Christina Nielsen makes IMSA history with GT Daytona title SCUDERIA CORSA DRIVER PILOTS FERRARI 488 GT3 TO CLASS CHAMPIONSHIP

MSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship driver Katherine Legge said it best in a pre-event interview heading into the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen. The interviewer asked, “What’s it like being a female race-car driver?”Legge’s reply: “The car doesn’t know the difference.”Clearly, the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 didn’t know the difference in the 2016 WeatherTech Championship. Neither did the No. 007 TRG-AMR Aston Martin Vantage last year.The only thing both cars recognized was that Christina Nielsen, 2016 driver’s champion in the WeatherTech Championship GT Daytona (GTD) class, is one heck of a race car driver.

In 2015, with a variety of co-drivers and working for a GTD team that was hanging up its helmet at the end of the season, Nielsen still came to the Petit Le Mans season finale leading the championship by just one point. She ended up losing it by two points to the Scuderia Corsa Ferrari team.

At the end of 2015, the Scuderia Corsa drivers switched brands, leaving an opening for two drivers. Plenty of teams and manufacturers were interested in the Denmark native and she had a tough choice to make. Not only with the team, but with the adoption of GT3 rules for the GTD class, “almost all the cars would be new for this season,” she says. “It was difficult to predict what would be the best car — reliable and fast.”

In the end, she picked Scuderia Corsa, the Ferrari team that took the championship from her in 2015. For a co-driver, that would be longtime Ferrari shoe Alessandro Balzan. “I really didn’t know him well,” Nielsen says, “I just knew he was fast.”

“I just had a feeling in my gut that he was the one to go with, and that was one of the best surprises,” she says. “He’s such a kind guy, such a good heart. He does this because he loves it. He says, ‘I never feel pressure when it’s something I enjoy doing.’ He’s good behind the steering wheel, he’s a good coach, always helping to set up the car, paying attention to details.”

Nielsen genuinely seems to enjoy having a season-long co-driver to share the championship with, something she didn’t have last year.

Indeed, it was a great season for Scuderia Corsa and the new Ferrari 488 GT3, which did prove to be fast and reliable. The team won the second race of the season, the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, as well as the Sahlen’s Six Hours at the Glen. Nielsen typically qualified the car and started the race, turning it over to Balzan for the finish.

And that’s what happened at Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta earlier this month: Nielsen came into the race with a much larger points lead than she had last year and only had to drive her mandatory three hours to win the championship. She did it all in one stint – three hours, eight minutes behind the wheel – after which she lay down on the pit wall, her helmet still on, and let the moment soak in.

It’s still soaking in.

So what about 2017?

“Next year, it will probably be back to GT Daytona and, of course, Le Mans,” she says — she made her 24 Hours of Le Mans debut in 2015. “That’s a good package for me. I don’t think I’m quite ready to move up.”

The goal? “I’d like one day to compete in GT Le Mans, and be with a factory-supported program. That’s my plan.”

Anyone want to bet against her?

Ferrari 488 GT3

Christina Nielsen drove the Ferrari 488 GT3 to the 2016 championship.PHOTO BY LAT PHOTOGRAPHIC

By Steven Cole Smith, IMSA Wire Service

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