Connect with us


NIELSEN: Silverstone Debrief

Christina Nielsen makes her Sportscar365 debut; files first column…

Photo: Vision Sport Agency

Photo: Vision Sport Agency

As someone who races in two series on two continents this year, I’m always up for a challenge.

And the first round of the European Le Mans Series at Silverstone provided just plenty, as it was a weekend full of surprises, ups and downs.

My co-drivers Johnny Laursen and Mikkel Mac and I finished fifth in the GTE class in our first race together in the No. 60 Formula Racing Ferrari F458 Italia.

We qualified eighth and ended up starting from the pit lane due to a miscommunication during pre-race yet got the car home in one piece, so I’m content.

Not happy, as I always want to win or at least finish on the podium. But it was a solid first weekend of the ELMS season, all things considered.

There were so many crazy variables thrown at the ELMS field at this race, mainly with the weather. They say you can see all four seasons in one day at the old airfield at Silverstone, and that definitely was the case this year! The weather was crazy.

The event started with heavy rain, so we decided to skip the first practice session because teams were supplied with only three sets of Dunlop rain tires for the whole weekend.

Managing only three sets of wets over two practice sessions, qualifying and a four-hour race is a balancing act, especially if the English spring rains never stop falling.

Wet weather was in the forecast for most of the event, so we figured we would save a set of tires by skipping the first practice. But then the weather changed – hey, it’s Silverstone, after all – and the track dried out enough for the second practice to run slicks.

I got about 10 to 12 laps on the great circuit at Silverstone during the second practice, which was important. I raced there about five years ago but didn’t get much time in the seat that weekend. I needed every lap I could get this time and made the most of it.

Then the four seasons of Silverstone struck again in qualifying. It snowed that morning. Yes, it was pretty cold last weekend in the English Midlands, even for a Danish girl.

Going from racing in 90-degree heat last month at Sebring to about 45 degrees Fahrenheit at Silverstone was a bit of a shock to the system!

The track was very wet during qualifying, but our Pro driver Mikkel brought the car home safely in eighth. We were ready to go for the Four Hours of Silverstone the next day, regardless of what the weather threw at us.

Plus there’s one thing I’ve learned from one of the very talented co-drivers I’ve worked with during my racing career, Allan Simonsen: Be critical, work hard, but if you can’t change it, make the best of what you have.

Changing conditions kept us on our toes once again on race day. The day started with snow, but luckily the track dried in time for our race. Johnny started and drove the first stint, and I climbed into the car for the next two hours for a double stint. Then Mikkel took over for the final stint, and he brought the car home in fifth place.

Returning to race in Europe reminded me of the differences of competing in a European series compared to a North American series.

One of the biggest changes was adapting to the Virtual Safety Car, which locks you into position at 50 mph during full-course yellows. No catching up to the Pace Car during yellows like in North America.

I enjoyed the challenge of adapting to everything. I delivered the car clean to Mikkel, which was important. As a co-driver, you always want to deliver the car to your teammate in the same condition you would like to receive it.

Johnny and Mikkel won the ELMS championship last season, so the bar has been set high for this year. It was really cool to work with two Danish drivers for a Danish team. We all speak the same language, so that helped us avoid any miscommunication you might get with a more multinational team.

Nothing will come easy this year in GTE, as the competition looks to be really tough. But Formula Racing finished one spot better last weekend than in 2015 at Silverstone, and the team still went on to win the title. We need to work even better together, but that will come.

The next ELMS race is May 15 at Imola. It’s also a new track for me, so I’m really looking forward to the challenge. I’ll work extra hard to study video, data and work on the simulator to gain as much advance track knowledge as possible.

But next up for me is another race in America, the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship event April 29-May 1 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

The weather can be unpredictable in Monterey, too, but I’m not packing any winter clothes or snow boots!

Laguna was a roller-coaster ride for me last year in the GT Daytona class, and I’m not just talking about driving the famous Corkscrew. It was the first time I led in a WeatherTech Championship race, and I held the lead throughout my stint. But trouble during the pit stops – some our fault, some not – hurt us, and we ended up fifth.

The speed was there last year at Laguna, but I’m taking a step back this year.

Everything is different. Different team. Different car. Different format, with our GTD cars racing with the Prototype Challenge class for two hours, while the Prototypes and GT Le Mans cars will race separately for two hours. But one thing stays the same – my excitement to get back into the 488.

We still need to get to know the 488 better, but Ferrari has given us a fantastic machine to fight for the championship this year. Our victory in our last start, at the Twelve Hours of Sebring in March, proved that everyone at Scuderia Corsa has their eyes on the big prize.

I really like doing development work and getting to know the car better. I believe it’s a vital, valued skill for any professional driver.

Car development also shows how drivers are important to manufacturers. They rely on you for accurate feedback just like you rely on them to provide you with a good car. It’s a really interesting series of give and take.

But for now, it’s back to my new adopted home in Southern California after flying from LA to London and back, with a stop on the way home to see some friends in Indianapolis.

I love to travel, and it’s cool to earn some more frequent-flier miles so I can move to the front of the line for quicker boarding at the gate later in the season. Always a racer, always want to be first!

Christina Nielsen (@ChristinaRacing) is the 2015 IMSA GT Daytona class championship runner-up finisher, driving for Scuderia Corsa in the 2016 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and Formula Racing in the European Le Mans Series.

Click to comment

More in Commentary