24H Spa, 6H: Iron Dames back in the Bronze Cup Top-10 after 6 hours
Iron Dames completed the first 6 hours of the 24H of Spa by climbing back into the Bronze Cup top 10 after an eventful first part of the race; Theeba Motorsport is attempting a recovery in the class as well and running with steady pace just outside the top-10. A few penalties slowed down ST Racing's race in ProAm after a strong start.
Six hours into the Crowdstrike 24 Hours of Spa, Iron Dames are running just outside the top-10 in the Bronze Cup, after a difficult first stint dropped the pink Lamborghini Huracan down the order. Having started way down the field, the Theeba Motorsport Mercedes of Reema Juffali is recovering steadily and also getting closer to the class top ten. The first hour of the race was not plain sailing for the #52 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GT3 as well, with penalties and off track moments hampering its recovery. But a very strong stint by Lilou Wadoux into the fifth hour of the race is a promising sign as the night took over in the Belgian Ardennes. Starting fourth in ProAm, the new Ferrari 296 by Samantha Tan Racing by Rinaldi initially held position, but a series of track limits penalties and a spin dropped the Canadian squad to ninth in class. Driver/owner Samantha Tan, though, showed good speed and clocked competitive times.
The story of the race
After non-stop rain over the morning, the sun was out just before the start of the 24 hours of Spa. A minute of silence as the grid formed was paid in respect of FRECA driver Dilano van't Hoff, who tragically lost his life in an accident in the morning support race. Following a brilliant qualifying for Doriane Pin, Iron Dames took the start from fourth place among the Bronze Cup entries, 12th overall. From that position, the all-female crew will try to defend their 2021 victory - albeit in a different class - that brought Rahel Frey, Michelle Gatting, Doriane Pin and Sarah Bovy under the global spotlight. Seven women are competing in this year's top GT3 race in the world - a record breaking number in recent years. Also in the Bronze Cup field, Theeba Motorsport's Reema Juffali was very unlucky in qualifying, as the Saudi driver/owner had a red flag cancelling her lap literally metres from the line - which left the #81 Mercedes without a representative lap time in Q1. Yannick Mettler was behind the wheel for the team, from 16th in class on the grid.
On the other hand, Lilou Wadoux was among the stars of the mixed-weather Q1: the SRO rookie and Ferrari GT factory driver was third in her qualifying stint, but in the heavy rain the team eventually qualified in 11th place in the Bronze Class, just missing out on a spot for the SuperPole. Louis Machiels took the start for the #52 AF Corse Ferrari entry. After a really promising qualifying, Samantha Tan and her ST Racing teammates took the start from fourth in ProAm - with Isaac Tutumlu Lopez in the driving seat. Tan was the fastest driver of her team after the mixed-weather qualifying and capitalized with a strong Q1. The Canadian, at her second 24 Hours of Spa, will be eyeing a strong finish in class. The race went underway behind the safety car due to the still slippery conditions. A few incidents behind the safety car - including a big shunt at Raidillon for the #132 GMG Racing Porsche of Kyle Washington - extended the neutralization. The track was in fact drying up, but teams that betted on slicks still found tricky conditions. The green flag was shown after over 20 minutes of pace car; overall pole sitter Matteo Cairoli kept the lead into the first corner, ahead of Alessio Rovera's AF Corse Ferrari and Joel Sturm's Pure Rxcing Porsche. On the wet weather tyre, Michelle Gatting found herself on a quickly drying track and struggled in the first laps, as the #83 Lamborghini Huracan quickly dropped to fifth in class and 21st overall, around faster cars on slicks. Lilou Wadoux's teammate Louis Machiels moved up to P10 in Bronze; Yannick Mettler lost a couple of positions in the Theeba Motorsport Mercedes. In ProAm, Tutumlu Lopez had a good start in his first race in the new Ferrari 296 GT3 and kept fourth in class, closely following the #2 Getspeed Mercedes of Lewis Williamson. Machiels dropped to 20th in class, as the Belgian driver also struggled for pace on the grooved tyres. Iron Dames pitted at the one hour mark and Gatting switched to the slick tyre; the Dane was back out in P20 in class. Most of the field pitted 10 minutes later, with several driver change being performed.
Andrea Bertolini took the reins of the #52 AF Corse Ferrari, brought in by Louis Machiels. After the round of pit stops, Isaac Tutumlu Lopez stayed at the wheel of the #38 ST Racing by Rinaldi Ferrari, initially dropping to sixth in ProAm but then cycled back up to fourth. Iron Dames had slipped down to 10th and settled in P43 overall. While battling for the ProAm third place, Tutumlu Lopez and Matt Bell made contact at Eau Rouge - luckily both continued with no damages. Tutumlu was then tagged into a spin by the Porsche of Laurens Vanthoor, third-placed overall - who would receive a penalty for the incident. The ST Racing Ferrari continued, then pitted for the driver change: Samantha Tan took over at the two hour mark. A 30 second track limit penalty during the previous hour, though, meant that the #38 Ferrari was down to P9 in ProAm. Michelle Gatting also brought the car back into pit lane and Sarah Bovy got behind the wheel. A very badly-timed Full Course Yellow was deployed just after Iron Dames' pit stop, as everyone pitted during the neutralization. The pink #83 Lamborghini had tumbled down to P17 in class. With Ralf Aron now behind the wheel, the #81 Theeba Motorsport Mercedes was making up positions and closed in on the Bronze cup top 10. Andrea Bertolini had handed over to Jef Machiels, 18th in class. The race was back underway approximately 20 minutes later; the #17 Scherer Sport Audi of nicki Thiim took over the overall lead, followed by Dennis Marschall's Audi Sport Tresor Orange 1 once the #92 Manthey Porsche served its penalty. Sarah Bovy settled with a good rhythm in 16th place in class, one hour into her driving time. The Belgian set the car's fastest lap on lap 70, with a quite impressive 2:21.458. She would move up to 15th in Bronze in her second stint - one position behind Theeba Motorsport's Mercedes, who cycled from 12th to 16th in class in between stops.
While she had recovered to eighth in ProAm, Samantha Tan received a drive through for track limits and tumbled down to 9th. Jef Machiels pitted on lap 70 after an off in the gravel at Les Combes - handing back over to Louis Machiels. Four hours into the race, Bovy pitted and Rahel Frey started her first driving shift of the day, retaining 15th in class. Leonard Weiss took over from Samantha Tan and, at the wheel of the #38 ST Racing Ferrari, rejoined in ninth in ProAm. Both Reema Juffali and Lilou Wadoux also got behind the wheel for their first stints in the race; Juffali took over from Ralf Aron - 12th in Bronze - while Wadoux immediately made up a few positions in class, also setting the fastest lap of her team. Rahel Frey's consistency brought the Iron Dames Huracan into P12 in class - one position behind Juffali's Mercedes, who was also lapping well as the night approached. The Saudi would break in the Bronze top ten 5 hours and 30 minutes into the race, as another round of pit stops started. Once in the driving seat, Alain Valente cycled back to P14.