Manuela Gostner starts Ferrari Challenge season with a win and a second place
With a spectacular start of the 2023 season, Manuela Gostner claimed her second win of her Ferrari Challenge career, scoring a first and second place finish at Valencia, first round of the Ferrari one-make series.
Ferrari Challenge has seen plenty of female success during the last couple of years: from the historic European title for Michelle Gatting in 2021, to the dominant season of Doriane Pin in 2022, the Italian one-make series has proven to be the perfect platform for GT drivers to showcase their talent in a competitive series.
With experience of some of the world's top sports car championships such as European Le Mans Series and FIA World Endurance Championship - where she raced the Ferrari 488 GTE Evo - Manuela Gostner returned to Ferrari Challenge in 2022, scoring several podium finishes and a couple of fastest laps.
Gostner - who was already a front runner in the Shell Cup in the past, having finished third in the drivers' standings in 2018 - is back in the Ferrari series for a full time campaign with MP Racing, a family effort with her father Thomas and sister Corinna.
At the first round of the 2023 season, the Gostner sisters once again aimed high in the Shell Cup and, at Circuit Ricardo Tormo, Manuela quickly found her pace in qualifying, setting the second fastest lap on Saturday morning.
Gostner was only two tenths off pole-winner Axel Sartingen (Lueg Sportivo - Herter Racing), and half a second faster than Roger Grouwels - showing that the race victories would likely be a battle between the Italian and the German experienced drivers.
Manuela had a brilliant start at lights out of race 1 and fought for the top spot all the way through turn 3 after a stunning wheel-to-wheel duel with Sartingen; the driver of the #193 MP Racing Ferrari had to slot into second, with the German holding the inside line.
15th on the grid, Manuela's sister Corinna had troubles at the start and dropped all the way down the order, eventually losing two laps in the pits with right rear damage.
Manuela Gostner was then under pressure from Fons Scheltema - but as Roger Grouwels also joined the battle, Gostner managed to gain a few tenths over race leader Sartingen.
While struggling a bit with tyre pressures at the beginning of the race, Manuela kept the gap under half a second at the 10 minute mark. Scheltema was back in attack mode, but Manuela held on. Midway through the race, two separate incidents involving Boris Gideon and Paolo Scudieri, as well as Motohiko Isozaki and Henrik Kamstrup brought out the safety car on lap 10.
The race resumed with a little over one minute left on the clock; Sartingen had a great restart, as Manuela Gostner held second position. Scheltema and Christensen battled for third, having passed Grouwels at the restart. Sartingen took the chequered flag to win the first race of the season, ahead of Gostner, Scheltema, Christensen and Grouwels.
Paolo Scudieri claimed victory in the Shell Am class, despite a wounded rear wing.
Manuela Gostner completed the first race of the season with a highly promising second place - having shown pace to battle for the win: it was just a taste of what she would achieve on Sunday.
"I am happy with how the first race went", she commented. "Racing in Valencia is always tough. There are few places to overtake, and everyone is waiting for their opponent to make a mistake. That is why it is important to start at the front and I really hope to get a good position in tomorrow’s qualifying for Race 2."
A sunny Spanish Sunday would eventually reveal to be a perfect day for Manuela Gostner, who claimed pole position for race 2 by a dominant 0.674 of a second. The colorful #193 Ferrari 488 Challenge Evo driven by the talented woman would lead the pack later in the afternoon, aiming to top her already strong start of the season.
Sartingen had a good start from second and tried around the outside of the fast Valencia turn 1, but Manuela kept the foot down and held on to the first place at Turn 2, with Sartingen, Nussbaumer and Scheltema following her. The Safety Car was deployed at the end of the first lap for the stricken car of John Dhillon, who went around at the exit Turn 3.
Corinna Gostner had initially moved up the order in P9, gaining three positions, but then settled in P12 overall after the opening lap.
It was a short caution though and the race went back to green on lap 4, as Manuela perfectly managed the restart. The leader of the Shell-Am class Paolo Scudieri was handed a drive through penalty for overtaking under the safety car.
Scheltema overtook Nussbaumer for third place overall - just as Axel Sartingen started to put pressure on Manuela Gostner. Unfortunately, her sister Corinna spun the #173 MP Racing 488 Challenge Evo on lap 6, but managed to get away from the gravel trap.
While Nussbaumer continued to battle for third, he received a 5 second time penalty for overtaking off track at Turn 1.
Manuela continued to hold off Sartingen, but tyre deg proved challenging for the Italian driver towards the end of the race. However, a careful race management allowed her to hang on.
A thrilling final lap saw Manuela and Sartingen trying to navigate the traffic of two lapped cars; the Italian ultimately crossed the finish line two tenths of a second ahead, claiming the first win of the season. Fons Scheltema was third, ahead of Willelm Van der Vorm and Alexander Nussbaumer.
"I'm super excited about this weekend - in both qualifying and race it was a great result for me", Manuela said. "A pole position and my second win of my Ferrari Challenge career - so I'm super proud and happy."
"My team MP Racing did an amazing job, and my driver coach Giorgio Sernagiotto explained to me quite well the track it seems. I'm happy, happy, happy!"
With a pole position, a first and second place finishes at Circuito Ricardo Tormo, Manuela Gostner couldn't have asked for a better start of the season.
"This victory is due to all the people who supported me throughout the journey", she continued. I can’t wait for the next round at Misano World Circuit."
The Italian circuit will in fact host the second round of the season on April 21-23, before races at Red Bull Ring, Le Mans, Estoril, Spa Francorchamps and Mugello - home of this year's Ferrari World Finals in October.