Ferrari Challenge: Michelle Gatting extends Championship lead with double podium
Michelle Gatting has finished on the podium in every race of this year's Ferrari Challenge Europe so far. At Nürburging, the streak continued and the Iron Dame - who has also added one more pole position to her resumé - further extended her lead in the championship.
Iron Dames' racing program must be one of the busiest in motorsport this year. The all-female team created by Deborah Mayer and run by GT powerhouse Iron Lynx had just finished the big weekend of Le Mans, where they brought the #85 Ferrari 488 GTE Evo to ninth place in LMGTE-Am class, that they immediately headed to another historic track, Nürburging, for the fifth round of the 2021 Ferrari Challenge Europe. In the Pirelli Trophy of the Italian one-make series, in fact, Michelle Gatting is leading the championship standings after a remarkable season, where the Danish ace has already claimed 3 victories and has finished on the podium in every race so far. In the #83 Iron Dames Ferrari 488 Challenge Evo, Gatting secured pole position on Saturday morning - once again showing outstanding pace despite a red-flagged session. In the final minutes, Michelle outqualified her main title contender, the Italian Niccolò Schirò, as well as Thomas Neubauer and John Wartique, who lined up on the second row. "It was amazing to be finally beat Nicolò in the qualifying - he has been very fast so far and he's been the one to beat. Finally I did it, and I'm happy to do it in the rain". - said Michelle after clinching her fifth pole position of the season. "Let's see what we can do in the race, but another pole position was very needed." Race 1 The race started on a damp track and Michelle Gatting was very cautious into Turn 1. Schirò had a good start from second and went alongside Gatting, before taking the lead after Turn 1, when Michelle was also passed by Thomas Neubauer. From the third row, Luka Nurmi had a great start off the line but then quickly dropped to sveneth place, as an accident in the midfield saw Laskoswki making contact and going around. Christian Brunsborg also spun as he tried to avoid the incident and ended up clipping the grass and going deep into the run-off area of Turn 1. Gatting came under pressure from John Wartique, but the Belgian soon had to defend from the quick Luca Ludwig, a Nürburging specialist making his debut in the Ferrari Challenge with Octane126. This battle allowed Gatting to open a gap and Ludwig overtook Wartique on the third lap with a clean move at the final corner. The Safety Car was deployed when Brunsborg's Formula Racing's Ferrari came to a halt. The recovery of the vehicle turned out more problematic than expected and the action could only resume with 11 minutes left on the clock. At the green flag, the top-three pulled away and opened a significant gap over the rest of the pack, where Ange Barde was making his way through the AM field until 9th overall. François Lansard made contact with Alessandro Cozzi and spun at Turn 4, but was able to rejoin in the hectic midfield. Ahead, Schirò took a controlled victory ahead of Neubauer and Michelle Gatting. Luca Ludwig was an impressive fourth at his series debut for Octane126, the team that had brought Fabienne Wohlwend to the championship title in 2018 and to the vice-champion title in 2020. “Obtaining pole position was very satisfying, and I must admit that it was my best qualifying in a long time." - rounded up Gatting. "Starting from top spot, I had to pay close attention to my pursuers and stay focused. In qualifying, I beat Niccolò Schirò and Thomas Neubauer. However, they both passed me at the start, so I decided simply to chase them. I’m delighted with the result and how the championship is going”.
Race 2 The heavy rain ultimately did arrive on Sunday, with a wave of bad weather hitting most of Central Europe. Not far away from the Nürburging, on the other side of the border, F1 was facing its problems with starting the Belgian Grand Prix when the Ferrari Challenge Trofeo Pirelli went underway in not too similar conditions. Niccolò Schirò had taken pole position in the morning qualifying session, ahead of championship leader Michelle Gatting. Thomas Neubauer and Finnish racer Luka Nurmi followed on the second row of the grid. The race started behind the Safety Car, which preceded the field for the opening laps. Neubauer spun just as the pace car was about to get back in the pitlane - proving the extreme conditions that the 21 drivers had to face in Race 2. Gatting attacked Schirò on the run down towards Turn 1, but had to back off despite the pole sitter going deep. The Danish driver was visibly faster and continued to put pressure on his rival: after a full lap of exciting racing, it was Luka Nurmi to take advantage of the battle unfolding in front of him, and drove around the outside of both Gatting and Schirò at Turn 4 to take the lead. Gatting finally found a way past Schirò on the final corner after a better exit from the final chicane. Having completed the pass, Gatting had better visibility and hunted down Nurmi, lapping almost half a second per lap quicker. With 10 minutes to go, Brunsborg made contact with Rosi and slipped off the track, making contact with the barrier. The race remained under green though, and Luca Ludwig, who had previously made it up to fourth place, managed to get ahead of Schirò as well with a decisive move at the final corner to take the final step of the podium. Just when Michelle Gatting had closed the gap and was getting ready to attack Nurmi for the win, Omar Jackson spun and beached his #99 HR Owen's Ferrari in the gravel trap. The incident brought out the Safety Car and effectively denied Gatting of an opportunity in the final 5 minutes of racing. The race was in fact completed under neutralization, with 17-year old Finnish driver Luka Nurmi taking his second win of the season, ahead of Michelle Gatting and Luca Ludwig. “Qualifying went quite well and so I started from the front row alongside Niccolò Schirò." - explained Michelle. "I knew that we would have a battle, but I didn't imagine that it would be so tough." "After one of his mistakes, I managed to get past him and tried to catch Luka Nurmi. If the Safety Car hadn’t been triggered, I would have won the race because I was faster and he had started to make quite a few mistakes. It was a shame, but they are still important points towards the championship.” With a third and a second place finish at the Eifel, Michelle Gatting extended her championship lead to 44 points over Luka Nurmi, with Niccolò Schirò up to third in the points ranking. Shell Cup But Gatting wasn't the only woman on track at this weekend's Ferrari Challenge round, as American driver Lisa Clark joined the European series at Nürburging in the Coppa Shell AM class. A regular entrant in the North American championship, Clark started from 17th on the grid in Race 1 and was ninth in class across the finish line on Saturday, at the wheel of the #130 Ferrari of Beverly Hills 488 Challenge Evo - sporting a beautiful Gulf-inspired livery. In treacherous conditions on Sunday, Clark repeated the results from the previous day, with a ninth place in the Shell-AM from 17th on the grid. Lisa Clark will be back in Europe for the final race of the season - the Finali Mondiali - this year held at Autodromo del Mugello. Meanwhile, Ferrari Challenge Europe will be back for its penultimate round at Spa Francorchamps, Belgium, on September 11-12.