls at the first chicane as he couldn't slow the car down. Toyota reported a potential steering wheel malfunction and the #8 spent most of the following hours in the garage. A Safety Car for debris was deployed when the leading GTE-Am TF Aston Martin of Ben Keating had a high speed tyre blow under the bridge at Serraglio, scattering bodywork debris all over the track. Keating controlled the car masterfully and made it back to the pits. The restart was a messy one, with cars all over the place and Sophia Floersch struggling to find her way past the traffic of the lapped GT cars battling and pushing each other off at Prima Variante. With some extra caution, Floersch made her way up the order and moved into P7, before pitting for the second driver change 3 hours into the race. Calderon continued Floersch's progression and kept moving up until fifth place in LMP2. Soon after, the Richard Mille Racing team advanced to fourth in class - eighth overall - when the third-placed #29 Team Nederland Oreca received a drive through for speeding in the pitlane. With 2 hours to go, it had looked like a walk in the park for the leading #7 Toyota, before Kamui Kobayashi suddenly came to a stop just before Ascari. The former-F1 driver had to reset the car and rejoined, but had meanwhile lost over 40 seconds and - crucially - the lead of the race to the #709 Glickenhaus of Romain Dumas. The American hypercar, at only its second race, was leading at Monza - but the dream was soon after cut short by a pitstop requiring the Glickenhaus 007 LMH to be brought back in the garage. Luckily, 4 laps after, Westbrook was back on track. Briefly, the race was thus led by the Alpine, before the Toyota could regain the top of the leaderboard at the end of the round of pit stops. Calderon - back in fifth place after the pitstop - dropped to sixth after going deep at the first chicane and pitted for the final driver change with over one hour and a half to go. The real blow to the Richard Mille Racing's chances for a very realistic top-five came in the final hour, when the Full Course Yellow was again deployed for debris at Variante Ascari: this development messed with Floersch and Calderon's strategy, who had to pit for fuel and rejoined in eighth place. The race was green flagged again with 20 minutes left on the clock - but there was more drama for the overall win when the leading Toyota was placed under scrutiny for its final pit stop: a removed tyre in the hands of a Toyota mechanic remained over the white line in the pit area, triggering an investigation. Toyota received only a warning, so the victory in the 6H of Monza was safe in the hands of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez, at the end of a thrilling race. The Alpine driven by Negrao/Lapierre/Vaxiviere was second, ahead of the United Autosport LMP2 Oreca of Hanson/Scherer/Albuquerque that took the overall third place and the class victory. The #709 Glickenhaus of Dumas/Mailleux/Westbrook finished fourth overall and claimed its first Hypercar podium, showing promising speed. Team WRT took the runner-up spot in LMP2 and preceded Team Nederland, as Van Eerd/Chatin/De Vries managed to bounce back from the penalty to finish on the class podium. Sophia Floersch and Tatiana Calderon were eighth across the finish line - in a bittersweet weekend for the ladies of Richard Mille Racing. A top-6 looked realistic until the final hour, before misfortune hit. "We have to look at the strategy, but I think it wasn't that great." - said a disappointed Tatiana Calderon after the race. "Especially the second time I jumped in the car we had old tyres just to save a bit of time on the pit stop, but I think that didn't work either". "I think we just miss a bit of pace generally - we had an engine change overnight as well, so it wasn't ideal. P8 was the maximum we could do today, but we need to work hard for Le Mans definitely to find a bit more pace." While her teammate wasn't happy about the result either, Sophia Floersch was a bit more optimistic about the progress made ahead of the main event of the season. "We started P9 and we had quite an OK pace, let's say. We gained some positions through the first Safety Car - actually we were quite lucky on that one." - Floersch told us. "At some point we were P4, four hours in the race, which was quite cool. But Team Nederland and JOTA were quite a lot quicker for sure, and P6 was our position. In the end we were unlucky with the Full Course Yellow which cost us two more positions so we ended up P8." "Monza was all about preparation for Le Mans, for the big one, and we definitely made some improvements again. I think our race pace is a lot stronger than our qualifying pace. The 24 Hours is next and anything can happen there. Not too happy with today's result and we'll keep on working to be as much prepared as possible." "Luck and strategy always go alongside" - Floersch added: "Two hours in the race we were pretty strong and everything worked out our way and then at the end we were unlucky - we just had to play the game and at the end others played it better." "Last year at Le Mans we did better than everyone expected. With the top-10 result for three rookies was really not bad - you first of all have to finish the race and then we'll see. Of course our goal is to improve our result from last year but the grid is really strong, so we've got to keep on working".