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Nielsen looking to make history for women at Petit Le Mans
The Ferrari 458 Italia No60 of the Formula Racing driven by Johnny Laursen, Mikkel Mac and Christina Nielsen in action during the 84th 24-hour Le Mans endurance race on June 18 in Le Mans, western France. - photo by Kamil Zihnioglu

Christina Nielsen and her teammates have already done the math.

The most important number in the equation is 32. That’s how many points ahead of the competition the Scuderia Corsa team of Nielsen, Alessandro Balzan and Jeff Segal are in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s GT Daytona class heading into the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta on Saturday.

After crunching the numbers, they discovered there’s still a way for another team to overcome their enormous lead on the final day of the season. Not only would they miss on a perfect shot at the season title, but they’d lose a chance to make racing history.

If the No. 63 Ferrari 488 GT3 can take care of business in the 10-hour endurance race, Nielsen would become the first woman to ever win a major international motorsports championship.

“I’ve thought about that all season, to be honest,” Nielsen said Thursday. “I would first of all be very proud to be a driver to reach that. Of course it’s also nice to be representing the female gender here in motorsports. There aren’t that many of us.”

Faced with the same opportunity last season, Nielsen fell just short at Road Atlanta.

The Denmark native carried a tenuous one-point lead into last year’s Petit Le Mans, only for the Scuderia Corsa team of Townsend Bell, Bill Sweedler and Segal — oddly enough — to walk away from the event with the GTD season title by a two-point margin.

“The rain last year definitely played a large role, not to our advantage,” Nielsen said of the race that was cut short by more than two hours due to nasty weather. “We probably didn’t play our cards exactly right.”

Despite the disappointment, she instead focused on the team’s strong season that featured five podium finishes and a second-place season finish in the season GTD standings.

But Nielsen has one-upped herself this year.

She helped Scuderia Corsa place first overall in the grueling 12 Hours of Sebring and the 6 Hours of Watkins Glen, two of six podium finishes Nielsen and her co-drivers earned in 2016.

“That was one of the things that was missing last year,” Nielsen said. “I think we finished in second three or four times, so to finally get that first place was definitely one of the highlights of the season.”

That remarkable run has Nielsen positioned to make history in the Petit Le Mans on Saturday. The Danish driver said last year’s near-miss has helped her handle pressure this season and that while the team is preparing as diligently as ever, there’s a more relaxed atmosphere this time around.

“I would say there’s a bit more relaxed atmosphere because of the lead that we have in the championship,” Nielsen said. “It’s a more relaxed atmosphere, but we’re not relaxed. We’re still working at it because it’s not home yet. We haven’t won it.”

But Road Atlanta is a track fraught with challenges, even for a team with such a comfortable lead. The 2.54-mile course contains crafty curve combinations, elevation changes and blind corners.

Nielsen, however, said Road Atlanta might be her favorite track. It’s the first circuit she ever raced in America, and she claimed she has “been in love with it” ever since because of its old-school style and set of challenges.

Lars-Erik Nielsen — Christina’s father who has raced at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in France, the event on which the Petit Le Mans is based — will be in attendance Saturday. He’ll be there to see if his daughter can capture the GTD championship and the endurance title that accumulates points from the four longest races of the series, which the Scuderia Corsa team trails by just two points.

Though Nielsen is focused just on winning the Petit Le Mans, she could achieve something even greater for women in motorsports.

“To be able to prove that we’re also there and get our name on the list to show that females belong here just as much as men do,” Nielsen said, “would of course be an enormous bonus on the side of being a driver winning the championship.”

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