Scuderia Corsa cannot afford to rest on their laurels if they are to successfully defend their IMSA GTD title, according to Christina Nielsen.
The Dane and team-mate Alessandro Balzan gave Giacomo Mattioli’s outfit their second consecutive championship in 2016, after Townsend Bell and Bill Sweedler defeated Nielsen’s TRG Aston Martin the previous year.
Nielsen and Balzan will return this year at the wheel of Scuderia Corsa’s Ferrari 488 GT3, with factory aces Sam Bird and Matteo Cressoni completing the driver line-up at the 24 Hours of Daytona.
However, with the GTD field swelling to 27 entries for the season-opener, Nielsen warned that Scuderia Corsa cannot rely on their past efforts to stay ahead of the competition.
“It’s a new season, so we start from scratch – we can’t rely on what we did last year,” she told Racing.GT. “We know we need to step it up a notch, I don’t think the competition has ever been as high as it is this year.
“One thing that I’m really looking forward to is I’m back with the same team, so there’s not this learning curve of getting to know people like there was last year and we can go back into the rhythm. The team is on point, we know what we are doing and what we are up against.
“Several people came to me and said ‘why are you starting from P4 at Petit Le Mans when you have a championship to win, you just have to complete the three hours so why not start from pitlane?’ I just said, ‘because we didn’t come here to not race, we came here to race’ and we’re going to treat it the exact same way at Daytona.”
— Christina Nielsen (@ChristinaRacing) January 9, 2017
As the first female champion since Grand-Am and the American Le Mans Series were unified in 2014, Nielsen experienced huge media scrutiny last year, but while much of the pressure from the outside has since lifted, she is determined not to let standards slip before a potential graduation to the GTLM class next year.
“I don’t think it’s pressure from the outside, its pressure that I put on myself, the personal goals that I have that I want to achieve throughout the year – that’s the pressure that I’m under the most,” she said.
“I know people are watching, so there’s always some level of pressure. 2015 especially was where I really felt it, because we were really close to winning the championship. It was a pressure I was not used to, because nobody at the beginning of the season considered us as a contender, but we proved them wrong.
“A lot of people say ‘they only won it because they had a good BOP’ and all of those sort of excuses that everyone has, but the way I look at it, no matter what BOP they gave us, we still kicked ass and we still got to go on the podium when we were down 10 km/h on the straights. I’m proud to be with the guys that I’m with, Giacomo has put together an amazing team and they do an amazing job.”
As usual, Daytona will be step into the unknown on the BOP-front, with new Japanese cars from Acura and Lexus, as well as Mercedes-AMG joining the grid for the first time.
Nielsen’s Ferrari 488 will also be taking to the banking for the first time, having only arrived in time for Sebring last year, but despite complaining of a lack of straightline speed at the Roar, she is optimistic that the team will be a factor.
— Christina Nielsen (@ChristinaRacing) January 7, 2017
“We’ve never driven the 488 in a 24 hour race or at Daytona, we had the 458 last year, so we’re sort of in the same boat [as the new teams],” she said. “But Ferrari has built an amazing car, it was proven to be strong last year and I don’t see why it shouldn’t be strong [at Daytona] as well. We’ve done a lot of kilometres on the car and I don’t see why it shouldn’t last 24 hours.
“The team is always very focused on making a good race car and that’s what I think we’ve got at the moment, so I feel like it’s going to be fine-tuning. We’ve got some top speed that we’re missing, but it’s not something I want to focus too much on because I it’s not something I can do anything about. I can just push the power to full and then if the car doesn’t go faster down the straight then it doesn’t go faster!
“I’m looking forward to it, it’s just great to be back with the guys, we have so much fun together.”