Christina Nielsen, Alessandro Balzan clinch GTD championship
History was made on Saturday at Road Atlanta as 24-year-old Danish racer Christina Nielsen became the first female driver to win a major full-season professional sports car championship in North America.
Nielsen drove the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 for the first three hours and eight minutes of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Petit Le Mans.
Nielsen and co-driver Alessandro Balzan entered the race with a 32-point lead in the GT Daytona class standings. She only needed to achieve the three-hour minimum drive time in the 10-hour race to clinch the title for herself and Balzan.
Since IMSA's inception in 1969, a number of women have competed in and won races in several IMSA-sanctioned series, including the five-race American Le Mans Series GT Challenge (GTC) title won by Melanie Snow in the class' debut season.
Other women who have won significant road racing titles in North America include Amy Ruman in the SCCA Pro Racing-sanctioned Trans Am Series in 2015 and Margie Smith-Haas in the SCCA Pro American Cities Racing League in 1994.
Nielsen is one of two women to compete full time in the 2016 WeatherTech Championship, along with DeltaWing driver Katherine Legge.
Earlier this year, Nielsen earned her first career WeatherTech Championship victory in March's Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring and added a second victory in the Sahlen's Six Hours of The Glen in July.
"I'm sad that this is perhaps the last time I get to run the 488 this year, but it's absolutely amazing that we ran it and it ran so well," said Nielsen after her three-hour, 8-minute driving stint.
"It's a nice car to drive, the team did a great job, good pit stops. This just shows what the team has been doing all year.
"It's a pleasure to be a part of, they just do so much right and so little wrong. To call ourselves 'champions' this early is unbelievable, but we've still got an endurance championship to go for so, game on."
Nielsen's passion for motorsports began at a young age, as she hails from a family with a strong racing background.
Her father, Lars Erik Nielsen, competed in the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans and Rolex 24 At Daytona. Nielsen started karting at the age of 13 and never turned back as her father helped to guide her career.
She was the first female from Denmark to participate in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and last week received the Colding Cup from the Danish Automobile Sports Union for her success in motorsports and credit to her home country.
Nielsen nearly captured the GTD driver's championship last year for TRG, but fell short of the title by just two points to the Scuderia Corsa team in a season that included a personal-best five podiums.
In 2014, she finished sixth in the IMSA Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama Platinum Cup standings.