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Manuela Gostner shines in Portimao with victory and double pole positions in Ferrari Challenge

Manuela Gostner continued her successful season in Ferrari Challenge Europe with another victory in Portimao, securing pole positions in both races and masterfully holding off strong competition in a tightly-contested first race, only to see her winning streak interrupted by a technical issue in race 2.


Manuela Gostner, Ferrari Challenge Shell Cup, 2024 Portimao
Photo credits: Ferrari Races

After claiming her first win of the season at Jerez, Manuela Gostner followed up with another race victory in Ferrari Challenge Shell Cup at Autódromo do Algarve in Portimao, which hosted the fourth round of the season.


Gostner, who entered the race meeting third in the championship standings after a highly competitive start of the season, was consistently the driver to beat at the Portuguese circuit, having also secured both pole positions - then masterfully held off the strong competition in a tightly-contested first race, but her winning streak was unfortunately interrupted by a technical issue in race 2.


On her first season behind the wheel of the new Ferrari 296 Challenge car, the Italian racer quickly established herself as one of the leading contenders on the Shell Cup category straight from the get go at Mugello, but bad luck has so far often prevented her from maximising her potential.


Having been hit by a competitor in the season opener, she didn't have to wait long for her first podium, which arrived in race 2. More top-3 finishes followed at the new Balaton Park circuit, before a remarkable first win at Jerez. With the European Ferrari Challenge making a trip to the 4.653 km Portimao rollercoaster circuit, Manuela Gostner was aiming to keep momentum.


Having extensive experience at Portimao from her high-level sportscar racing past in ELMS and WEC, Gostner immediately showcased her expertise: she led free practice on Friday, topping the timing sheets with a 1:43.712 lap time, a significant 0.4 seconds clear of the competition and the only car under the 1:43 mark.


In Q1 on Saturday morning, Manuela continued her dominant form, securing pole position with a 1:43.439 lap, 0.244 seconds ahead of Henry Hassid. This marked her second pole position of the season, following her qualifying success at Jerez.


Manuela Gostner, Ferrari Challenge Shell Cup, 2024 Portimao
Photo credits: Ferrari Races

The race began with a significant crash in the mid-pack, leading to an immediate Safety Car deployment. Starting from pole, Gostner found herself in a tight battle at turn 1 but managed to hold her line, though John Dhillon overtook her around the outside, exceeding track limits. A red flag was then issued due to a three-car accident on the start-finish straight, requiring a lengthy clean-up and barrier repair.


Upon restarting from the initial grid positions, Gostner resumed from pole after one lap behind the Safety Car. She accelerated away cleanly, keeping Hassid at bay. Maintaining a half-second lead over Hassid, the leading duo opened a small gap to third-placed Dhillon.


Despite Hassid setting the fastest lap and increasing pressure, Gostner's defensive driving was impeccable. By lap 6, Manuela set a purple first sector but couldn’t quite shake off Hassid, as Dhillon and Valint also joined the leading battle.


With 10 minutes remaining, Gostner remained precise and in control; a rare mistake by Hassid allowed Dhillon to challenge him, enabling Gostner to extend her lead by 2 seconds.


However, Hassid's new fastest lap with 2 minutes to go and a spinning lapped car in front of Manuela complicated matters. However, navigating traffic cautiously, she held her ground.


On the final lap, Hassid again as close as ever, but Manuela Gostner's masterful defensive driving secured her victory in Portimao's first race - her second consecutive one of the season.


"A very tough and very difficult race for me", Manuela commented after holding off the competition under intense pressure throughout the race. "I guess one of the most difficult races of my life. I had a lot of pressure from my competitor Henry Hassid who was attacking me all the time, but I was able to defend in a very fair and good way, so he wasn't able to pass."


"It was very tough and difficult, but I'm very proud of my team and myself, and I can't wait for tomorrow's qualifying."


Manuela Gostner, Ferrari Challenge Shell Cup, 2024 Portimao
Photo credits: Ferrari Races

And indeed, Manuela continued to showcase her speed at the Portuguese venue on Sunday: in the second qualifying session, Gostner clinched another pole position - this time by the extraordinary margin of 0.001 seconds over Hassid, with a time of 1:42.959.


Starting from pole, Gostner faced stiff competition from both Hassid and Dhillon. A tricky getaway saw the Italian being overtaken by both, with Dhillon taking the lead into turn 1.


Nussbaumer also got by, but Gostner reclaimed third place a few corners later. From that moment on, she was quickly on Hassid’s tail, displaying her impressive pace. The race was then neutralized by a Safety Car due to Mari's off at turn one.


The green flag waved again with 19 minutes left on the clock and Gostner pressured Hassid immediately. The top three opened a gap, but a technical issue on lap 6 ultimately caused Manuela’s Ferrari to slow dramatically. She pitted and retired soon after.


Hassid made a move for the lead but was penalized 10 seconds for causing a collision with Dhillon; although the French driver crossed the finish line first, the penalty awarded the victory to John Dhillon, his first of the season.


"I kicked off the racing weekend on the right foot with two Pole Positions and a fantastic victory in Race 1", Gostner commented. "However, Race 2 didn’t go as planned; unfortunately, I had to retire my car due to a technical issue with the rear left, likely caused by a minor contact at the start."


"It was an extraordinary weekend in terms of performance and I’m looking forward to the next round of the Ferrari Challenge at Paul Ricard ", she concluded.


Despite the setback, Manuela in fact left Portimao with two pole positions and a race win - a healthy haul of points for the championship that will resume on 25-28 July at Circuit Paul Ricard, in the South of France, on another well known circuit for Gostner, who will aim to return to the rostrum and keep her title chances alive.

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