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Apr 24, 2014 - 06:19 AM
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Nielsen On Fast Track To Success In First North American Season
Posted by: newsla on Apr 24, 2014 - 06:18 AM
Sports Cars
Nielsen On Fast Track To Success In First North American Season


When Christina Nielsen walked into Sebring International Raceway in March for the first Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama race of the season, she was a stranger in a strange land in more ways than one.

 

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She knew only one other driver, 2013 title contender Angel Benitez Jr. She never had turned a lap on the fast, bumpy, challenging Sebring circuit. She was learning and adapting to unfamiliar racing rules. She was the only female driver in the elite Platinum Cup class of the series. And she was more than 4,700 miles and an ocean away from home.

Pressure? No problem.

Christina Nielsen Nielsen, from Aarhus, Denmark, produced an impressive debut in the series at Sebring as she started her first full season of racing in North America. She finished fifth in both races in the No. 25 911 GT3 Cup car fielded by powerful NGT Motorsport after starting fifth and sixth, respectively.

"The times in qualifying were really close," Nielsen said. "I have a goal that I always want to go for pole. But it takes time. I know that.

"I was a little bit surprised with my own performance, especially during the first race. If you look at the top 10, it looks like me and Michael Lewis are the only drivers new to the Challenge who haven't raced here before and haven't been to the tracks."

Nielsen will head next to another new track for her, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, for two Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama rounds Sunday, May 4 on the 11-turn, 2.238-mile circuit featuring the famous "Corkscrew" turn.

It's another stop on a whirlwind tour of new places and faces this year in North America that she hopes help her reach her goal of a full-time professional sports car drive. But experiencing new circuits and cultures is nothing new for Nielsen, 22.

She has raced all over Europe since beginning her career in karting in 2007, driving for Chiese Corsa, the renowned factory team owned by former Champ Car champion and 2012 London Paralympics cycling gold medalist Alex Zanardi. She climbed to open-wheel junior formulas in 2010 and 2011, mainly in Germany.

In 2012, during an early-winter morning test at Adria International Raceway in Italy, Nielsen's career shifted gears to sports cars after her first run in Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car.

Nielsen and her father, 24 Hours of Le Mans Porsche veteran Lars Erik Nielsen, decided to team up with Farnbacher Racing in the German Carrera Cup, one of the most competitive one-make series in the world. She achieved two victories in the B-Championship and the best position ever achieved by a female driver in the history of German Carrera Cup.

She climbed to GT racing in 2013 in the German GT Championship known as ADAC GT Masters. She secured the B-Championship with five victories and 14 podium finishes in 16 starts despite the tragic death of her ADAC GT Masters co-driver, fellow Dane Allan Simonsen, in a crash in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June.

After a brief stint of racing in the Porsche GT3 Middle East Challenge in late 2013 and early 2014, Nielsen set out for America. Her only prior experience racing on these shores came at Petit Le Mans in October 2013 in a Porsche fielded by NGT, with current Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama points leader Benitez as one of her teammates.

So the challenge of learning new tracks began anew in January at Daytona International Speedway, racing on a circuit with banked turns for the first time. She also is competing in TUDOR United SportsCar Championship endurance events at Daytona for NGT's GT Daytona Porsche at Daytona, Sebring, Watkins Glen and Petit Le Mans.

Christina Nielsen at Sebring Christina Nielsen (middle) chases Angel Benitez Jr. at Sebring. Testing is helping Nielsen learn new circuits. She also watches videos, asks teammates for tips and learns track layouts through video games - anything to accelerate the learning process. That's not surprising from a young woman who is combining her promising racing career with university studies in marketing and management communication in her native Denmark.

"I'm really going to focus on learning the track," Nielsen said. "But that's the way it's going to be the entire season. I've always prepared myself for maybe lacking a bit in the first free practice and maybe the second. The others know the track. You're always faster when you come back to a track.

"I just need to keep believing in myself. I need to keep believing the team will give me a good car so I can be as competitive as possible."

Nielsen also is adapting to different interpretations of racing rules in North American competition compared to other parts of the world.

"I think the rules in America are a bit more strict," she said. "For example, the blocking rule I found very surprising. I've never heard about that before. It was good and bad. If I was overtaking, it was awesome. If I was about to be overtaken, it was not so awesome.

"They told us at the drivers' briefing that you're not allowed to block another driver by moving after he has moved. Rules like that, we've never had before. I'm used to it being much more difficult to be overtaken but also much more difficult to overtake.

"This definitely makes the race more interesting. It trains your ability to think ahead, to try to create an idea of what the other driver is going to do."

Nielsen and her father already are thinking ahead for this season, envisioning her final position in the standings after the last race of the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama season in early October at Road Atlanta.

"Top five in the championship would be very nice," Nielsen said. "But I am aware of the fact the top 10 are very fast. Top five, and also top three. We're aiming as high as possible. We set our goals high. We are ambitious people."

Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama

The IMSA Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge by Yokohama enters its 10th season in North America as one of Porsche's largest single-make Cup Challenge series in the world. The series produces intense, exciting competition for semi-professional and aspiring professional drivers in one of the world's most successful and iconic race cars, the Porsche 911 GT3 Cup. Racing is divided into two classes - Platinum Cup, featuring the new 2014 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car, which is based in on the current seventh generation of the street car, and Gold Cup, which is comprised of the previous version (2010-2013) of the race car. The series is the perfect platform for aspiring drivers to ascend to the highest levels of GT competition, such as the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship. The series races at classic American road courses, providing thrills for drivers and fans.

IMSA

The International Motor Sports Association, LLC (IMSA) is the sanctioning body of the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, the professional road-racing series resulting from the merger of the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila PatrĂ³n and the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series. IMSA also sanctions the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge and the developmental Cooper Tires Prototype Lites Powered by Mazda, as well as four single-make series: Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama; Ultra 94 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Michelin; Ferrari Challenge North America; and Lamborghini Super Trofeo North America. IMSA is the exclusive strategic partner in North America with the Automobile Club de l'Ouest (ACO), which operates the 24 Hours of Le Mans as a part of the FIA World Endurance Championship. The partnership enables selected TUDOR Championship competitors to earn automatic entries into the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans.

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