Races

Record setter

Record setter

The start of the Ferrari Challenge Europe season saw the debut of the series' youngest ever competitor – and the sensational rookie shone in the spotlight with a record-setting two pole positions and a race win
Words

Ben Pulman

Ferrari history was made recently at Monza, Italy – and in quite some fashion. Not only did the youngest driver ever take part in the Ferrari Challenge, but they achieved something even more special: taking pole position for their first ever race. And then pole position (in the wet) for their second race – which they won.

Enter Luka Nurmi. The Finnish driver is just 16 years old, but competing in the Trofeo Pirelli class for Formula Racing he could not have got off to a more impressive start. In fact, his weekend would only have been more extraordinary had his teammate not made contact with him into turn 1 in the first race, ending Nurmi’s hopes of victory within the first few hundred metres.

With confidence that belies his young age, 16-year-old Luka Nurmi prepares for his debut in the Ferrari Challenge Europe series
With confidence that belies his young age, 16-year-old Luka Nurmi prepares for his debut in the Ferrari Challenge Europe series

The second race was different. He raced like a veteran in the wet conditions, handling the 488 Challenge Evo superbly throughout the entire race, before crossing the finish-line with a four-second advantage over his nearest rival. And he did that despite multiple interruptions: five minutes into the race the action was suspended while debris was removed following a collision. And after a second safety car period, Nurmi edged away at the head of the field – and even managed to register a trio of fastest laps.

‘It’s been quite a weekend,’ said the young Finn, who started out karting, then racing Porsches, before graduating to the Prancing Horse. ‘I’ve loved Ferrari since I was a child. It’s always been a dream to drive for Ferrari – and now it’s come true.

‘I’ve had my first qualifying session, then my first qualifying session in the wet, and to now take victory means so much – especially to be the youngest winner in Ferrari Challenge history.’

As the pole-sitter, Nurmi (front left, in car #66) led both Trofeo Pirelli races into the first corner
As the pole-sitter, Nurmi (front left, in car #66) led both Trofeo Pirelli races into the first corner

The accolade meant even more to Nurmi, as he achieved it in front of one of his idols, Ferrari Competizioni GT driver Toni Vilander. ‘I spoke with Toni this weekend. It’s great to speak to a professional – I asked lots of questions and he gave me plenty of tips as he’s so experienced.’

As for Vilander himself, given Nurmi names fellow Finn and two-time Formula 1 World Champion Mika Häkkinen as another racing hero, the Ferrari factory driver was taken aback with the compliment: ‘Luka’s words about me being his idol are surprising, actually emotional, but really nice.

‘He’s been so impressive, especially given how young he is. At Monza it’s not easy to find those last few extra tenths, but I spoke with his engineers and Luka was really impressive in the fast Lesmo corners, especially Lesmo 2.

‘He had the setback in the first race, and then had to reset overnight. Then he’d never driven a Ferrari Challenge car on wet tyres before, but he put it on pole – again – and then kept his confidence and concentration all the way through a tough race that was neutralized many times.’

<span style="font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif;">Despite the second Trofeo Pirelli race of the weekend being neutralised on multiple occasions, Nurmi took the win with a four-second lead</span>
Despite the second Trofeo Pirelli race of the weekend being neutralised on multiple occasions, Nurmi took the win with a four-second lead

Continues Vilander: ‘Nicklas Nielsen is a great example of a young driver who came through the Ferrari Challenge series, and was then chosen by the factory as a Competizioni GT driver. Luka is only 16, but I see good things happening for him.’

And how does the new rookie sensation feel, about the season and beyond? What are his goals? ‘The championship,’ Nurmi says matter of factly. ‘And in five years to be a professional driver like Toni Vilander.’

Given his start to the season at Monza, would you bet against him?

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