6H of Fuji: Iron Dames back on the podium, Wadoux back in the points
After a yellow-free 6 hour race at the foot of the iconic Mount Fuji, Michelle Gatting, Rahel Frey and Sarah Bovy were second across the finish line in Japan, becoming the first women to score consecutive podiums in the World Endurance Championship. Lilou Wadoux bounced back after Monza and scored points in LMP2.
The last time that WEC raced at the Fuji Speedway was back in 2019, with the race being cancelled in the last two years for the pandemic and, surely, the return of the Japanese round brought some spice into the championship: Iron Dames closed the gap to the third place in the LMGTE-Am championship, Lilou Wadoux bounced back to score points in LMP2 and Toyota Gazoo Racing took a dominant win on home soil.
It surely was a clean race, with no Safety Cars and zero FCY being deployed - but a fun one to watch: with its technical track layout, slow corners and fast straight, the Fuji Speedway is one of the most interesting tracks of the calendar. Lots of fans showed up during the whole weekend, giving all the teams a lot of support from the passionate Japanese audience.
After snatching the front row on Saturday - as she qualified the #85 Ferrari 488 GT Evo in second place - Sarah Bovy took the lead of the race as soon as the lights went out, battling with poleman Ben Keating, the latter at the wheel of the TF Sport Aston Martin. The Belgian managed to complete a great double stint, handing over the wheel to Rahel Frey from fourth place. The long Fuji straight proved to be a big advantage for the fast Aston Martins in the opening stage of the race.
The Swiss driver had just started her stint and had to take avoiding action when a LMP2 Oreca spun and rejoined the track right in front of her, slowing her down. But soon after, Rahel began to chase down both the Aston Martins - with Chaves and Dalla Lana now behind the wheel.
With some great passes and battles, Rahel Frey put on a show in her stint and recovered to the top of the GTE-Am classification, also thanks to perfect strategy from the Iron Lynx/Iron Dames squad. In a drama free race, Michelle Gatting took over from Frey for the last stint of the day in first position during the pit stop cycle: with her clean driving, the Danish ace was able to held on to the podium position until the final stint, when Rahel Frey was handed the #85 in second place for the final minutes.
Rahel took the checkered flag in second, finishing another very positive race for Iron Dames, who returned to the podium after the historic first second place in Monza.
The P2 in Fuji represents the first ever back-to-back podium for female drivers in the World Endurance Championship.
The Iron Lynx team once again provided a perfectly balanced car, also helped by the BOP rules of the weekend, as the three Iron Dames will try to snatch their first win in the highest class of endurance racing at the season finale.
"Another podium for us, something that we are extremely proud to achieve together once again." - wrote Michelle Gatting. "The team did again a flawless job during the pit stop, our guys in the box kept motivating and pushing us and Sarah and Rahel were simply amazing."
Lilou Wadoux jumped back behind the wheel of the Richard Mille Racing Team's ORECA for her first ever race in Japan, where she also had a new challenge: tackling the race start.
After Charles Milesi had qualified tenth in class, Wadoux had in fact the challenging opportunity to start the race: it was something she had never done before in WEC and, after a great start, she managed to avoid the first lap drama and started to chase her opponents. Having gained two positions, she handed over the car to Paul-Loup Chatin - at his second race with the team - who continued the team's great progression.
The last stint saw Charles Milesi taking over the car, and the Frenchman engaged in a battle with the United Autosports Oreca. The team tried an undercut and gained tons of positions - but a contact with Albuquerque saw the No. 1 Oreca-Gibson being sent into a spin.
The team managed to finish eighth after an hectic race, collecting valuable points for the championship and returning to the top ten after the unfortunate Monza round.
Lilou - who is growing race after race, was very happy and satisfied about her performance: "There was a bit of trepidation and a bit more pressure at the start as you can easily find yourself in a bad situation, but everything went well, and I avoided lap one incident."
"My two stints were quite calm and we managed to stay in contact with the other LMP2 cars. So, we have a lot of positive aspects to remember, starting with our solid pace. I'm convinced that we can do better in Bahrain!"