|The latest 24 Hours of Le Mans was an electrifying event in the world of Richard Mille motorsport partners. Sébastien Buemi took home a third consecutive trophy in LMP1 at the wheel of the Toyota TS050 Hybrid. All eyes were on the Richard Mille Racing Team, making its debut appearance. Its trio of female rookie drivers, Beitske Visser, Sophia Flörsch and Tatiana Calderón turned in an error-free performance to finish a strong 9th in the LMP2 category and 13th overall.
Comprised once again of Tatiana Calderón, Beitske Visser and Sophia Flörsch, the previous round of the European Le Mans Series, the Richard Mille Racing Team line-up experienced its first ever 24 Hours of Le Mans.
|Given the ongoing health crisis, the trio of ladies faced a daunting task, as only two three-hour free-practice sessions were scheduled on Thursday prior to qualifying sessions. However, the drivers took full advantage of the time to complete their ten required laps while fine-tuning their settings and experimenting with various tyre compounds from Michelin.
The 45-minute qualifying session was entrusted to Sophia Flörsch. The German driver demonstrated her deft handling in the exercise, clocking in a fastest time of 3:31.020s. Her performance earned the n°50 Oreca-Gibson featuring the logo of the Paris Brain Institute a 20th position in the LMP2 category.
Following on, the crew completed preparations with another five mandatory night-time laps before the final free-practice session on Friday and the warm-up Saturday morning. After 107 laps, more than 1,400 kilometres completed and a final servicing of mechanical components, Tatiana Calderón was charged with the starting slot at 2.30 pm.
|Eagerly awaited at the round-the-clock French classic, the Richard Mille Racing Team was determined not to disappoint onlookers. Tatiana Calderón made an excellent start with a perfect mix of aggression, precision and handling to join the battle for the top ten in her first triple stint. Sophia Flörsch then took over and moved up to ninth place, where Beitske Visser consolidated their position.
As darkness fell on the Circuit, the track incidents multiplied throughout the pack. Back behind the wheel, Tatiana Calderón made the most of other drivers’ mistakes to move up into seventh position. The dreaded night-time portion of the 24 Hours of Le Mans did not prove favourable for the Richard Mille Racing Team, and the nº 50 car slipped out of the top ten for its category at the mid-point of the race following several unfortunately timed safety car periods.
However, the incredibly similar and consistent pace of the three drivers made it possible for them to turn the trend around at dawn on Sunday as they racked up the triple stints. Their efforts finally paid off and they were well on their way back up when they crossed the finish line in ninth place in their category.
On the strength of this first successful completion of the Sarthe region’s legendary race, the Richard Mille Racing Team is already looking forward to returning in nine months to try for further feats. Well before then, however, Beitske Visser, Sophia Flörsch and Tatiana Calderón will be back behind the wheel at Monza (October 9-11) for the penultimate leg of the 2020 European Le Mans Series season.
|Tatiana Calderón: ‘We did it! We made it to the finish in our first 24 Hours of Le Mans! Everyone did a fantastic job and I am delighted with this top ten result. Every lap on this circuit was a real challenge, not to mention the day and night conditions. We learned on every lap, and I know that all three of us have grown as drivers this week. I hope we can come back next year to do even better and thank you to everyone who supported us!’
Sophia Flörsch: ‘The 24 Hours of Le Mans is over and we are in the top ten! It was an incredible race, without the rain we’d expected. This circuit is really something special and I would like to say a huge thank you to Richard Mille and all those who made this experience possible. I have enjoyed working with Beitske, Tatiana and the entire team. It was great and we’ll definitely be back!’
Beitske Visser: ‘I think we can be very proud. We were three rookies on the track and it wasn’t easy to be ready in time with this year’s tight schedule. It makes it all the more incredible that we finished this race which is on everyone’s bucket list. Even better, we finished in the top ten. We are already looking forward to coming back and aiming for an even better result!”
Philippe Sinault, Team Manager of Signatech
‘It’s hard to grasp just how truly monumental this 24-hour race is and how Beitske, Sophia and Tatiana must have felt about their responsibility towards us and the Richard Mille staff. They did a brilliant job, without making the slightest mistake. We owe them a huge salute and our profound respect for this faultless performance. They have also brought a real breath of fresh air to the 2020 race by generating intense interest from fans and other competitors. The eyes of the world were on them, and they didn’t disappoint. Richard Mille can be proud of his trio and we were proud to have shared this adventure with them. They still have two races left this year to complete their first season, and we intend to come back next year with ambitions that are bound to increase!’
Sébastien Buemi, Toyota TS050 Hybrid n°8
‘It’s incredible, it’s quite an exceptional feeling to realise you’ve won three times. We ran the full gamut of emotions during the race. We encountered a lot of problems at the beginning, including a flat tyre and brake problems. We lost two laps at the safety car when we changed parts. At that point we told ourselves that victory was pretty much out of reach. But a few hours later, our luck turned and we won the race in the end. This is once again the proof that the 24 Hours aren’t over till they’re over.’