The 31st edition of the Ferrari Challenge got underway at Valencia’s Ricardo Tormo circuit, hosting drivers and teams on a weekend with summer-like heat, lined with a fine crowd of spectators, fans and enthusiasts. With newcomers and old-timers, the unique atmosphere of the Prancing Horse single-marque series remains intact, along with the excitement and adrenalin supplied by the 488 Challenge Evo cars (a 50-strong field of entries for the first round).
Donno instant leader. In a top class of the Trofeo Pirelli, with a revamped list of protagonists, Eliseo Donno, who in the run-up knew he was one of the favourites, especially after the excellent impression made in his maiden 2022 appearances. The young driver from Salento fielded by the Radicci Automobili team, with the notable backing of AF Corse and the no. 19 adorning the livery, did not disappoint. After dominating the free practice, he shattered the track record for the Ferrari single-marque series with a time of 1’34’’413 in the first qualifying session, which was beaten in the second timed practice session with an extraordinary 1’34’’327. Needless to say, he also won the two races with the fastest lap. Who will be able to stop him?
Bittersweet Valencia. The Ferrari Challenge was back in Valencia two years after its last appearance. For several of the protagonists from that edition who are still on the track, the weekend was a mixed bag. Joakim Olander (Scuderia Autoropa), winner in 2021 and making his debut in the Coppa Shell as world champion in the Am class in 2022, took part in just the first day of racing, posting 13th. Twelfth and eighth were the final positions for the returning Christian Kinch (Gohm - Herter Racing), who had taken the top place two years ago in the second Coppa Shell round.
A more favourable fate for Axel Sartingen (Lueg Sportivo - Herter Racing), in contrast, who claimed victory in Race-1 of the Coppa Shell in 2021 and managed to tame the Ricardo Tormo once more with a first and second place, plus a pole position, propelling him to the top of the overall standings.
Que viva España. One driver able to boast a special bond with Spain is undoubtedly Manuela Gostner (CDP - MP Racing), who concluded the first round of the season with a runner-up spot and a first place, after a race which she led throughout, fending off comeback attempts from Axel Sartingen in a very determined, precise manner. For the South Tyrolean – second in the standings, just one point shy of Sartingen – this is the second overall win in the Ferrari Challenge in her eighth year taking part. The first, needless to say, also took place in the Iberian peninsula, at the Montmelò circuit in Barcelona in 2018, once more in the Coppa Shell Race-2, again starting from pole position.
At ease. From the very first weekend in Valencia some seem to have got an immediate feel for the Ferrari Challenge and the 488 Challenge Evo, even beyond the results on the track. Stefano Marazzi (Rossocorsa), coming from an experience in the Club Challenge, having made some appearances – including the Ricardo Tormo circuit – earlier in the year in the GT Winter Series, was making his debut in the Prancing Horse single-marque series. After a troublesome first race, the Italian clinched an extraordinary runner-up spot in Race-2 of the Coppa Shell Am.
There was also great enthusiasm surrounding Denis De Marco (Kessel Racing). Born and raised in Switzerland before moving to Apulia, Denis has vast experience in the world of karting, but was making his debut in the closed-wheel championship. Without losing heart, he achieved two fifth places in the top class of the Trofeo Pirelli, while he was hoping for a race in the rain which, as his brother manager put it, is the terrain in which he is most competitive. We’ll have to wait and see...
The entire paddock took a liking to Giammarco Marzialetti (Radicci Automobili - Best Lap). He brought with him a level of enthusiasm that goes way beyond sporting results – for him a thirteenth place in Spain and a retirement in the second – raced with the truest sporting spirit and for the pure joy of competing.
Non-Europeans. The first round of the Ferrari Challenge Europe 2023 also featured the presence on the grid of several drivers from other championships of the Prancing Horse single-marque series. Among them were two-time British series champion Lucky Khera (Graypaul Birmingham), who notched up two fifth places in Valencia, Philippe Prette (Formula Racing) – who has five titles in the APAC series – who debuted with a runner-up spot (and an eleventh place in Race-2) and, also from the APAC series, Motohiko Isozaki (Cornes Motors Shiba) who, after retiring in Race-1, finished fourth in the second round with the fastest lap time.