Another history chapter: First ELMS victory for Iron Dames in Portimao
"We race to inspire women to follow their dreams and take the first step into motorsport, because as we’ve shown today, it is possible to make it happen." - Deborah Mayer's words found again their proof of concept last Sunday, when Iron Dames shattered another record and took a historic and dominant victory at the 4H of Portimao.
European Le Mans Series was the protagonist last weekend of another chapter of motor racing history: at the final round of the season, on one of the most technical and challenging circuits in Europe - Circuito do Algarve in Portimao - Sarah Bovy, Doriane Pin and Michelle Gatting were once again on top of the world.
With another outstanding performance, the Iron Dames crossed the finish line in first place in LMGTE after 4 hours of close, intense racing that broke down another barrier: ELMS now has its first ever female winners. Records that are now being shattered on a weekly basis, as the most revolutionary project in contemporary sportscar racing once again proved its point.
The Dames - joined in the garage by Rahel Frey, equally crucial to the line up despite not being in the car herself this weekend - are now consistently fighting for race victories in all the series they enter.
The whole team built the Portimao success from the start of the weekend, by working on the car's setup step by step, making progress always with the race pace and the bigger picture in mind; while improving through practice, one gets the feeling that the Iron Lynx squad is always in control of the situation.
On Saturday, the first big headline: with a perfect qualifying, Sarah Bovy claimed the team's first ever pole position in the series - a few months after her equally brilliant effort in WEC at Monza.
"We tried several things all over the practices and it's not easy - it's a very technical track" - Bovy explained. "There are a lot of opportunities for drivers to make mistakes."
"At the end I was able to do some good laps and avoid any troubles with track limits. I really have to thank the team because the mechanics stayed very late yesterday to work on the car. This pole position is definitely for them.""I feel confident because I have a lot of trust in our team" - she stressed.
"We are building our race weekend in the smartest way possible and really preparing the race for the longest stints. A pole position is always a great feeling and it's a point in the championship so we work hard for it too, but our main focus is always on the race pace."
The race was set to be a challenging one, with the weather conditions changing just before the start of the race: with the drivers standing on the grid and almost ready to climb in their cars, rain started to fall and multiple cars spun on the formation lap. Sarah Bovy, the elected driver for the race start for the Iron Dames, managed to stay out of trouble and had a smart start, opting for a cautious approach when the lights went out.
On the first lap, Bovy took no risks in the extremely challenging conditions and dropped behind the #69 Oman Racing with TF Sport Aston Martin and the #32 Rinaldi Racing Ferrari. Soon after, though, Bovy set the fastest time of the race and closed in again to Ahmad Al Harty, until the #21 Muhlner Motorsport LMP2 Oreca hit the barriers after a contact with the #7 Nielsen Racing LMP3.
As most of the field pitted under Full Course Yellow half an hour into the race, crucially, Iron Dames kept Sarah Bovy out and the Belgian took the lead in the GTE class. At the restart, she was able to build a solid lead. What initially seemed like a risky strategy - as she would have to pit under green conditions - would ultimately reveal to be the perfect strategy later in the race.
After pitting for fuel, Bovy rejoined the track in third place - with pace to catch back the front runners. A second FCY was deployed after the #6 360 Racing LMP3 Ligier got stuck in the gravel; with the #32 Rinaldi Racing Ferrari receiving a track limits penalty, Sarah Bovy overtook the #69 Aston Martin and the #83 pink Ferrari 488 GTE was back in the lead of the race.
As Bovy's second pit stop approached - a perfectly timed Full Course Yellow appeared: the #14 Inter Europol Competition spun and the #47 Algarve Pro Racing hit the barriers.
After a long stint, Sarah Bovy dived into the pitlane and handed the Iron Dames Ferrari to the newly-crowned Ferrari Challenge Champion Doriane Pin, who retained first place.
Meanwhile, though, rain had started to fall again, with teams left scratching their heads for the tyre strategy. That didn't stop Pin's unreal stint: the young French talent was so fast that she put a full lap to the second-placed #32 Rinaldi Racing Ferrari, on slick tyres at the moment.
While lapping the #13 Inter Europol Competition, the #31 TDS Racing X Vaillante spun in the gravel, freezing yet again the race with a FCY. With the track getting more and more slippery, lots of mistakes caught out several experienced drivers - but Doriane Pin managed to maintain the lead untroubled, then handing the car to Michelle Gatting in first position for the last stint of the race.
With Michelle at the wheel, the victory was closer and closer and, after another perfect stint from the Danish racer, who could actually extend her gap to the recovering Aston Martin, pitted for a new set of slick tyres in the closing stages, thanks to a safe enough gap.
The rainbow made its appearance over the Autodromo do Algarve and Michelle Gatting crossed the finish line as the winner of the 4 Hours of Portimao. Already class winners in GT World Challenge, Iron Dames had claimed another historic, dominant victory.
ELMS also saw its champions crowned: the #9 PREMA Racing crew took home the LMP2 Championship, while the Pro-Am title was awarded to the #34 Racing Team Turkey. The winning LMP3 team was the #17 COOL Racing - after a hectic battle that saw the championship switching hands in the final ten minutes of racing - and the #77 Proton Competition won in the GTE class.
Iron Dames' victory proved once again what this project means for the sport.
Misfortune denied them the title in GTWC only a few weeks before - but the Dames were back stronger than ever. The Race to Inspire motto written on the race suits showed the whole world that this team's success goes beyond the race track.
"This weekend’s success is proof that the Iron Dames project is working and it is succeeding as a result of everyone’s efforts, the whole team made this happen" - perfectly summed up Iron Dames' project founder Deborah Mayer. "The project is about motivation, determination, strong performance, but above all we are women driven by dreams with a strong message behind us and lots of passion."
"We race to inspire women to follow their dreams and take the first step into motorsport, because as we’ve shown today, it is possible to make it happen."
And the top step of the podium in Portimao was proof of concept.
With another perfectly managed opening double-stint, Sarah Bovy was flawless, aided by a confident strategy behind the scenes.
“We have won our first ELMS race! It hasn’t been easy for us this year but we’ve kept fighting for every opportunity." - she commented.
"The team made a great strategy, they got every call right and we didn’t lose time anywhere. Hats off to them, they did amazing.” - Bovy continued. “To build consistent success in motorsport you need to have everything working together. Even when we’ve had misfortune, we’ve kept our heads down, kept working and never panicked. I’m so proud of everybody.”
While this year's ELMS campaign was off to a challenging start and the Dames could only step on the podium at Spa Francorchamps despite battling for the top positions throughout the championship, the win feels like the only possible way to round out a season - and Michelle Gatting was relieved that the long-awaited win is now off their shoulders.
“I’ve been part of the Iron Dames project since it started, it’s basically taken four years for us to get a win in ELMS" - Gatting said. "We’ve been so close so many times, and it’s quite an emotional moment because we’re all here and it’s been a huge effort from everybody. I think we’ve really shown who the Iron Dames are.”
“It’s great to win here in Portimao, it was really a perfect weekend for us." - echoed 18-year-old Doriane Pin, the youngest of the trio whose masterclass in the central part of the race cemented the team's first place. "Last week was pretty intense", she added, hinting at her Ferrari Challenge title, "but to get the team’s first win in ELMS is great and I’m very proud of what we’ve achieved together.”
Sarah Bovy, Michelle Gatting and Rahel Frey - whose work behind the scenes is also big part of the Iron Dames' strength - will be back behind the wheel in November, for the final round of the World Endurance Championship in Bahrain - while Doriane Pin will hit the track in a week's time for the Ferrari World Finals in Imola.