The newly-crowned Ferrari Challenge Europe champion Michelle Gatting rounded out the season with a podium in Mugello second race - as she will now tackle the World Finals on Sunday.
Michelle Gatting wrote a chapter of the Ferrari Challenge history on Saturday, as the 27-year old Danish racer became the first woman to win the Trofeo Pirelli Europe championship. With a fourth place in Race 1, Gatting sealed the title after a stunning season that saw the Iron Dame taking 3 race victories, 5 pole positions and 11 podiums ahead of the final race of the 'regular season'. "I was hoping for it and I was aiming for it - and we ran away with the title" - said Michelle after the historic moment on Friday. "This was the aim from the start of the season and finally it's done". "The whole project of Iron Dames is to inspire young women and girls out there, and I hope with this title and with everything we've done so far to show that if you are dreaming of something, if you're working hard enough for something you can get it." "For me it was never easy to get to this point, it took a lot of ups and downs, but in the end this is my first title - hopefully many more to come - and I hope we are inspiring girls and women with this project". Gatting has been part of the Iron Dames project since its launch in international races in 2019 and brought home the first championship title to the project led and founded by Deborah Mayer. The Dane has raced in ELMS, WEC, Italian GT, GT World Challenge and Ferrari Challenge for Iron Dames/Iron Lynx and, in 2021, has really been able to combine some exceptional speed with consistency - crucial skills that she has mastered at the top of world's endurance racing in the past couple of years. Michelle built a good lead in the championship standings in the two opening weekends, before Niccolò Schirò joined the series at Brno on the third round. From then on, the two drivers pushed themselves to the limit every weekend and had some outstanding yet fair battles on track. For the final race of the European season, Gatting could push without championship implications and said she would go "all in" without the pressure. Unfortunately, a thick layer of fog on Saturday morning resulted in the two scheduled qualifying sessions (for Shell Cup and Pirelli Trophy) being cancelled, and drivers lined up on the grid based on their race 1 results. Luka Nurmi was thus joined on the front row by Niccolò Schirò, while Michelle Gatting started from P4 alongside compatriot Frederik Paulsen. Young French racer Doriane Pin, also part of the Iron Dames project - had a very positive Ferrari Challenge debut on Friday and moved from P9 to P7 - which would grant the 17-year-old a start from the fourth row. In the early afternoon, the green flag waved on the long Mugello straight and signalled the start of Race 2: Luka Nurmi maintained the lead from Schirò, followed by Michelle Gatting and Thomas Neubauer. Despite she had found herself in fifth place at the end of the main straight, in fact, Michelle was able to go around the outside of both Neubauer and Paulsen and immediately started to chase Schirò in the opening laps of the race. Doriane Pin was also finding positions, before she got squeezed into Turn 2 and 3 and dropped to eighth, while Octane126's Luca Ludwig moved into sixth position after a good getaway. Just behind them, Christian Brunsborg and Sergio Paulet started a tight battle for the AM class classify that would continue throughout the race and that would ultimately assign the title with a thrilling finale. Race 2 turned out to be a cleaner race compared to the Safety Car-disrupted first race: the only incident saw Faisal al Faisal being spun around at Turn 1 by Hanno Laskowski. The German was then handed a 10 second time penalty. Gatting hunted down Schirò and looked menacing during the first stages of the race, but she could not find a way past the Italian and had to settle for third. While Nurmi initially opened a 2.6 second lead, Schirò was able to close the gap and put some pressure on Nurmi - but was never in a position to attempt a move. Behind Gatting - solidly in third place - Neubauer had a technical issue and dropped down the order before eventually pitting. Paulsen was then back into fourth place, ahead of Ludwig and Pin. The closest battles were in the AM class, where Ange Barde first passed Sergi Paulet - temporarily handing the title to Brunsborg - and then took over the lead, restoring the championship order. Barde took class victory, but it was Spaniard Sergio Paulet - eleventh overall - to celebrate the class title. Formula Racing's Luka Nurmi navigated some lapped traffic and crossed the finish line to take his third win of the season - and second of the Mugello weekend - with another flawless run ahead of Niccolò Schirò and Michelle Gatting. Michelle claimed her 12th podium of the 2021 season and completed the European series on a high. Doriane Pin had another solid race and gained one more place from her starting position to finish sixth. While today's race was pressure-free for Gatting, she will now focus on Sunday's Finali Mondiali for the world championship title: one single race where the winner takes it all. The World Final will go green at 11:30 CET.