Michelle Gatting takes victory in Ferrari Challenge season opener
Updated: Apr 12
Iron Dames' Michelle Gatting kept it cool and claimed an outstanding victory in the 2021 Ferrari Challenge season opener at Monza, having started from third on the grid.
The iconic Autodromo Nazionale di Monza delivered once again and provided an outstanding and tightly fought season opener to the 2021 Ferrari Challenge Europe.
At the Temple of Speed, 20 shining Ferrari 488 Challenge Evo cars battled out on some of the most historic 5,793 metres of tarmac in the history of motor racing to crown the first winner of the season in the Ferrari one-make series.
European Le Mans Series front-runner and Le Mans finisher Michelle Gatting entered her first full season in the series, again under the Iron Dames and Iron Lynx banners. The Dane had taken a victory, three podiums and two pole positions in her two previous entries - at Imola and Misano – and thus came into the season with high ambitions.
In an overcast yet not-rainy Monza – contrary to weather forecasts – Gatting was second fastest in the free practice session on Saturday morning, after she had seemingly fixed some minor issues after the test day on Friday. On top of the time-sheets it was 17-year old Finnish rookie Luka Nurmi, making her first ever start in the Ferrari Challenge for Formula Racing team. Nurmi was half a second clear of the competition in practice and carried momentum into Qualifying 1 later in the day.
The young Finn set the fastest time in 1:48.644, six tenths faster than Matúš Vyboh in the #56 Scuderia Praha entry, while a slightly disappointed Michelle Gatting was third fastest.
There were light drops of rain on the track just as the green flag was waved for qualifying, but never enough to switch to wet tyres - even though most of the field struggled to improve their lap-times towards the find minutes and, with four minutes left on the clock, the top seven were sitting still in the pitlane, handing Nurmi his first pole position in the championship.
The cars lined up on the grid at 16:45 local time for the first championship race of 2021 – although the 2020 World Finals were indeed contested just a month before – with the five Pro drivers locking out the five top positions.
As the track was still slightly damp going into Turn 1, the Shell Cup race had offered the drivers of the Pirelli Trophy a preview of the conditions. But, when the lights went out, it was almost a replay of the previous hectic race start: Nurmi held the lead from Vyboh and Gatting – who had a great start but was stuck behind the first row coming into the heavy braking of Prima Variante. Chaos broke loose when Paulsen went deep and into the grass, taking out the race leader and spinning around more competitors at the first chicane.
Matúš Vyboh and John Wartique managed to get out of the corner unscathed, with also Michelle Gatting close behind, despite having to take evasive action.
After an impressive debut, Nurmi had to limp back and retired with damages.
At the second lap a similar accident saw Grouwels crashing into the back of Ziemian and Pulcini – all three also having to retire. Paulsen, who had survived the Turn 1 accident, was handed a drive through penalty for causing the collision.
Wartique and Vyboh then started an intense fight for the leadership that went on for most of the 30-minute race. Gatting followed them like a shadow and tried to pressure them into a mistake. Fourth-placed Ange Barde – and leader in Pro-Am – closed the gap and joined the leader's group, taking advantage from the battles.
Belgian racer John Wartique managed to get ahead of Vyboh after cutting the second chicane during the wheel-to-wheel actions, but he was then instructed to switch the positions back to the Slovak driver. He managed to hand over the lead without letting Gatting through as well, as the Dane was tenths of a second behind and looking for any opportunities to move up the order.
Gatting did pass Wartique on lap 6, completing a clean move at Prima Variante after an better exit out of Parabolica. In clear air, Gatting hunted down Vyboh and remained in his gearbox, setting a series of fastest laps: her 1:50.629 on lap 7 was quickly topped by the same Iron Lynx driver one lap later, signing a 1:50.394 that would remain the fastest time of the race.
On lap 9, Gatting's pressure would pay dividends: Vyboh made a mistake at Lesmo 1 and Michelle fired into the lead and never looked back. Vyboh tried to respond back on lap 11, but he again went deep at La Roggia, allowing Wartique to close in again.
Gatting gained some breathing space and, as she crossed the finish line, she held a 0.9 second advantage.
Two victories out of five races - this is Michelle Gatting's resumé updated to Saturday's race 1 in Monza; an impressive business card coming into the remainder of the season.
“Today we had Race 1 – I started P3, as the qualifying was a little bit disappointing, but I had a very controlled race" – she told us after the podium.
"There were some crashes going on at the start and I kept it very cool the whole race. When the chance was there, I took it and went for P1 - and managed to keep it until the end of the race."
"The car was very nice, the team did a great job, so looking forward to tomorrow.”
The second race of the Ferrari Challenge Trofeo Pirelli will get underway on Sunday 11th, at 15:15 local time.