Michelle Gatting seals Ferrari Challenge Europe title
We have a champion: with a race to spare in the 2021 Ferrari Challenge season, Michelle Gatting was crowned Trofeo Pirelli Europe Champion after finishing P4 in a Safety Car-disrupted race 1 at Mugello.
Michelle Gatting's 2021 season was an incredibly busy one: as part of the Iron Dames project, the 27-year-old Dane toured the world with the all-female team in championships spanning from FIA WEC, ELMS, Italian GT, GT World Challenge and Ferrari Challenge. After entering selected rounds in 2020, in fact, Gatting joined the Ferrari one-make series in a full-time basis in 2021, starting the European championship with a victory at Monza. She would claim two more wins at Red Bull Ring, five pole positions and 8 more podiums throughout a tightly fought championship with Italian racer Niccolò Schirò, who joined the series at the third round at Brno. Gatting made consistency her best quality - a crucial feature for anyone with her experience at the top of endurance racing - and entered the season finale at Mugello with a 29-point advantage over his closest rival. Ahead of the Ferrari World Finals on Sunday, the Iron Dames driver started off the weekend with a flawless drive on Thursday, as she led both practice sessions with a dominant 0.7 seconds gap to Schirò (FP1) and Nurmi (FP2). Joining the Ferrari Challenge series for the first time was also fellow Iron Dames racer Doriane Pin: the 17-year old Frenchwoman had a very solid GT racing debut season in Michelin Le Mans Cup - firstly teaming up with Sarah Bovy and then with experienced Manuela Gostner - and also took part in the recent FIA F3 female test. Pin, at her first outing in the Ferrari 488 GT3 Cup Evo, was fifth in both practice sessions, in a very convincing performance. On Friday morning, clue skies yet chilly temperatures welcomed the 44 drivers of the Shell Cup and the field of 32 of the Pirelli Trophy for the first qualifying session. In difficult conditions, Q1 turned out to be heavily disrupted by red flags: 2 interruptions in the opening minutes meant that Michelle Gatting could only go out and set her first timed lap with 10 minutes left on the clock. It would remain her only competitive time, which put the #83 Iron Lynx car in second place on the grid, only 0.055 seconds short of pole position. Traffic and a third red flag, in fact, prevented Gatting from improving in the final minutes, having already used the peak of the new tyre. Luka Nurmi took pole position, while Niccolò Schirò was third fastest, in a last minute effort. Doriane Pin lined up in ninth position for the afternoon's race. When the lights went out, Nurmi retained the lead into Turn 1, but a blistering start from Niccolò Schirò brought the Italian up to second, demoting Michelle Gatting to fourth after a slower getaway - also behind Frederik Paulsen. Doriane Pin had a very good launch and moved up two places, slotting into seventh after the first lap. Gatting was determined to reclaim what she had lost and went on the hunt for compatriot Paulsen. Unfortunately, her chase was halted by the first Safety car, which was deployed on the second lap of the race when Omar Jackson lost control of his car at Turn 4 and spun out in the gravel. The race was resumed with 20 minutes to go; Gatting had a good restart and approached Turn 1 aggressively, but also had to defend from the fast Thomas Neubauer. While Michelle was trying to find a way past Paulsen, Schirò was also having a good run on Nurmi for the top spot, but the Finn held on. A second Safety car freezed the action once again when John Wartique cutted across the track and hit Enzo Potolicchio at Turn 5, sending both into the tyre barriers. Potolicchio, second among the Am American entries, was the protagonist of a very good first part of the race and was challenging the European drivers for the Am podium. A longer recovery followed and the green flag was waved with 9 minutes left. Schirò had again the best restart, but Nurmi controlled into Turn 1. Gatting went on full-attack mode as she tried to conquer the podium - but there were ultimately not enough green-flag laps to properly go for a move, as another big shunt brought out the third Safety Car of the day. Marco Pulcini spun at the exit of the fast Turn 7 and, in a cloud of dust, was collected by Tommaso Rocca and Alessandro Cozzi in a scary head-on impact. Luckily all drivers were unhurt, but the amount of damage to the cars and the debris left on track meant that the race would end behind the Safety Car. Luka Nurmi took his third win of the season, followed by Niccolò Schirò and Frederik Paulsen. Fourth place, though, was enough for Michelle Gatting to end the day with a 25-point margin over Schirò, thus sealing the 2021 Ferrari Challenge Europe Pirelli Trophy title. Iron Dames once again made motorsport history, claiming the first championship since the project was launched in 2019 by Ferrari ambassador and women in motorsport's advocate Deborah Mayer. Gatting becomes the first female winner of a Ferrari Challenge Europe championship, and will try to emulate Fabienne Wohlwend on Sunday by taking the World Finals' crown. With a very solid run, Doriane Pin was seventh across the finish line on Friday, gaining two places from her starting position in her first race in the series. Christian Brunsborg secured victory in the Am class with sixth overall, while Coopera Macneil was ninth and first among the North American entries. With now 161 points on the board, Michelle Gatting will enter tomorrow's final race with no pressure, as she will likely turn her focus on Sunday's final to clinch the world championship title.