IMSA SportsCar Championship’s GTD points leader Christina Nielsen plans to remain in the class with Scuderia Corsa next year ahead of a possible step-up to GTLM for the 2018 season.
Nielsen will become the first female champion in the unified era of sportscar racing at this weekend’s Petit Le Mans, regardless of where the Viper of closest rivals Jeroen Bleekemolen and Ben Keating finish, if she completes the requisite three hours of driving time in the Ferrari 488 GT3 she shares with team-mate Alessandro Balzan and Jeff Segal.
Nielsen and Balzan are also in the running for the North American Endurance Cup, where they sit second in the standings, level on points with Daytona winners Magnus Racing and two points behind the Alex Job Racing Porsche of Alex Riberas and Dominik Farnbacher.
— Mobil 1 The Grid (@Mobil1TheGrid) September 30, 2016
However, while a step-up from the Pro-Am GTD class to the all-Pro GTLM class with Scuderia Corsa remains the Dane’s long-term goal, Nielsen told Racing.GT that it was unlikely to materialise for next season, regardless of what happens at Road Atlanta.
“I really like racing in the States, it’s been a lot of fun so far and the future goal for me would be to do something like GTLM,” she confirmed. “Scuderia Corsa has been running a part-time GTLM programme this year and that’s definitely something I have my eyes on for the future. Career-wise it would be a big step, but it’s not a step I’m going to take any time soon. I’m most likely going to continue in GTD next year.”
Silver-rated Nielsen has emerged as one of the consistent performers in IMSA over the past two years, leading the standings for much of last season with the TRG squad only to lose out to Scuderia Corsa’s Townsend Bell and Bill Sweedler in the washout at Petit.
After switching to Giacomo Mattioli’s team over the off-season with a view to going one better, she began to add race wins to her repertoire and followed up a breakthrough victory at Sebring – the team’s first race with the 488 – with another at Watkins Glen. Four further podiums at Laguna Seca, Detroit, Road America and in the last round at COTA have put Nielsen and Balzan in a commanding position in the championship which, barring disaster, could see history made.
“The approach was different in the sense that honestly I didn’t think I would be a championship contender going into the season last year,” she said. “I was just going into it looking forward to driving and seeing what we could get out of it, and it turned out really well. It sucked not to win the championship, we really wanted to win it, but we still managed to get five podiums and have a fantastic season.
“This year was sort of a guess over what is the best car to have, because a lot of manufacturers were coming out with new cars, things that were out of our control to predict, but I went into it knowing that we were one of the favourites to compete for the championship. I would say I felt a bit more confident because I knew the potential was there.
I cannot believe that we are Winners of the 6 hours of Watkins Glen and the endurance championship! 🍾🏆 whaaat!!!! pic.twitter.com/Zt7r20adoD
— Christina Nielsen (@ChristinaRacing) July 3, 2016
“To finally get that victory this year at Sebring was definitely one of the things I had been looking for because we had four second place finishes last year, so it was nice to finally clinch a win. To do it there and at Watkins Glen was something I didn’t expect – that was a great job by the team, the car was an absolute pleasure to drive, even though we had horrific conditions.”
In a transitional year for the GTD class moving to full GT3-spec for the first time, a large part of Nielsen’s success has resulted from her ability to quickly master the mid-engine Ferrari – the only example in the GTD class – after two years in the front-engine Aston Martin, but she isn’t falling into the trap of thinking the title is wrapped up until the chequered flag falls.
“The level of competition in the GTD class also increased this year, there’s definitely been some tough competition, so it’s a constant improvement that you need to make,” she said. “I think I‘ve improved as a driver and as a person also – I’ve learned a lot from Balzan and all the other guys that I work with, you’ve got to strive for always making it a little bit better, always looking for that extra.
“I will try and go into the race weekend with the same mentality – I would say the points lead does make it a little more relaxing, but it’s still me that has the pressure because I have to complete the minimum drive time, so I have to take care of the car! We’re still going to push because we want to try and win the Endurance championship, which is still on the line – I’m really looking forward to it.”