SEBRING, Fla. – The biggest compliment you might offer Christina Nielsen and Ashley Freiberg, two rising talents in the world of sports car racing, is to simply call them racing drivers rather than female racing drivers.
Nielsen and Freiberg banked a 1-2 finish in Saturday’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh from Florida in the highly competitive GT Daytona class of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, but in doing so they were key cogs in the respective lineups.
Nielsen, who scored five podiums including four runner-up finishes driving with TRG-AMR last year, switched to the Scuderia Corsa team for this year.
With the Giacomo Mattioli-owned squad that also features the leadership of racing veterans Stefan Johansson and Eric Bachelart, along with technical director Roberto Amorosi, Nielsen drove with Jeff Segal and Alessandro Balzan to capture the inaugural win for the new Ferrari 488 GT3 in its worldwide debut.
Nielsen, who’s also secured one class win and additional podium finishes in Pirelli World Challenge and podiums in the IMSA Porsche GT3 Cup USA Challenge by Yokohama in the last few years, made it clear today’s result was a big one.
“With two females on the podium today, it’s a step in the right direction,” she said post-race. “I love competing against everyone. And I hate hearing only, ‘Gentlemen, raise your trophies.’
“I think it’s cool there’s two of us on the podium today. And it’s, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, raise your trophies!’
“When I raced in Porsche Cup, they changed it to, drivers start your engines. So, progress!”
The 24-year-old Dane finished second in last year’s GTD points standings, incidentally, behind what was then Scuderia Corsa’s lineup of NBCSN IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell and Bill Sweedler.
“It feels great. It’s what we’ve been waiting for,” she said. “I had amazing co drivers last year too (James Davison and Brandon Davis), but having accomplished it now, it is absolutely amazing.
“Sebring, it’s a unique event. Its probably my favorite besides Petit Le Mans.
“I thought around midway we might end up not finishing the race. But it really gave me some strength to believe in the team even more. It was not easy to make the decision for 2016, but the win today made it secure we made the right choice, and now we’re in a good path for the championship.”
She is the first female winner at Sebring since Liz Halliday won the LMP2 class in 2006.
Freiberg, who is a past winner in Porsche GT3 Cup and has also won twice in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, secured her first career podium in the WeatherTech Championship co-driving the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3 with Jens Klingmann and Bret Curtis.
“I never would have thought we’d finish second today,” Freiberg, also 24, told NBC Sports post race. “Considering we’re down a bit in straight line speed, and also, we needed the last caution to make it on fuel. Once we got that we were good to go.”
Freiberg will have a busy year on tap, with a switch to the Prototype Challenge class at the next round of the championship in Long Beach with Starworks Motorsport and new co-driver Mark Kvamme. She’ll have one test at Road Atlanta prior to the race.