Hours before the start of the legendary 24 Hour race, Manuela Gostner took a lights-to flag victory at Le Mans in the Ferrari Challenge Shell Cup, among a 70 car field that also saw her sister Corinna securing a top five in class.
Manuela Gostner returned to Le Mans after 2021 - and she did so in spectacular fashion, taking a dominant win in the Ferrari Challenge Shell Cup that brings her back into contention for the championship. Gostner made great use of her experience around the 13.626 km circuit, where she twice entered the 24 Hour race in 2019 and 2020 - finishing both years in the GTE-AM top ten with Iron Dames. Additionally, Gostner had taken two podiums in the Le Mans Cup in 2021, where she shared the #9 Iron Lynx Ferrari with Doriane Pin. Manuela's experience in GTE, as well as her long time presence in the Ferrari Challenge paddock, meant that the Italian driver was back behind the wheel of the fast Ferrari 488 Challenge Evo in 2022, taking two podiums out of six races in the Shell Cup. 2023 would be the year of the title hunt, as she entered the full season with MP Racing and collected a race win at the first round in Valencia. The fourth round of the season would be the one that all drivers had set their eyes on: Le Mans, on the weekend of the legendary centenary race. And Manuela Gostner delivered outstanding performances straight from the first practice session, where she was almost a full second faster than the closest class rival and within the overall top ten, in a massive 70 car field. Manuela's sister, Corinna, also had a positive session with P13 in Shell Cup, while Lisa Clark - who is enjoying a brilliant season in the North American championship of Ferrari Challenge, alongside a partial campaign in Europe - was P16 in Shell-Am. Gostner was back in the leading positions in FP2, led by championship leader Axel Sartingen; when it mattered the most, though, it would be Manuela back on top of the timing sheets in qualifying - as the driver from South Tyrol took pole position by 8 tenths of a second, preceding Sartingen and Peter Christensen. It was another very strong session for Corinna as well, eighth among the Shell Cup entries and just behind her father Thomas. Lisa Clark would line up 18th on the grid in Shell-Am. A few sparse drops of rain appeared on the cars' windshields just before the start of the 30 minute race, in the morning of the mother of all race days. Manuela Gostner had a clean start and kept the lead over Axel Sartingen and Herdt-Wipper, while Christensen dropped to fifth, before he could reclaim fourth. Corinna had a great getaway and moved up to sixth in Shell, as well as Lisa Clark, who gained two places in Shell-Am. A five-car train battled for the top positions, but Manuela Gostner kept her cool and completed the first lap as the leader, albeit followed closely by Sartingen. A small mistake at the Porsche curves for Herdt-Wipper allowed Christensen to get closer. A big crash before the Indianapolis corner involving Carl Cavers and Custodio Toledo scattered debris all over the track and eventually resulted in a Safety Car. Toledo had a tyre failure at speed and his car steered towards Cavers', who couldn't avoid the impact with the barriers. Luckily, both drivers were unhurt. The safety car meant that the Shell pack was now bunched up at the back of the Pirelli class, after a split start. After a lengthy neutralization, the safety car pulled back into the pits with 2 minutes to go - leaving one full lap of racing. Manuela immediately passed a few Pirelli-Am entries in order to open a gap on her Shell rivals, but both Sartingen and Herdt-Wipper followed her. Gostner, though, had done a brilliant job and gained a couple of seconds once in clear air. A slow zone after the Mulsanne corner caught out a few Pirelli class cars, but Manuela perfectly managed the yellow flags and then overtook a few more Pirelli class drivers, closing in on the overall top 20. Axel Sartingen remained right on the #193 MP Racing Ferrari's tail, but the German driver never had a chance to attack Manuela - who crossed the finish line after 7 laps of the legendary Circuit de la Sarthe and took victory at Le Mans in the Shell category. With a spectacular final lap, her sister Corinna got by Schelthema and made it to the top-five, finishing just behind Herdt-Wipper and Christensen. It was Corinna's 6th top five finish in her Ferrari Challenge career, her best result of the season. In Shell-AM, Lisa Clark had made it to 14th place just before the safety car was deployed at the end of the second lap - and then managed to grab one more position on the final lap, completing a very positive and error-free race in P13. The victory at Le Mans brings Manuela Gostner back into contention for the Shell championship, as she moves from fourth to second in the championship standings.