Christina Nielsen is on the verge of making history by becoming the first woman to win a major full-season championship in North American professional sports car competition. She’ll join Alessandro Balzan and Jeff Segal in the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 for Saturday’s Petit Le Mans presented by Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort at Road Atlanta (FOX Sports GO, FS1, Live, 11 a.m. ET).
The trio teamed to win earlier this season at Sebring and Watkins Glen, opening a commanding 32-point lead (299-267) over Dodge Viper drivers Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GT Daytona (GTD) standings. Nielsen can claim the title by achieving the three-hour minimum driving time.
“We have our heads in the game,” said Nielsen, a 24-year-old native and resident of Denmark. “I have to drive my minimum time; we are leading the championship by quite a big chunk. And honestly, I am just looking forward to Petit. It’s my favorite track. I think it is an even better event when you are in contention for the championship, so that is going to play a role but I love that event and I can’t wait to be back.”
Starting the event will secure the second consecutive GTD team title for Scuderia Corsa, which won the 2015 crown with drivers Townsend Bell and Bill Sweedler. The California-based team also won the 2013 Rolex Series GT championship in its first full season, with Balzan and Jeff Westphal.
Corvette’s Gavin, Milner Hold 11-Point Advantage Over Ford Duo In GTLM
Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner, four-time winners in the No. 4 Corvette Racing Corvette C7.R, enter Petit Le Mans with an 11-point lead atop the GT Le Mans (GTLM) standings, 314-303. They will be reunited with Marcel Fassler, who co-drove in the season-opening victories at Daytona and Sebring. Teammates Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen are third in the standings with 290 points; they will share the No. 3 Corvette with Mike Rockenfeller.
Gavin and Milner also hold a one-point lead in the Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup for the four longest races on the WeatherTech Championship schedule.
“As a driver, you dream about coming to a race like Petit Le Mans with a lead in the championship,” Gavin said. “Tommy, myself and everyone on the No. 4 team knows what we have to do. If we have a clean race with no mistakes, we will reach our goal in the championship. It’s never easy to do that at Road Atlanta, though. The nature of the racetrack and the size of the field increase that challenge. I feel we are very prepared for the event on the heels of our test there last month. Everyone at Corvette Racing is feeling very positive heading into Petit Le Mans, so now it’s up to us to execute and do our jobs.”
Three-time 2016 winners Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook, second in the standings, will be joined by four-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon in the No. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT. Four-time Champ Car champion Sebastien Bourdais will also compete for the team, joining Joey Hand and Dirk Mueller in the No. 66 Ford GT, reuniting the same driver lineup that won the 24 Hours of Le Mans GTE Pro class in June. Bourdais won in the Prototype class fwith Action Express Racing last year.
Patrick Pilet, Nick Tandy and Richard Lietz return as defending GTLM winners of Petit Le Mans in the No. 911 Porsche North America Porsche 911 RSR. Earl Bamber and Frederic Makowiecki will be joined by Michael Christensen in the No. 912.
“It’s a very special feeling to return to this racetrack a year after our amazing overall victory,” Pilet said. “I can still vividly recall that success. It was one of the most wonderful moments of my career. Petit Le Mans is one of the greatest classics in endurance racing, and to contest a 10-hour event at the end of a tough season is a huge challenge for every race driver. All in all, I’m looking forward to it. We’ve experienced a difficult season and it would be fantastic if we could end it with a victory.”
BMW Team RLL finished second overall at Petit Le Mans last year. John Edwards and Lucas Luhr return for the team, and will be joined by Kuno Wittmer in the No. 100 IHG Rewards Club BMW M6 GTLM. Bill Auberlen, Dirk Werner and Augusto Farfus – fourth in GTLM in 2015 – will co-drive the No. 25 BMW M6.
Two Ferrari teams will be in action in GTLM. Giancarlo Fisichella, Toni Vilander and James Calado will co-drive the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE, while Scuderia Corsa returns to the class with the No. 68 Ferrari 488 GTE for Daniel Serra, Alessandro Pier Guidi and Andrea Bertolini.
Six Manufacturers Battle For Bragging Rights In GT Daytona
With Scuderia Corsa on the verge of capturing the championship with Nielsen, Balzan and Segal in the No. 63 Ferrari 488 GT3, Ferrari is among six manufacturers looking to close the season with a victory to end the season on a high note.
Mathematically eligible for the title, Keating and Bleekemolen join Marc Miller in the final GTD appearance for the No. 33 ViperExchange.com/Cruising with the Monkey Dodge Viper GT3-R.
Park Place Motorsports is defending its 2015 GTD victory at Petit Le Mans, with Patrick Lindsey joined by Joerg Bergmeister and Matt McMurry in the No. 73 Park Place Porsche/Justice Brothers Porsche 911 GT3 R. Mario Farnbacher, Alex Riberas and Ian James share the No. 23 Alex Job Racing/Team Seattle Porsche 911 GT3 R, which holds a one-point lead over Magnus Racing, 23-22, in the Patrón Endurance Cup.
“Our main focus is winning the Patrón Endurance Cup, but more importantly, winning the final race of the season,” said Magnus Racing’s Andy Lally, an Atlanta resident who joins John Potter and Marco Seefried in the No. 44 Audi Tire Center/Auric Solar Audi R8 LMS GT3. “We want to take that checkered flag and end the series on a positive note. We’re going to go for the win, that’s what’s most important.”
Also racing for Audi is Stevenson Motorsports, with Robin Liddell and Mike Skeen joining Andrew Davis of Athens, Georgia in the No. 6 Audi R8 LMS GT3, while Lawson Aschenbach, Matt Bell and Dion von Moltke share the No. 9 entry.
Atlanta resident Spencer Pumpelly and Madison Snow – who both co-drove the winning Porsche in 2015 – will be driving different Lamborghinis in the Italian manufacturer’s Petit Le Mans debut. Corey Lewis joins Pumpelly in the No. 16 Change Racing Pertamina/Monster Energy Lamborghini Huracán GT3, while Snow co-drives the No. 48 Castrol Edge/Universal Industrial Sales entry for Paul Miller Racing with Bryan Sellers of Auburn, Georgia and Bryce Miller. Completing the Lamborghini assault of the No. 27 Dream Racing entry of Lawrence DeGeorge, Paolo Ruberti and Cedric Sbirrazzuoli.
Turner Motorsport is looking to score its second consecutive victory and third of the season for BMW. Circuit of The America class winners Bret Curtis and Jens Klingmann join Ashley Freiberg in the No. 96 BMW M6 GT3. Michael Marsal, Markus Palttala and Cameron Lawrence drive the team’s No. 97 entry.
Petit Le Mans will be streamed live from 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. ET on FOX Sports GO with FS1 authentication. Live television coverage begins from 11 a.m.- noon ET on FS1, resuming from 2:30-6 p.m. on FS2. There will be a three-hour highlight program on FS1 on Monday, Oct. 3, at 7 p.m. ET.