24H Le Mans: Iron Dames masterful recovery to P9
They did it again: Iron Dames finish P9 in the most legendary endurance race in the world after a masterful recovery from misfortune. It's the team's third top10 in a row at Le Mans.
The chequered flag has fallen on the 89th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans - arguably the most legendary competition in international motorsport - with the overall victory of the #7 Toyota driven by Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez. It is the first ever victory in the history of the Hypercar class, utterly dominated by the Toyota manufacturer. But - with another historic performance - Iron Dames were also under the spotlight, as they claimed another ninth place finish at their third participation in the endurance classic. The all-female team - born from the idea of visionary Deborah Mayer and run by GT powerhouse Iron Lynx - has thus once again finished the most proving and challenging race in the top-10, after starting from P17 on the grid. With a slightly revisited line-up, Rahel Frey, Michelle Gatting and Sarah Bovy didn't have an easy task and were met with a new set of challenges during the night. Michelle Gatting took the start and immediately made up positions in extremely difficult weather conditions, with the rain falling over the circuit de La Sarthe. The Dane completed her first triple stint and handed over to Le Mans rookie Sarah Bovy, who was quickly at ease and recovered to 12th place. Rahel Frey's first driving shift was - as often is the case for the Swiss racer - outstanding and the Iron Dames Ferrari climbed up to sixth place. Unfortunately, Frey had to pit soon after with a puncture - that dropped the #85 in 12th position. Another puncture and a suspension failure during the night would really put the team to the test: from 15th, Bovy Gatting and Frey had to rebuild all the recovery. Bovy had another very solid stint and Gatting brought the car at the edges of the top-10. In the hands of Frey, the Iron Dames Ferrari was back in the top-10 during Sunday morning and, with a few hours to go, Sarah Bovy moved up into eighth place. She then picked up an unfortunate penalty following a contact with the #95 Aston Martin: locked in battle for position, the Aston spun and Bovy took to the gravel. They both rejoined, but the Belgian received a penalty to be served during the following driver change. It was then Rahel Frey to take the #85 across the line, claiming another remarkable ninth place in spite of the unfortunate circumstances that the three drivers had to overcome.
The run of the other all-female crew, at its second start at Le Mans, was just as promising but ended prematurely after five hours of racing. Tatiana Calderon had taken the start in the Richard Mille Racing #1 LMP2 Oreca and recovered to P14 from 23rd on the grid when the Colombian - who did an outstanding job in the tricky first rain-affected laps - handed over to Beitske Visser. Visser had a great triple stint and was battling for eleventh place at the restart from the first Safety Car. The all-female squad, coming off a ninth place at their maiden Le Mans participation in 2020, continued the solid race and pitted from P13 after four hours of racing, as the sun went down on the horizon and dusk signalled the arrival of the longest and most challenging part of the legendary race: the night. 20-year old German racing star Sophia Floersch got behind the wheel of the #1 prototype, but soon after, another rain shower resulted in many cars suddenly going off track: LMP2 class leader Franco Colapinto lost control of the #26 G-Drive Aurus and crashed into the #1 Richard Mille Racing car driven by Sophia Floersch, who went into the barriers at Porsche curves and crossed the track once having impacted with the armco. When stationary, Sophia tried to restart the car and the slow zone was promptly deployed. The #74 Racing Team India Eurasia Ligier of Tom Cloet then T-boned Floersch's Oreca - triggering the medical light on the #50, which meant that Floersch had to abandon the car. It was a heartbreaking end to the race of Floersch, Calderon and Visser, who had to retire from their second Le Mans 24 hour race with potential to finish in the top-8.
The #7 GR010 Hybrid led since the first lap of the race, only temporarily leaving the top spot during the pit stop sequences to the sister car, the #8 brought to second place by Sebastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Brendon Hartley after a remarkable recovery from a lap 1 accident. Sebastien Buemi had in fact been hit and spun around by Olivier Pla in the #708 Glickenhaus at the Dunlop chicane. The Swiss Toyota driver, dropped to P52 in the opening stages, pulled off an outstanding stint and brought the #8 back to the runner up spot after a few hours. With a different strategy, the #8 Toyota got closer and closer to the leading #7 in the early morning hours - also helped by a braking issue suffered by Kobayashi in the leading car - but Nakajima was then forced to pit for a nose change, before reporting fuel issues. The same problem was later observed on the #7, but never actually posed a real threat to Toyota's ambitions. The #36 Alpine Elf Matmut driven by André Negrao, Nicolas Lapierre and Mathieau Vaxiviere was third across the finish line: the French squad battled hard with the recovering #708 Glickenhaus on Sunday morning, after Negrao and Pla swapped position after a pit stop. Both the teams had to overcome their own difficulties: Vaxiviere had beached the Alpine during the night, while both the Glickenhaus cars had to climb the order after a messy first hour that had dropped them behind the LMP2 field.
The #708 (Derani-Mailleux-Pla) preceded the #709 (Briscoe-Westbrook-Dumas), as the latter had a spin and picked up damages early on, and made it back ahead of the leading LMP2 cars only in the final stages of the race. In LMP2, Belgian team WRT was set to take a dominant 1-2 at their maiden participation at the endurance classic. The #41 Oreca of Ye Yifei, Robert Kubica and Louis Deletraz took the lead with two hours to go, and was cruising to victory when Ye Yefei's Oreca stopped on the final lap of the race, leaving the top honor to WRT teammates Robin Frijns, Ferdinand Habsburg and Charles Milesi.
WRT went on top after the first hours, when the rain showers spread chaos and many competitive teams fell victim to accidents. Among them, the #29 Team Nederland had several off track moments, as well as the G-Drive Aurus cars and, notably, the United Autosport crews that crashed into each other during a heavy shower. The two WRT crews traded places during the pit stop phases but, with the non-classification of the #41, it was a sprint to the chequered flag after 24 hours of racing between Frijns and Tom Blomqvist (#28 JOTA).
The Panis Racing Oreca, seemed to have settled for third in LMP2, but in the morning hours the #28 JOTA of Stoffel Vandoorne, Sean Gelael and Tom Blomqvist completed an impressive recovery and passed their rivals for third place after 18 hours of racing. They would finish second after WRT's hearbreak. The #26 G-Drive (De Vries-Rusinov-Colapinto) was involved in several contacts - among them the accident that took Sophia Floersch out of the race, for which they received a penalty. The second G-Drive (Falb-Merhi-Andrade) ended its race at the end of the eighth hour, when Andrade crashed heavily at Turn 1. LMGTE-Pro saw another dominant win by the AF Corse Ferrari of Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado and Come Ledogar. The Italian team was rarely under threat and only had to fend off a couple of times the attacks of the #63 Corvette of Garcia-Taylor-Catsburg - ultimately second in class, even though the final round of pitstop meant that they finished less than a second adrift. The second place was held by the AF Corse sister car throughout the first half of the race, before it hit trouble and dropped to fifth. Third and fourth place went to the Porsche 911 RSR of Estre-Jani-Christensen and Bruni-Lietz-Makowiecki. The latter battled with Estre with a little over four hours to go, before Porsche ordered a position swap that sent Estre into third place. Makowiecki was the protagonist of an off-track in the final hour that destroyed his Porsche's rear diffuser and forced the Frenchman to an unscheduled stop. He still secured fourth. The Weathertech Porsche - initially up to third - retired after a massive shunt at the Ford chicane by Cooper MacNeill, who escaped unhurt. In GTE-Am, Alessio Rovera, Nicklas Nielsen and Francois Perrodo claimed victory in the #83 AF Corse Ferrari, ahead of the #33 TF Sport Aston Martin of Ben Keating, Dylan Pereira and Felipe Fraga. The Aston had a troubled opening of the race, with spins and tyre punctures, but was able to recover and battle for the win throughout. Issues and more contacts dropped both the Proton Competition Porsche out of contention for the class podium and promoted the #80 and #60 Iron Lynx Ferrari. Cressoni-Mastronardi-Ilott took third, while Schiavoni-Ruberti-Giammaria managed to get ahead of the #77 Porsche in the closing stages. The championship leading and early leader Cetilar Racing Ferrari was crashed out during the night at Tertre Rouge; Team Project1's Egidio Perfetti was in the tyre barrier at the Mulsanne first chicane and Marcos Gomes was luckily unharmed after a monumental shunt at the entry of Indianapolis two hours into the race.