While wandering around the garage area of the Rolex 24 at Daytona, you might have noticed a young, tall, blonde haired Scandanavian woman hanging out in the general vicinity of the Mazda Motorsports trailer. Though she was not a member of the team, she was obviously trying to get a feel for who her future competition might be. At that point, it was less than two months before Christina Nielsen would take the green flag at Sebring International Raceway for the first Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama race of the season.
Not having any experience at the bumpy, challenging Sebring circuit, and only knowing one other driver, 2013 title contender Angel Benitez Jr., Nielsen was forced to learn while doing, and trying to adapt to unfamiliar racing rules. In many ways, her story parallels that of the TUDOR United SportsCar Series itself, and her early success bodes well for the fledgling series.
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."
Nielsen is used to being unique in her group of racing peers. She is the only female driver in the elite Platinum Cup class of the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama series, and is racing more than 4,700 miles and an ocean away from home.
"I was a little bit surprised with my own performance, especially during the first race," Nielsen continued. "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.
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.
"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."
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."
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