Christina Nielsen wins 2016 IMSA GT Daytona title with Ferrari

Christina Nielsen made motorsports history Saturday at Road Atlanta by becoming the first female driver to win a major full-season professional sportscar racing championship in North America, capturing the GT Daytona (GTD) title in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

Danish driver Nielsen, 24, and teammates Alessandro Balzan and Jeff Segal placed third in the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 at the season-ending Petit Le Mans presented by Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort. That result delivered the title to full-season teammates Nielsen and Balzan, who each earned their seventh podium finish of the season on the 12-turn, 2.54-mile circuit.

Nielsen and Balzan finished with 330 points in the WeatherTech Championship GTD standings, 27 points ahead of runners-up Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen.

“It feels great,” Nielsen said. “My phone is blowing up, and I see all these images of us, and they are great. We are happy, we are smiling, we are laughing. Everyone has enjoyed the hard work that we put in all year, and when you constantly have these reminders from social media, it sort of hits you: ‘Wow, we just did this. This is actually happening.

“And there are no other people than Alessandro Balzan, Jeff Segal and Scuderia Corsa that I would like to share it with.”

Nielsen only needed to complete her mandatory three-hour drive time for this 10-hour endurance race to clinch the championship. Scuderia Corsa ensured that requirement was fulfilled quickly, as Nielsen drove the opening three hours, eight minutes in the Ferrari F488 GT3.

She started fourth under sunny skies and air temperatures in the mid-70s but dropped to seventh after contact from the Lamborghini driven by Corey Lewis, which dislodged the right-side mirror and damaged the rear camera. Nielsen also was forced to cope without water due to a broken drinking tube.

Scuderia Corsa devised a conservative strategy to manage the issues, which also helped keep Nielsen in a smooth rhythm and out of potential trouble.

“It was definitely mentally draining,” Nielsen said. “Everyone knew we had something to lose, so they knew we wouldn’t fight back too hard. I really had to be careful about every move that I made out there on track.

“The team did a great job of keeping me calm, talking to me, keeping me updated and giving me feedback.”

Nielsen safely and smoothly completed her stint, with Balzan and Segal behind the wheel during the last seven hours of the race.

Balzan and Segal deftly rode the crests and drops of the roller-coaster running order of the GTD class over the last seven hours. They each drove the No. 63 Ferrari 488 GT3 into third place at the five-, eight- and nine-hour marks of the race.

A flat tire inside the final hour pushed back Balzan to eighth place. But he powered through his final stint, pulling the Scuderia Corsa team to fourth place at the finish. Nielsen, Balzan and Segal were elevated to the final spot on the podium after the No. 44 Audi, which crossed the line in third, was moved to last in the class after the race because one of its drivers didn’t meet the minimum drive time.

“It’s as always an absolute pleasure working with Scuderia Corsa,” Nielsen said. “They’ve done an amazing job all year, and Balzan has been amazing to work with, as well as Jeff Segal. I really just enjoyed it; it’s been more fun than it’s been hard work. Time flies with these guys.

“I really enjoy driving the 488, as well. Ferrari has made an amazing product. I think that has shown over the season. The team has done a great job at setting it up and to finally reach this point in October, when we started in January, is a great gift to give back to the team and to Ferrari.”

Nielsen ended the season with her first two victories in the WeatherTech Championship, at the 12 Hours of Sebring and Six Hours of The Glen, and seven overall podium finishes. It was a storybook year of racing in North America for her that ensured a spot in history and could blaze trails for future female drivers.

“Obviously this is an honor,” Nielsen said. “I think it’s very important to send a message to females who are working in male-dominated environments or young girls who might want to do karting: We can do this; we can compete equally with the guys. We can work just as well with the guys, against the guys.

“I hope that this is the message that I can send, and then, of course, use all the attention for our partners. It’s something that I am proud of, for sure, but honestly to be sitting here with my co-driver, we are two drivers. And it feels absolutely amazing to be the champions of the 2016 GTD class.”

Christina Nielsen Press Release