Manuela Gostner takes Vice-Champion title in Ferrari Challenge EU
With third place in the final race of the European season, Manuela Gostner cemented her second place in the championship and was crowned Vice-Champion in the Ferrari Challenge Europe Shell Cup at Mugello.
Manuela Gostner has secured the Vice-Champion title in the Ferrari Challenge Europe Shell Cup following a podium finish at Mugello, as the Tuscan racetrack hosted the final round of the European season as well as the World Finals.
Gostner, a driver with experience of some of the most prestigious GT series in the world including ELMS and FIA WEC, returned to Ferrari Challenge in 2022, before contesting a full campaign in 2023 at the wheel of the #193 MP Racing 488 Challenge Evo.
With a win and a podium at the season opener at Valencia, Manuela was consistently a front runner in the championship, having also collected a dominant win in a 70 car field at Circuit de la Sarthe in Le Mans. She would add one more victory at Spa Francorchamps to her name, alongside six podiums ahead of the season finale, where the driver from South Tyrol focused on cementing the second place in the championship standings.
Weather was the protagonist of the start of the weekend, as rain and cold temperatures made for a rough start for the 104 drivers across all categories that entered the always spectacular season finale of the Ferrari one-make series.
In wet conditions, the first practice session on Wednesday saw Manuela Gostner running in seventh place, barely one second off the pace setter Cuhadaroglu for the seventh and final round of the European season.
Again in tricky conditions, qualifying was held later in the day and Gostner was eleventh fastest, which put the MP Racing driver on the fifth row of the grid for race one after penalties for Marazzi and Richter. From ninth, Manuela had to take evasive action at the first corner of race 1, as cold and rainy conditions caught several drivers out - including Christian Kinch, who was starting from the front row.
Ernst Kirchmayr held the lead, from John Dhillon and Christian Herdt-Wipper; Gostner retained ninth overall and sixth in the Shell Cup class after the first lap, having perfectly managed the difficult conditions on Thursday morning. On the second lap, Manuela gained two positions overall, just before the safety car was deployed for the big incident of Tommy Lindroth, as the rain increased.
The race resumed with 15 minutes to go and Manuela was soon ready to attack Shell-Am leader Richter; she quickly cleared the #111 machine, followed by Eric Cheung.
Ahead, Fons Scheltema and Murat Cuhadaroglu battled for fourth, but Manuela had to keep Cheung at bay: the Canadian got past on lap 6, but Gostner remained a few tenths behind, ready to seize any opportunity to strike back.
While Kirchmayr pulled away, Dhillon was under pressure from Herdt-Wipper and Scheltema in the final minutes of the race: the British driver resisted the pressure until the final lap, when he dropped behind both his rivals at the very last corner, as Herdt-Wipper and Scheltema rounded out the podium.
Having been faster than Cheung for a few laps, Manuela Gostner also found a way past the Canadian on the last lap and took the chequered flag in sixth place, following a good recovery drive in the penultimate race of the European series' campaign.
Up to 93 points after race 1, Manuela Gostner was on a mission to secure the runner up spot in the championship standings after the final 30 minute race on Friday.
Her 2:19.704 second-fastest lap in Wednesday's qualifying resulted in a start from eighth place for race 2 - started in dry conditions albeit with grey skies and cold temperatures.
Gostner had a cautious approach at turn 1 and successfully avoided contacts and battled for seventh, eighth and ninth place overall over the first lap. The safety car, though, was soon deployed for the stricken car of Christian Kinch, following contact with Cuhadaroglu.
Axel Sartingen had retained the top spot - but he was handed a drive through penalty for a jump start, which gifted the lead to Ernst Kirchmayr at the end of the fifth lap.
Eighth at the restart, Manuela Gostner had a brilliant pace in dry conditions and soon passed Marazzi and Isozaki, climbing up to sixth overall. Gostner fought for position with Herdt-Wipper - who found a way past at the direction change of turn 2 with 16 minutes to go.
With Cuhadaroglu also serving his penalty for the first lap incident, Gostner was up to net fifth: she battled with Kanji Yagura and the two traded positions a few times.
Just ahead, Christian Herdt-Wipper had caught John Dhillon and, after a late move by the German at the final corner, the two made contact and were out of the race in dramatic fashion.
Both Yagura and Gostner avoided the accident and were up to second and third, as the race was neutralized with 9 minutes to go. Kirchmayr had a big gap at the restart as Yagura left over a second and a half gap; with 2 minutes remaining rain started to come down and Manuela Gostner was quicker than the Japanese driver, although the safety car was back out a few corners later as cars were skating off the track.
Ernst Kirchmayr took back-to-back wins to round out the 2023 Ferrari Challenge Europe Shell Cup season, ahead of Kanji Yagura and Manuela Gostner - who had gained five places from her starting position to step on the podium in the final contest of the season.
“It was a very confusing race with many particular situations", Manuela commented. "I would say I was satisfied because I finished third after starting eighth, a result that allowed me to finish in runner-up spot in the championship."
Despite Kirchmayr's victory, in fact, Manuela's third place was enough to finish 12 points ahead, having totalled 103 points over the course of a widely competitive season.
"For this I am really happy and I thank my team and my coach", Manuela continued. "Now we are focused on the Finali Mondiali.”
As per tradition, the same class of the European and North American championship come together for the grand finale which assigns the world championship title of the Ferrari one-make series. Saturday was qualifying day, with 22 cars taking to the track for the final race of the year. Manuela clocked a 1:53.052 lap on her final attempt, which put her in the top 6 group that advanced to the Super Pole session by 0.031 of a second and in an extremely compact field.
In the Super Pole, Manuela had speed to fight for pole position - but would have to outperform some very fast and experienced drivers such as Kirchmayr, Sartingen, Scheltema, Root and her father Thomas. Manuela topped the timing screens with 5 minutes to go - but her personal best was then topped by Thomas Gostner with three minutes left on the clock.
Just as Manuela was on a purple sector and was about to claim back provisional pole, Thomas made a mistake and went off, bringing out the red flag.
In the final attempt, it would be Ernst Kirchmayr to snatch Super Pole, leaving Manuela Gostner in third place on the grid for the Shell Cup World Final on Sunday.
From the second row of the grid, Manuela Gostner had a good getaway and had temporarily moved into second place by passing her father Thomas; at turn 1, though, Axel Sartingen managed to take the inside line and grabbed second, following Ernst Kirchmayr who retained the lead from pole position.
A safety car soon neutralized the action before the end of the first lap due to the beached #116 Ferrari of Kanji Yagura. At the green flag, Kirchmayr perfectly managed the restart and Manuela Gostner followed the leading duo as Herdt-Wipper completed a pass for fourth at turn 1.
Herdt-Wipper then sent an over-optimistic attack two laps later on Manuela - and, by trying to squeeze his Ferarrai 488 Challenge Evo in a closing gap on the inside line, he hit Gostner's car at first right hander. Manuela ended up with damage and had to pit, completely destroying her chances to finish the season with a strong result in the World Final. Herdt-Wipper was handed a drive through for causing the collision, but Gostner was out of the race.
Kirchmayr and Sartingen fought for the win but the duel for the world title was interrupted by a crash on the main straight for Kinch, who was luckily okay after a tyre failure at high speed. With the safety car deployed with two minutes to go, Ernst Kirchmayr was therefore crowned Ferrari Challenge Shell Cup World Champion.
Despite the unfortunate ending, nothing can take away from Manuela Gostner's superb season in Ferrari Challenge, where she clearly established herself as one of the leading Shell Cup competitors and, with three wins and seven podium finishes, a title contender for most of the season, in arguably her best campaign in the Ferrari championship.