Sophia Floersch joins WH Sports athlete roster

Rising German racer Sophia Floersch is the latest addition to WH Sports’ stable of talented athletes, further endorsing the credentials of an organisation that has already carved out an enviable reputation in the industry for spotting and nurturing motorsport stars, while brokering major sponsorship deals at the very highest levels of global sport.

Following a formative career in karting, Floersch initially made a name for herself in the BTCC-supporting Ginetta Junior Championship in 2015, re-writing the record books at Thruxton by becoming not only the youngest driver ever to triumph in the single-spec series, but also the first rookie to win both races over the course of a single weekend.

The following year, she continued to make waves as the first female competitor to score points in Germany’s ADAC Formel 4 single-seater championship – this time on her debut. Two races later, she very nearly reached the rostrum.

A second season in the series in 2017 yielded a brace of podium finishes and fastest laps, before Floersch was catapulted firmly into the global spotlight – quite literally – on 18 November, 2018. While contesting the famous Macau Grand Prix, contact with another car on the main straight resulted in a front-left suspension failure that pitched her sideways into the notorious Lisboa Bend at more than 170mph. Flying over the catch fencing, the spectacular impact left the 20-year-old with a spinal fracture that required surgery.

Demonstrating her steely resolve to succeed, barely 100 days later, Floersch was back behind the wheel and back on-track, in recognition of which, she was presented with the ‘World Comeback of the Year’ accolade at the prestigious Laureus World Sports Awards.

Last year, she again made history – twice – as the first woman to race in the current FIA Formula 3 Championship and as a member of the first all-female crew to enter the LMP2 category in the legendary Le Mans 24 Hours, widely regarded as one of the toughest races on the planet. Sharing the Richard Mille Racing Team prototype with Tatiana Calderón and Beitske Visser, the Bavaria-born ace impressively placed ninth in-class out of the 17 LMP2 finishers, underscoring her raw pace, rapid learning abilities and versatility.

As she prepares to take the next step in her career in 2021, Floersch will do so with the full support of WH Sports – and she is excited to begin working with the agency.

Sophia Floersch, Official Athlete, WH Sports, said:

“I am very happy to be working with WH Sports moving forward. It’s important in such a relationship that we enjoy working together and share the same mindset. I want to drive for the best teams to have the best chance of winning. I want to get to the top and I am going to do everything I can to achieve that. I will participate in every training and preparation session, simply because I love it.

“I think in WH Sports, I have found the right agency and most importantly, the right people to help me to reach my maximum – from the management side to coaching both at and away from the track, nutrition and mental help. They will help me in every small aspect to make me a better all-round athlete.

“For me, it’s important to be able to prove what I am capable of – winning and driving great races. Motorsport is about opportunities and making the best of them, and WH Sports will help me to secure those opportunities to show what I can do. The upcoming years are very significant for my career, and it’s good to have people with a lot of knowledge about the sport around me. This isn’t about being the best woman – it’s about beating the men.”

Chris Harfield, Director, WH Sports, added:

“We are all delighted and excited to welcome Sophia on-board at WH Sports. Since the start of her career, Sophia has achieved great things in motorsport. Her focus and determination to reach the very top of the sport is something I really admire, and she is a great role model and example to future generations of motor racing drivers. She works extremely hard on the track and equally hard off the track, being a brand ambassador for many multi-national companies. At the age of just 20, Sophia is breaking records in every series she enters, and we have no doubt that trend will continue.

“The accident in Macau would have ended the career of many a less determined driver, but above all else, Sophia is a fighter and she simply refused to let it hold her back or define her. Her attitude and approach are exemplary, and in what has traditionally been a male-dominated sport, she is increasingly breaking down barriers and outperforming her male counterparts in equal machinery.

“Sophia has no interest in being the best female driver on the grid – she wants to be recognised, irrespective of gender – and for that, she is to be thoroughly commended. We have assembled a team around Sophia that will equip her with everything she requires to continue forging her way to the pinnacle of the sport, and we are looking forward to our journey together!”

Hawksworth Impresses in NASCAR Debut

Jack Hawksworth said he enjoyed his NASCAR Xfinity Series debut which started with a front-row qualifying spot, included a stage win and regular spot in the top 10 but ended with a mid-pack, 15th-place finish.

“First off, thank you to Joe Gibbs Racing for having me and to Toyota for putting it together; and of course to my team AVS Racing, IMSA and Lexus for allowing me to go do this Xfinity stint,” he told NBCSN. “I was having a lot of fun out there. Some good battles over the beginning.

“The first stint, I was struggling with the rear tires a little bit. The second stint we made it a little bit better.”
Hawksworth had speed all weekend. He clocked in 13th in opening practice after his first laps in a Xfinity car, then was fastest of all in the final practice and qualified second.

The IMSA GTD front-runner and former IndyCar regular was tabbed late last week to drive the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota at Mid-Ohio, and he had a top-10 run going for much of the Saturday afternoon race. Challenging inside the top five through the first two stages, Hawksworth recovered from an early spin on the frontstretch after contact with Cole Custer.
He even took the lead on Lap 37. Getting to the inside of teammate Christopher Bell, Hawksworth made the move just before the caution came out, which resulted in his winning Stage 2.

However, the grille of his iK9 Supra was filled with grass after several off-course excursions during the day, and, with nine laps to go, Hawksworth — running ninth — had to pit.

“I was comfortable on those restarts going for the lead and felt pretty good about it; but then I think we had a little issue on that second stop so that kind of put us back there,” he said. “Got grass on the grille on one of those restarts, then kind of lost the brakes and that was kind of all she wrote.

“Little bit of a shame, but I had a great time and the iK9 car was great. I just want to thank everyone for having me here, and we’ll have to come back at some point and give it another shot.”

Heartbreak for Menezes after ‘drive of his life’ at Le Mans

Gustavo Menezes’ bid to make it three podium finishes from four starts in the Le Mans 24 Hours ended in heartbreak last weekend (15/16 June) in the 87th running of the race widely regarded as the toughest in the world – but the talented young American still managed to turn heads with his scintillating raw speed.

The culmination of the fiercely-disputed FIA World Endurance Championship ‘Super Season’, Le Mans is as gruelling as they come – 24 hours of blood, sweat and tears for drivers, mechanics, engineers, cars and tyres alike. A record-breaking 62 entries tackled the 2019 edition of the legendary round-the-clock classic, which was preceded by an official test day, at which Rebellion Racing posted the quickest time of the non-hybrid teams in the headlining LMP1 category.

Entering the race week sporting a vibrant new, neon ‘art car’ livery – courtesy of a tie-up with Los Angeles-based artist Tomyboy and his Rocketbyz brand – the No.3 entry piloted by Menezes, Thomas Laurent and Nathanaël Berthon overcame engine issues that significantly restricted the trio’s track time to secure fourth on the grid in a disrupted final qualifying session.

That was achieved by dint of a stellar late effort from Menezes that lifted the Rebellion-Gibson R-13 prototype above ex-McLaren Formula 1 ace Stoffel Vandoorne in the best-placed of the two SMP Racing cars. Not for the first time this season, the 24-year-old Californian was the fastest Rebellion driver over a single lap, less than a second shy of pole position around the 13.626km La Sarthe circuit and almost three seconds quicker than a certain Fernando Alonso in one of the pace-setting Toyotas.

Menezes took the start of the race, and after gaining a position away from the line, he briefly outfoxed World Champion-elect Sébastien Buemi for second before focussing on fending off another former F1 driver in the shape of Vitaly Petrov for third.

An enthralling cat-and-mouse duel ensued as the 2016 FIA WEC LMP2 Champion, Le Mans class-winner and ‘Revelation of the Year’ initially found himself unable to shake off the SMP car due to its straight-line speed advantage. A combination of superior racecraft – particularly through the traffic – and excellent pit-stops from the Rebellion crew, however, eventually allowed him to pull clear, and by the time he handed over to Berthon, he had established a margin of almost a minute.

Ground was lost when Laurent was subsequently boxed in during a pit visit, but worse was to follow. As darkness began to fall, the Frenchman made contact with the wall at the second Mulsanne chicane, requiring an unscheduled pit-stop for replacement front bodywork and relegating the No.3 car to fifth, a full lap behind its two SMP rivals.

Menezes returned to the cockpit at 11pm and immediately went on the attack, making short work of overhauling the fourth-placed SMP and – with the bit well-and-truly between his teeth – going on to reduce the deficit to Egor Orudzhev in the sister car to less than 50 seconds. That relentless pressure ultimately told as the Russian crashed just before 1:30am, reinstating the Rebellion in third.

Berthon and Laurent maintained the rhythm during their stints before Menezes got back in approaching 7am, but half-an-hour later, the crew was handed a three-minute stop-and-go penalty for a tyre rule violation. That dropped the Williams-Harfield Sports Group protégé behind the surviving SMP entry once again, and as he endeavoured to regain the initiative, he found himself edged onto the kerb by a lapped GT car going through the Porsche Curves, sending the R-13 into a spin and beaching it in the gravel.

The delay cost the Rebellion two laps, and brake failure shortly before 10am necessitated another lengthy pit visit, leaving Menezes, Laurent and Berthon a frustrated and disappointed fifth at the chequered flag – albeit securing them third position in the final World Championship standings, and top non-hybrid competitor.

The statistics also showed that the highly-rated Santa Monica native set the third-fastest lap time of the 186 drivers in the race and was second-quickest in terms of average pace, a scant 0.018s adrift of Mike Conway’s benchmark in the Toyota – an impressive achievement indeed given the performance disparity between the hybrid and non-hybrid entries. And as for a return to the podium at Le Mans, well, he reasons, there’s always next year…

“That was a long 24 hours!” reflected Menezes, a former winner of the coveted Jim Russell Driver Scholarship Award. “We felt quite confident going into the race after practice and qualifying, and I got an amazing start to pass the SMP and then get around the second of the Toyotas too, though I slightly caught the back of it in the process, which cost us a bit of front end downforce.

“We had a good battle with the SMP early on – it was so fast in a straight line that I could never quite break away from it, but after the Rebellion boys changed the nose on the R-13 at the first pit-stop, I was able to pull clear and handed the car over to Nathanaël in a strong position.

“He then picked up the baton, but we lost some time in one of the pit-stops – with the pit-lane being so tight at Le Mans, we got stuck between cars in the boxes either side of us. We lost further time when Thomas hit the wall, which left us almost a lap behind the SMP in third place and when I got back in at around 11pm, the team just told me, ‘qualifying mode – let’s go!’ That stint was probably the drive of my life – I put my absolute heart and soul into it and was faster than the Toyotas at times.

“Nathanaël did a great job again to settle into a consistent rhythm and strengthen our grip on third, before Thomas maintained that momentum in the morning, and we had two minutes in-hand over the SMP when I returned to the cockpit just before 7am on Sunday. The objective at that stage was simply to bring it home, and it was nice not to have to take as many risks as I had done during the night – if you push too hard for too long in a race like Le Mans, ultimately, you’re asking for trouble.

“Towards the end of my stint, I had just put the SMP a lap down when I received a radio message saying I had to pit next time round to serve a three-minute penalty due to having the wrong serial number on the tyres we had taken on at the last stop, which wasn’t even the team’s mistake. As I exited the pits again on ice cold tyres, I could only watch as the SMP flashed past to move into third. After all the effort we had put in to pull so far ahead, that was absolutely galling and the race really unravelled from there.

“We had no choice but to re-engage ‘quali mode’, and I had almost caught Vandoorne back up when I got squeezed by a GT car going through the Porsche Curves. I clipped the kerb, and that sent me into a spin. It was so sad to see the podium just slip through our fingers and the brake failure then hammered the final nail into the coffin, but honestly, I can’t praise Rebellion Racing and my two team-mates highly enough for the incredible job that everyone did. The pace we had was unreal, so we’ll just have to come back next year and try again…”

HAWKSWORTH HITS MARKS IN FINAL MINUTES TO GIVE AIM VASSER SULLIVAN FIRST IMSA WITH LEXUS

HAWKSWORTH HITS MARKS IN FINAL MINUTES TO GIVE AIM VASSER SULLIVAN FIRST IMSA WITH LEXUS

Jack Hawksworth proved to be calm under intense pressure on Sunday afternoon at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course to send AIM VASSER SULLIVAN to victory lane for the first time in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

Driving the No. 14 Lexus RC F GT3 in the GT Daytona (GTD) class, Hawksworth kept a hard-charging Mario Farnbacher in his rearview mirror after stealing the lead from him on a restart with 30 minutes remaining in the two-hour, 40-minute Acura Sports Car Challenge.

Farnbacher didn’t relent, though, keeping Hawksworth within striking distance of his No. 86 Meyer Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3 machine. On the final lap, Farnbacher was able to pull along the driver side of the Lexus, yet couldn’t complete the pass on the outside line.

The victory is Lexus’ third in IMSA GTD competition, with the first coincidentally coming one year ago at Mid-Ohio. The No. 14 was expected to be a fierce competitor on Sunday, with Hawksworth’s co-driver Richard Heistand placing the car on the pole during qualifying on Saturday.

My first race in the WeatherTech Championship I won (2014 Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Prototype Challenge class), and then I went on the biggest dry spell of all-time, so it’s nice to be back in a win,” said Hawksworth. I was a part of the team last year when they won here and I’ve had some great times in the Lexus RC F over the last three years. It’s a pleasure to work alongside Lexus and drive with these great teams. I’ve had a lot of poles and fastest laps and I’ve had a lot of fastest cars, but it just never happened. But this race, it just all came together.”

 

Hawksworth described his battle with Farnbacher as a cat-and-mouse game, seeing the Lexus and Acura having strengths at different sectors of the track. Heistand was quick to give credit to his co-driver following the race for holding off the Acura.

Jack did an unbelievable job,” said Heistand, who earned his first IMSA victory. That pass on the restart, it was just incredible. His pace at the end, people don’t realize this Lexus at the end of the stint is hard compared to the other cars with the tires. What he does at the end of the stint is remarkable. Just look at the pace of the other cars at the end of the race there. What he did was incredible. I’m thrilled.”

It was a bittersweet runner-up finish for Farnbacher and co-driver Trent Hindman, who led a class-high 85 laps after starting from the ninth position. Hindman and Farnbacher, however, now hold a seven-point lead over the other AIM VASSER SULLIVAN entry, the No. 12 of Townsend Bell and Frank Montecalvo.

The No. 9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R of Scott Hargrove and Zach Robichon was poised for its first podium finish of the season until bad luck struck the team again. With under seven minutes remaining, and running third at the time, Hargrove’s Porsche slid off the track into the gravel and was unable to continue. The team ultimately finished 12th. Capitalizing on the Porsche’s bad luck was the No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 of Bryan Sellers and Ryan Hardwick. It is the team’s first top-10 finish of the season. A television re-air of the Acura Sports Car Challenge will be shown on NBCSN on Wednesday, May 8 at 3 p.m. ET.

The next round of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship takes place at the Detroit Grand Prix at Belle Isle Park. The 100-minute Chevrolet Sports Car Classic is set for Saturday, June 1 at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN with live coverage also available via IMSA Radio on IMSA.com, RadioLeMans.com and SiriusXM Radio. Tickets are available now on DetroitGP.com.