A long-awaited breakthrough victory finally arrived for Christina Nielsen in the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in March’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.
The Danish driver led the GT Daytona class in podium finishes and finished second in the championship in 2015, her debut season in the WeatherTech Championship. But she was winless last year.
So spraying champagne from the top step of the podium at Sebring with Scuderia Corsa co-drivers Alessandro Balzan and Jeff Segal lifted a large weight from her shoulders.
“A win is a great confidence boost,” Nielsen told Sportscar365.
The dramatic Sebring victory also pushed Nielsen, Balzan and Segal to second in the GT Daytona championship standings with 62 points, five behind leaders Andy Lally, John Potter and Marco Seefried in the Magnus Racing Audi R8 LMS.
But that victory won’t change Nielsen’s approach to the team’s next race this weekend at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, as she knows a steady, intelligent approach piles on the points that win championships.
“It’s always important to remember that if you want to win championships, it’s not always about race wins, it’s about race points,” Nielsen said.
“That’s what we did last year consistently. We had the most podiums. We didn’t have a win. I’m very glad to have a win this year. To have it at Sebring was absolutely amazing.
“I’m going in (Laguna Seca) hoping for a top-three finish. It’s always important to finish on the podium because it is intense competition, and there are a lot of strong teams and drivers.”
Nielsen and co-driver Balzan enter Northern California with plenty of momentum after the memorable Sebring victory.
That win came in the team’s North American debut with the new Ferrari 488 GT3, but Nielsen thinks there is still plenty of more potential to be developed in the car.
Scuderia Corsa’s base setup worked well on the flat, bumpy circuit at Sebring, and Nielsen is keen to see how it performs on the hilly, smooth track at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, which features the famous “Corkscrew” complex among its 11 turns and 2.238 miles.
“I think that’s what I’m most excited about, how it’s going to be to find the most suitable setup,” she said. “It is all new to us. The car doesn’t have that much experience around American tracks.
“Development is going to happen naturally during the weekend. Good progress within development equals a fast car, which normally equals a good final result.”
Nielsen and the rest of the GTD field head to Monterey for Sunday’s two-hour race, coming on the heels of the two longest races of the season, the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Twelve Hours of Sebring.
A much shorter race distance isn’t the only new wrinkle and adjustment for Nielsen as this weekend’s event also features a unique split race format.
The GTD and Prototype Challenge classes will race together Sunday, while the Prototypes and GT Le Mans classes will have their own two-hour race earlier that afternoon.
The race featured a similar format in 2014, when Nielsen was in her first season of racing in North America, in the one-make Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama.
The race last year, during Nielsen’s rookie season in the WeatherTech Championship, returned to the regular format of the Prototype, Prototype Challenge, GTLM and GTD classes competing simultaneously.
“I think it’s great in the sense there’s less racing between the classes,” Nielsen said of the split-race format. “It will allow traffic to have a smaller input on the result.
“But I also think one of the skills you have to master to be a good driver is to be able to come through traffic quickly.
“So definitely it lowers the expectation of the drivers because you don’t have as much traffic, but in the end, I also think it’s quite positive because it allows us to really focus on the racing within the class and not have to worry about external factors that could have an influence on your results.”