Few could have predicted Jeremy Clarke’s assent to Ferrari Challenge Trofeo Pirelli champion before the 2022 season got underway and fewer still would have given the young California-based driver their vote after the first weekend of the 30th anniversary season of Ferrari Challenge. And yet that is exactly where he ended up, securing his place in the Challenge record books with a 1-point margin, secured in the final race of the 2022 season, his second in the championship.
COTA Woes. After a 2021 season spent in the Coppa Shell category, Clarke knew he had a tough hill to climb as he entered a deep and competitive Trofeo Pirelli category. “I knew the competition would be stiff,” said Clarke, “but I also knew that we would be close, just based on the times I we were all doing from last season. I had confidence I could at least compete but I wasn’t confident that the championship would be possible.” And the early signs at the opening weekend at the Circuit of the Americas bore that assessment out as he qualified in third but only a few hundredths off of the pole sitter. But that was to be the highpoint of the weekend as mechanical maladies meant that he only had two points to his name at the end of the weekend and a big deficit to the key protagonists.
A Canadian Turnaround. After a disappointing Texas weekend, there were glimmers of hope. A win in Daytona proved that the pace Clarke had shown in Texas was real and other drivers had their own disappointments, but according to him, the real turning point came at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal. As the only North American race run alongside Formula 1, and where the margin between optimum laptime and a concrete wall is often only paper thin, natural talent and confidence pay dividends. Clarke took the opportunity to secure another double podium finish, with a third in race 1 and a win in race 2. According to Clarke, this is the moment when the championship started to feel within reach, “I had closed the gap quite a bit and I was right back in it.”
An Italian Dream. Clarke earned three more podium finishes between Montreal and the long trip to Italy, putting him into a strong position leading the championship, particularly as some of his other competitors endured their own run of bad luck. While the Finali experience was not new for Jeremy, having enjoyed Mugello in 2021, the Imola circuit was, and so he decided to take part in an Italian GT race several weeks before, an experience that he relished, “I really enjoyed the Italian GT series in that you have limited practice time so you really have to hop into it and get up to speed quickly. It was the same approach I used for the Finali weekend as I didn’t participate in some of the testing opportunities.”
The math, however, was clear. Clarke just had to finish behind his chief challenger Jason McCarthy to ensure himself the championship. But of course, it wouldn’t be that easy. An incident in race 1 left Clarke with zero points for his effort, but even still he enjoyed the advantage for race 2. A finish of fourth or better would guarantee the top spot. “I still knew what I needed to do. I wasn’t going to fight for third, but then there was the caution period and I was just hoping it wouldn’t go back to green as the driver behind was quite competitive. When you have something to lose, you drive so tentatively its almost unenjoyable. You’re driving to survive.” But survive he did, coming home in fourth and the 2022 championship was his.