Algarve Pro Racing fought to a team-best second-place result in the European Le Mans Series (ELMS) with Sophia Flörsch and Bent Viscaal in the opening round of the 2022 season at Circuit Paul Ricard (15-17 April).
Flörsch continues to break records; during her maiden competitive appearance with Algarve Pro in the 2021 4 Hours of Portimao last October, she finished third to become the first female racing driver to achieve an outright ELMS podium.
However, the German racer can now lay claim to being the first woman in European Le Mans history to finish second overall, and it’s also the first time an all-Silver driver pairing has scaled the rostrum.
By twinning exceptional on-track overtakes with a well-executed pit strategy, Algarve Pro rose from tenth to fourth during Flörsch’s opening stint, which was punctuated by three Safety Cars.
The #19 duo continued on an upward trajectory, frequently dipping into the podium places during Viscaal’s maiden LMP2 race run and Flörsch’s second spell in the cockpit, but the decision to conduct a final, pre-planned driver-change under a Full Course Yellow (FCY) was pivotal.
With Viscaal back at the controls, Algarve Pro led the race by 25-seconds with approximately 30 minutes on the clock, and, after taking on a late splash of fuel, the Portugal-based team held on to a famous second place.
Sophia Flörsch (#19 Algarve Pro Racing ORECA 07 LMP2): “I’m on a massive high right now! I can’t quite believe we’ve reached the podium in two consecutive races, especially when just racing here in Le Castellet is a win in itself. We worked really hard to prepare in Official Testing and kept believing in ourselves, but going from tenth to second with only a short gap to the eventual race winner is simply amazing, and more than we could have ever expected.
“I’m the first woman to stand on the second step of the overall ELMS podium and breaking those sort of records is really nice, and it’s fantastic to achieve this as two Silver-graded drivers against three-driver line-ups that include Golds and Platinums. I’m hopeful Bent (Viscaal) and I can carry this form forward into the next round at Imola. Algarve Pro Racing’s mechanics worked perfectly in the pits and the strategy was on point, and this podium gives us the push we all needed. It’s the result of a real team effort, and it proves what we can do if we keep our heads down.”
Bent Viscaal (#19 Algarve Pro Racing ORECA 07 LMP2): “I’m very happy to have reached the podium in my first ever endurance race. I had no expectations, but Algarve Pro Racing managed everything very well, preparing as best as possible, and I’m already feeling confident after only a few days with this fantastic LMP2 car.
“I had to acclimatise to lots of new things, including power steering, traction control and traffic management, but I handled it all well and know there’s much more to come from my side. Sophia (Flörsch) and I are a great pairing, as there’s nothing between our stint averages. It makes things far easier for us all and creates multiple opportunities in the races, so I’m looking forward to building on this performance at Imola.”
Algarve Pro’s #47 crew was less fortunate. A red flag prevented Alex Peroni from registering a qualifying time and John Falb subsequently started Sunday’s 4 Hours of Le Castellet from 17th in LMP2 and 41st overall.
As Falb carved his way through the multi-class traffic, the #47 ORECA received two separate bouts of right-rear contact, damaged suspension resulting in a high-speed spin and an 11-minute repair stop that resigned Falb, Peroni and James Allen to 17th in class.
Algarve Pro Racing Team Principal, Stewart Cox, said: “Sophia made up places on the road before settling down in traffic, but our strategy lifted the #19 car even further up the order. We went from tenth to an eventual second-place finish gently, staying on-plan by installing Bent (Viscaal) for the run to the finish, but taking advantage of a Full Course Yellow, knowing we would have to take on fuel late in the race.
“The #47 car, though, was hit twice on the right-rear corner as John (Falb) made his way through from the very back of the grid after an unfortunate qualifying session. John started the race well and pulled off several overtakes, which is hard to do on pace alone. However, two strikes to the right-rear, and damaged suspension later gave way. We lost laps while fixing the issue and were ultimately resigned to 17th, but Alex (Peroni) was consistently quick in his first ever LMP2 race, and James (Allen) got in and did the job we expected him to do.”