Lisa Clark wins race 1, misses out on top-6 in Shell-AM World Final in closing minutes
American racer Lisa Clark had a great weekend in Imola, winning race 1 in the North American Ferrari Challenge - and was minutes away from claiming a top-6 in the Shell-AM Ferrari World Final, when a technical issue dropped her down the order.
Ferrari Challenge North America headed to one of the most iconic race tracks in Europe, Autodromo Enzo and Dino Ferrari in Imola, joining the European, British and Asia Pacific regional series for one big weekend of racing to round out the 2022 season, as the championships contested the final double-header of the year before the single-race World Final on Sunday.
One of the highlights of the North American grid was Lisa Clark (Ferrari of Beverly Hills), who raced primarily in the American series, but has made several appearances in the European one - making impressive improvements over the course of the season.
Action started early in the weekend, with Race 1 going underway in the setting sun on Friday. Manny Franco took pole position overall, while Dylan Medler - winner of the two races at Sonoma - took pole in the AM class, ahead of the beautiful orange-teal liveried Ferrari driven by Lisa Clark.
The 30 car field kicked off their weekend with a clean start off the line; Franco led Clarke and Kurzejewski in the Pirelli class, as Acosta took first place in Shell AM, followed by Tony Davis and Lisa Clark.
There was early drama for championship leader Jeremy Clarke - as he had contact with the #211 Ferrari Challenge Evo of McCarthy at Variante Alta and had to retire.
Another accident at Rivazza took out Brent Holden, who triggered a Safety Car intervention that erased Manny Franco's gap to Kurzejewski.
The action resumed with 17 minutes to go, as Manny Franco accelerated away into distance, ahead of McCarthy - who meanwhile received a drive through penalty for the accident with Clarke.
In Shell-AM, Acosta had Davis and Lisa Clark breathing down his neck, as the top three in class put on a fight for position.
A second neutralization followed, when Dave Musial beached the #230 Ferrari Lake Forest at Tamburello - leaving only 10 more minutes of racing once the green flag waved again. Roberto Perrina chased Manny Franco at a closer distance - but action was frantic throughout the field. Among the biggest changes was the order of the top three in Shell-AM class, as Lisa Clark was able to snatch the lead in class just before another Safety Car was deployed for Rey Acosta going off at Tosa.
In the final three and a half minutes, Franco really had to work hard for his victory, as Perrina put intense pressure on the penultimate lap; the driver of the #218 Ferrari Lake Forest held on and took victory by one second over Roberto Perrina and Pro-Am winner Custodio Toledo in third overall.
With a brilliant performance, Lisa Clark kept her cool and climbed up to P14 overall, winning Shell-AM, preceding Richard Pineda - 19th overall - and Rey Acosta.
"It was a great win for me to have in Imola - a classic, old school and historic [track], so I'm very grateful for that moment." - Lisa Clark commented.
"It was a big win for me, just being able to race here and unexpected that I would get to first, but it all worked out in my favor."
The title battle went down to the wire, with every point - including the fastest lap - potentially making a difference in crowning the 2022 champion.
Manny Franco was again unbeaten on Saturday morning, as he clinched another pole position in the session that set the grid for race 2. He preceded Jason McCarthy, Dylan Medler and Jeremy Clarke. In Shell-AM, Tony Davis was the fastest driver in class, just ahead of Lisa Clark - who lined up in row 9.
Once again all cars went through the opening sequence of corners unscathed, but Jason mcCarthy could get into the lead at the exit of Villeneuve chicane, when Franco dropped a wheel outside of the racing line. Lisa Clark had a cautious start and lost a position in the Shell-AM category.
The battle for the win saw McCarthy and Franco pulling away; Manny Franco was eventually able to claim the lead after a mistake by McCarthy at the second chicane with 15 minutes to go.
But all classes were just as tightly fought: Lisa Clark set the fastest lap in class and closed in on Acosta for second place in class, as the driver of the #327 Ferrari aimed once again to make the most out of the final race of the season. Clark attacked Acosta at Tosa, as she tried to take advantage of a mistake from her rival, but she was pushed wide and into the barriers. Unfortunately, the class leader from Race 1 dropped all the way down the order.
Drama was never ending and, in two separate incidents, Kaminskey and Choksi - as well as Toledo and Coleman - made contact, bringing out the Safety Car with 7 minutes to go.
The race ended behind the pace car and Manny Franco took a back-to-back race win - but it was Jeremy Clarke, fourth at the finish line, to seal the American title.
In Shell-AM, Tony Davis preceded Richard Pineda and Dan Cornish; Lisa Clark managed to bring her car across the finish line in P24 overall, sixth in class.
SHELL-AM WORLD FINAL
As per Ferrari Challenge tradition, it all came down to the single, 30 minute race to assign the World Championship title, in the most anticipated moment of the weekend: the world final on Sunday.
Lisa Clark had a realistic opportunity to claim a top five, from seventh on the grid, as she joined the Shell AM final together with the European, UK and Asia Pacific entries.
From pole position, Sweden's Joakim Olander held the top spot ahead of Christensen in a Scandinavian 1-2 at the start, while Davis went off at Turn 2 - which allowed Lisa Clark to move into sixth place after a perfect getaway.
Olander and Christensen could break away from the rest of the pack, chased a few seconds down the road by Nussbaumer.
On lap 4, Christensen dived on the inside of Rivazza 1, but he went deep and Olander switched back - with Nussbaumer also taking the opportunity to close back in with the leading duo.
Having gained important experience in the European series throughout the season, Lisa Clark mixed up with the EU entries, well clear of the second placed North American competitor - Acosta, in P15 overall.
Ashish Patel went around at Variante Alta and made contact with the barriers - which brought out the safety car on lap 5. At the restart Peter Christensen had a good reaction but Joakim Olander held on.
Lisa Clark was under pressure from the recovery of Paul Rogers, but when Matthias Moser and Maurizio Pitorri also joined the group, Clark gained some breathing space.
Unfortunately, with 4 minutes to go, her #327 Ferrari Challenge Evo slowed down dramatically at Turn 1 and Clark dropped down the order.
Having led from the start, Joakim Olander crossed the finish line to take the 2022 World Title in Coppa Shell AM, preceding Peter Christensen and Alexander Nussbaumer. Christian Herdt-Wipper and Martinus Richter rounded out the top-five.
Lisa Clark was a few laps short of a top six in the world final - and still crossed the finish line in P19, in a visibly wounded car.
Nevertheless, her progress over the last racing season has been outstanding, under the competent coaching of GT ace Alessandro Balzan.
With the experience collected this year on some of the world's top racing venues, Lisa Clark is likely to return to Ferrari Challenge next year with realistic chances of class victories and podiums in North America as well as Europe.