Michelle Gatting adds 2 podiums to her tally in Ferrari Challenge title chase
Iron Dames' Michelle Gatting added two more podiums and a strong amount of points after the Valencia round of Ferrari Challenge Europe, as the Danish driver enters the second half of the season with one clear aim: the title.
Ferrari Challenge Europe has historically represented a great opportunity for female drivers to showcase their ability to a global audience. Many drivers moved their first steps from the Am categories into the Pro classes, with some of them graduating to some of the top championships in the world: Manuela Gostner started her motor racing career in the Ferrari one-make series before stepping up to ELMS and WEC, as well as Fabienne Wohlwend made history and became the first woman to clinch a World Title at the Finali Mondiali in 2018.
Wohlwend, now racing as a front-runner in the all-female F3 championship W Series, was surely one of the top title contenders of the Trofeo Pirelli in the past couple of years.
In 2020, the young driver from Liechtenstein battled hard with Emanuele Maria Tabacchi for the Trofeo Pirelli Pro championship, but she was forced to sit out two rounds due to technical problems and had to give up her title chances. Fabienne, though, was back to full form for the World Finals in Misano - which were actually contested in early 2021 - and was crowned Vice-world Champion.
A new remarkable female contestant had joined the grid in 2020, making some part-time appearances: Iron Dames' Michelle Gatting, who scored outright podiums and returned in 2021 for her full-time title assault.
At the Monza season opener, the Danish driver introduced herself to her rivals with a victory in Race 1, followed by a second place on Sunday. At Red Bull Ring, Gatting was simply unbeatable: her championship tally grew with two more race wins, two pole positions and two fastest laps.
At the Czech venue of Brno Autodrom, Michelle - who is also competing full time in her third season in European Le Mans Series and has just made her debut in WEC at Portimao - was again unchallenged in qualifying and secured two more pole positions, but couldn't convert those into race victories and finished second and third - still adding crucial points for the championship.
The Ferrari one-make series then headed to the Ricardo Tormo Circuit, Valencia, for its fourth round of the season that also marked the half-way point of the 2021 calendar.
The first qualifying session turned out to be a wet one after rain overnight. Drivers went out on the grooved tyres for their first attempts, but the front-runners opted to stay in the pitalena dn wait for the track to be ready for slicks. Among them, Gatting went out in the very final minutes and was fourth fastest.
Unfortunately, that would remain her only timed lap, as Luka Nurmi (Formula Racing) spun on track and brought out the red flag. The session was not restarted and pole position went to Niccolò Schirò (Rossocorsa), ahead of Nurmi, Neubauer and Gatting.
With a limited number of spectators on track - a rather exciting sight these days - the first race of the weekend went underway with Thomas Neubauer (Charles Pozzi - Courage) having a blistering start and took the lead from the second row. Michelle Gatting was quickly up to third as she also got ahead of Finnish 17-year old Nurmi - the latter also having dropped behind John Wartique.
Gatting closed in on the leading duo, ready to pick up the pieces from the battle in front. As soon as on lap 1, in fact, Schirò found his way past Neubauer and re-claimed the top spot, slowly breaking away.
But all the eyes were on the stunning battle for the lead in the Am class - and sixth and seventh overall: local hero Sergio Paulet and Christian Brunsborg had started a tight fight in qualifying, that would continue into both the races: the two Am drivers kept swapping places and showed great racecraft with clean overtaking moves and impressive car control.
Brunsborg came out on top at the end of the 17 laps of race 1.
Niccolò Schirò claimed his third win in a row since he had returned to the championship after a 2 years hiatus, 6 seconds clear of Thomas Neubauer. Michelle Gatting was third, adding one more podium to her resumé.
“Qualifying went pretty well and starting from the front row was an advantage as it is very difficult to overtake on the Valencia track." - commented Gatting.
"I made a good start and, in the middle of the race, I saw Thomas Neubauer was having some difficulties and so I started pushing to try to reach him but, after he made some mistakes and I had some issues with the tyres, so from then on, my only goal became to finish the race. However, I finished ahead of Luka Nurmi and John Wartique. Tomorrow I will try to achieve the pole position.”
On Sunday morning, Schirò once again was on top of the timesheets and secured pole position. Gatting had a better qualifying and clinched a front row start - but missed out on pole by 0.037s, as the Iron Dame was surely left disappointed.
When the lights went out, Schirò held off Neubauer, who was again protagonist of an impressive getaway and had overtaken Michelle Gatting in the run down the first corner.
But the action was soon halted by an accident in the mid-pack that wiped away the chances of John Wartique, Roman Ziemian and Ange Barde. The Safety Car was deployed, as all three drivers were forced to retire.
Nine minutes later, Gatting remained close behind Naubauer at the restart, but had to watch her rearview mirrors from Nurmi. The experienced Dane, though, would force Neubauer to a mistake on lap 9 and grabbed second place.
With Niccolò Schirò already some seven seconds ahead, the attention then focused once again on the heated battle for the leading Am position - this time valid for fifth overall.
Brunsborg held on to fifth, but Paulet - ahead of his home crowd - had no intentions of giving up the win easily.
Delayed by the lap one incident at the start, Arno Dahlmayer (Iron Lynx) and Alessandro Cozzi (Formula Racing) made their way up the order and passed Delacour and Pulcini.
The two, however, would tangle at lap 14, leaving Cozzi with rear suspension damage.
Grouwels and Pinto also spun in the closing stages, but both continued.
Niccolò Schirò won again in dominant style - for the fourth time in a row - preceding Michelle Gatting and Thomas Neubauer on the podium of Race 2.
Luka Nurmi was fourth and Brunsborg fifth - the latter taking Am honors ahead of Sergio Paulet.
“Qualifying was better than yesterday, although I’m disappointed not to have fought for pole position, which I thought was within my capabilities." - Michelle said.
"My goal remains the championship and getting as many points as possible. At the start, I immediately suffered a contact, and I’m not very happy. However, in the end, I had a good race pace and tried to pass whenever I had the chance. Niccolò was too far ahead, and I had no hope of catching him”.
With two more podiums in Valencia, Michelle Gatting continues to lead the Ferrari Challenge Trofeo Pirelli Pro standings, now with a 39-point advantage over Luka Nurmi. John Wartique slipped to third, as Schirò advanced to fourth having missed the two opening rounds.
The series is set to enter its second half of the season at Nurburgring, Germany, on 27-29th August, but Gatting will be back in the Ferrari 488 GT3 Evo way before, as she gets ready for the 4H of Monza, fourth round of the European Le Mans Series on July 11th.