Michelle Gatting takes two pole positions, two podiums in Ferrari Challenge at Brno
Iron Dames' Michelle Gatting continues to extend her championship lead in the Ferrari Challenge Europe: with two pole positions and two podiums at Brno Circuit, the Danish ace enters the second part of the season with a 29-point advantage in the standings.
After sporadic appearances in the 2020 season, Iron Dame Michelle Gatting made a full time debut in the Ferrari Challenge Europe in 2021. Certainly an experienced racer at the wheel of the Ferrari 488 GT3 Evo, Gatting was competitive straight away and won the first race of the season in Monza, before adding a second place to her name in the second race in Italy.
Her outstanding record in the series was even topped at Red Bull Ring, Austria, as the Dane had the perfect weekend: two pole positions, two race victories and two fastest laps.
A performance that allowed the Iron Lynx driver to extend her championship lead coming into the third event of the season at Brno.
On the Czech racetrack, Gatting spent Friday practice to get acquainted with a circuit that she had never visited before and was third at the end of the opening day.
Free practice was topped by returning driver Niccolò Schirò (Rossocorsa), as the Italian made his return to the series since 2019, when he had claimed four wins and nine podiums.
The first qualifying was heavily delayed on Saturday morning due to a huge crash in the Coppa Shell category that required intervention to the barriers at Turn 15.
Over one hour late, finally the drivers of the Trofeo Pirelli could hit the track for their 30-minute qualifying – but there were more red flags to disrupt the session, as several drivers spun on track. Michelle Gatting went out for a single attempt with less than five minutes left on the clock, and set the fastest lap. Her effort remained unbeaten when a final red flag called the end of Q1.
"Another pole position for me, at my first time here in Brno." – she commented.
"I did not expect that; yesterday was very difficult, but today we managed it. It's super good for the championship, let's see what we can do in the race."
The first race was decided right after the start: Gatting had a good getaway, but it was Schirò to nail the start and to move into the lead with a bold move around the outside from the second row. Gatting was second, with 17-year old Luka Nurmi right behind in third.
After an accident in qualifying, Brunsbourg was up from P20 to P11 in a few laps and was the biggest mover.
Michelle Gatting remained right in Schirò's gearbox throughout the race, but Schirò made no mistakes. The first Safety Car was out when Sergio Paulet beached his 488 Challenge Evo in the gravel on the second lap.
The neutralization was longer than expected after Marco Pulcini hit the back of the #21 Scuderia MonteCarlo of Hugo Delacour while behind the pace car.
The race restarted with 15 minutes left: Gatting had a good restart, but it was another perfectly timed start for Schirò, who held on to the top position. Soon after, though, the Safety Car had to make a second appearance on track when the engine of Alessandro Cozzi blew up in a cloud of smoke. Meanwhile, Brunsbourg was again on the move and had just passed Grouwels for the Am podium.
Iron Linx's Arno Dahlmeyer received a 25-second time penalty for overtaking under Safety Car and the race finally resumed with 5 minutes to go.
The leading duo pulled away, but the few laps ran under green were ultimately not enough for Gatting to try to regain the lead. Niccolò Schirò secured victory, ahead of Gatting and Nurmi. Wartique was fourth and preceded Paulsen and Vyboh.
Ange Barde was seventh overall and topped the Am classify.
“Niccolò Schirò, made an imposing start, no doubt about it, and he surprised both Luka Nurmi and me by passing on the outside." – said Michelle after the first race.
"Niccolò was unquestionably the fastest in the race. That’s what happened. I’m in the running for the championship, and I can’t complain.”
Sunday's qualifying was very much a replay from the previous day: many drivers found themselves off track and the session was red flagged on more than one occasion. But, in the last 3 minutes and with a single flying lap, the Danish championship leader claimed an imposing pole position, six tenths faster than Niccolò Schirò in the #3 RossoCorsa Ferrari.
"Fourth pole position of the season - couldn't be any better today, as I got pole for six tenths" – said a slightly surprised Gatting. "Really unexpected, so today we'll 100% go for the race win."
When the lights went off, Schirò tried a similar move from Race 1 but Gatting was unbelievably late on the brakes and hanged on to P1. Michelle had to make her #83 Iron Lynx Ferrari as wide as possible to hold off Schirò's attacks throughout the first laps, but positions remained unchanged.
The two leaders again pulled away, with Nurmi not able to keep up with their pace.
It wasn't the first race that the home hero Matúš Vyboh had hoped for and the Scuderia Praha driver was really committed to making up for it in the second race. From sixth, Vyboh charged through and passed Paulsen on lap 5. Behind them, Barde and Brunsbourg also battled for seventh overall and for first among the Am drivers.
But all the attention was back to the leading duo: really on the edge, Schirò put two wheels on the grass, but he quickly recovered.
With 15 minutes to go, the Italian found a gap at Turn 3 and made it into the lead. Gatting had in fact started to struggle for tyres after a really fast first part of the race on a very demanding track surface for the Pirelli rubber.
Luka Nurmi got closer to the Irona Dame, with also Matúš Vyboh closing in on the top three. The local driver had in fact found a way around Wartique and was surely targeting a podium on home soil.
The final ten minutes featured some of the most exciting racing seen in the series – but must have felt neverending for Michelle Gatting.
On lap 12, Frederick Paulsen – who also was having a great fight with Wartique and Ange Barde – slowed down and pulled over. One lap later, there was more drama when Luka Nurmi, under pressure from Vyboh, saw his podium chances disappearing for a tyre puncture. The white and blue MiddleCap Ferrari of Matúš Vyboh was already glued to the back of Gatting's car, when Schirò crossed the line with 2 seconds left on the clock – thus requiring one more lap to the chequered flag.
After an incredibly tense final lap, Vyboh moved into second, demoting Gatting to third place. Ange Barde was fourth overall and again first among the Am; the Frenchman preceded Wartique and Brunsbourg.
“I tried to do everything possible to keep Niccolò Schirò behind me, but he was faster, and I was struggling with the car." - commented Gatting.
"I fought, but in the end, I also let Matúš through. That’s racing. I still lead the overall standings by a good margin, although I would have preferred to be on the top step of the podium”.
Luka Nurmi's unfortunate race still allowed michelle Gatting to extend her championship lead on her closest competitor: the Danish lady, who also set the fastest lap of the race in 2:04.952, now enjoys a 29-point advantage over Wartique, and is 31 points ahead of Nurmi.
Shout-out to Germana Tognella, who had her best race to date in the series (Coppa Shell category) and was fifth in the Am driver, 11th overall, having started from P16.
The popular Ferrari one-make series will now head to Valencia, Circuit Ricard Tormo, for the next round, as the series reaches its half-way point on June 19-20.