Michelle Gatting takes two poles, victory in Misano Ferrari Challenge
Coming from her second top-10 at the Le Mans endurance classic, Michelle Gatting carried momentum into the Misano round of the Ferrari Challenge Europe, where she claimed two pole positions and her first race victory in only her second entry.
Coming from a second top-10 in a row at the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans in the GTE-Am class, Danish star Michelle Gatting made her return to the Ferrari Challenge last weekend, as she entered the Misano round with Iron Lynx - the same team that fields Gatting, Gostner and Frey in the European Le Mans Series and that brought the all-female trio to ninth place at La Sarthe. Gatting had made her debut in the Ferrari one-make championship earlier this year, where she claimed a second and a fourth place at the season opener at Imola.
The Misano weekend started off with disappointment for Ferrari Challenge fans, as championship contender Fabienne Wohlwend announced that she wouldn't be able to race at the Italian venue - where she scored a pole position in the W Series in 2019 - due to the engine issues that hampered her previous weekend at Spa Francorchamps. By missing the last round before the World Finals, Wohlwend effectively handed Emanuele Maria Tabacchi the chance to secure the Trofeo Pirelli Pro-class title at Misano.
But, as the entry list was revealed, the return of Michelle Gatting to the series was a very welcome surprise.
“Misano is a track that I have really good memories from” - she said, “I especially like the first corners combination, turn 1, 2 and 3, it's corners you don't see anywhere else in racetracks around Europe”.
And the 26-year old Dane immediately proved her great feeling with the circuit, as she took pole position by 2 tenths of a second over championship leader Tabacchi. With a perfect lap of 1:35.747, Michelle was untopped even after a red flag with 8 minutes to go, caused by the stranded car of Frederik Paulsen.
"I just raced Le Mans one week ago so I'm really well prepared and in good shape and I'm super happy about this pole position - I can't remember the last time I got a pole." - said Gatting after her first qualifying in Misano. "It wasn't easy, I knew Tabacchi was my biggest competitor, he was struggling a little bit in practice so I knew I had to push even more for quali, but everything was absolutely perfect".
Gatting's dominance was extended also to the first race of the weekend in the Trofeo Pirelli gategory, as she came out on top of a hard battle with Tabacchi in the opening corners and never looked back, claiming her first victory in the series.
The race was effectively decided after the first lap scraps between the pole-sitter and Tabacchi: the Italian driver tried to find a gap into Turn 2, but Gatting defended hard and the two made contact. Luckily, both could continue, allowing the Iron Lynx racer to complete a flawless race to win ahead of her main rival. Tabacchi maintained the pressure for the whole remaining of the race, but he had to settle for second - a result that nevertheless granted him the 2020 Ferrari Challenge Europe title.
A Safety Car was deployed following a multiple-car accident triggered by Matús Vyboh and Frederik Espersen that also involved Leonardo Maria Del Vecchio and Christian Overgaard. All four cars were out of the race and, when the Safety Car returned to the pits, Michelle Gatting successfully held off more attacks by Tabacchi.
Florian Merckx completed the podium positions, while Tim Kohmann moved ahead of Frederik Paulsen and Olivier Grotz to finish fourth.
"We couldn't have had a better day." - commented the fresh winner. "Pole position, winning my first race in Ferrari Challenge, it couldn't be any better. For me the goal was really trying to beat Tabacchi, because I raced against him in Imola and it was absolutely impossible to beat him there, so the goal was quite clear for me: I had to do everything I could."
"The car was perfect, the team did everything to support me. I couldn't remember when I last got a pole and I can't remember when I last won a race, so it's just amazing."
After a perfect Saturday, Michelle Gatting again started off again on the right foot on Sunday, as she topped the timesheets in the second qualifying session. The Dane was again faster than newly-crowned Tabacchi by over three tenths of a second, but ultimately shared the front row of the grid with compatriot Frederik Paulsen.
"Second pole position here in Ferrari Challenge, the second race day could not have been any better." - she said. "Actually the lap was not super good, I got some traffic even on my fastest lap, so that was a little bit of a disappointment for me, but so far Misano has treated me very well - somehow I just managed to get around the track very fast."
"Hopefully I'm going to do more races here in Misano. Now let's see what we can do for the race, we're definitely going for the win."
The final race of the Misano weekend was then defined by huge torrential rain: the 18 Ferrari 488 Challenge Evo cars took the start behind the Safety Car that led the field for the opening 5 minutes. When the green flag was finally waved, Tabacchi immediately managed to jump ahead of Paulsen, moved up to second and went on pursuit of Gatting.
Under trecherous weather conditions, the leading pair started an exciting battle that saw Gatting and Tabacchi going wheel to wheel throughout the first sector of the Misano circuit. Tabacchi came out on top and managed to demote Gatting to second for the first time in the weekend.
Behind them, countless drivers struggled for grip and were sent into a spin: Tim Kohmann, Frederik Espersen and Alessandro Cozzi lost control and went off, forcing the race direction to deploy the Safety Car once again. Finally, the race was red flagged before the 30-minute countdown could declare the chequered flag and Emanuele Maria Tabacchi could then secure his eighth win of the season, ahead of Michelle Gatting and Frederik Paulsen.
Fourth was Vincente Potolicchio, second in the Am-class, who preceded Tim Kohmann and Oliver Grotz.
"Obviously I was hoping for it to stay dry today, because I knew it would have been quite difficult for me in the rain against Tabacchi." - commented Michelle after the final race.
"He has an amazing car control and I was maybe a little bit more careful in the race compared to him. I didn't take any risks, I was told by the team not to, because they know that sometimes it can go wrong."
"Honestly not super happy with P2, of course I wanted to win again today, but it was a bit dangerous towards the end so I think it was a good thing to stop the race.", she added. "Tabacchi did what he does best, controlled the car in an amazing way and managed to get the win. But I'll be back, and try to go for the win again".
The final round of the 2020 Ferrari Challenge Europe will make again be in Misano (5/8 November), when all the Ferrari championships will meet for the World Finals - the real highlight of the Italian one-make series. Hopefully, we'll get to see again Michelle Gatting and Fabienne Wohlwend together on track in their respective Iron Lynx and Octane126 cars for the special occasion.