Battling race ends just short of the chequered flag for Iron Dames
The Iron Dames trio of Manuela Gostner, Michelle Gatting & Rahel Frey unfortunately lost a Top 4 finish on a last-lap contant at the 4H of Red Bull Ring, second round of the 2021 ELMS.
The Iron Dames trio composed of Rahel Frey, Michelle Gatting and Manuela Gostner were back behind the wheel of the #83 Iron Lynx Ferrari last weekend, as they made their return the track at the second round of the European Le Mans Series at the Red Bull Ring, having previously made their WEC debut - with Katherine Legge joining Frey and Gostner - at Spa Francorchamps. The all-female team had started the ELMS season with a fourth place in the GTE class at Barcelona last month, kicking off another promising campaign in the top continental endurance championsip.
Danish fast driver Michelle Gatting - who also started her Ferrari Challenge Europe campaign with three victories out of four races - once again proved to be in great form and placed the #83 Ferrari on second position in Saturday's Qualifying session.
The #34 LMP2 car of Racing Team Turkey (Yoluc/Eastwood/Sargeant) lead the pack on Sunday, but the #25 crew (G-Drive Racing) moved into first place in the very opening stages. Behind them, the #32 LMP2 joined the battle for the top and clinched the second spot.
On lap 2, the first big crash of the day neutralized the race: Rob Hodes spun, involving other two cars. The #18 was immediately forced to an early retirement due to the heavy damages.
Italian bronze-rated driver Manuela Gostner took the start for the Iron Dames team and was running in fourth before the Safety Car intervention - while the #80 black and white Iron Lynx sister car led the GTE class.
At the restart, the fight for second overall saw the Racing Team Turkey LMP2 car and #22 United Autosports of Phil Hanson battling out, with the latter moving ahead just behind the leading G-Drive. In GTE, Iron Lynx's Matteo Cressoni led from the #88 AF Corse and the #55 Spirit Of Race Ferrari, while Manuela Gostner fourth but under pressure from Rodrigo Sales at the wheel of the JMW Motorsport Ferrari.
Ahead, Phil Hanson overtook the #25 G-Drive Racing for the lead and Manuela lost fourth to Sales on lap 16. A few laps later, though, the Iron Dame managed to reduce the gap to the car in front and re-claimed the position after a convincing manouvre on the JMW Motorsport driver on lap 29.
Race control handed a drive through penalty to the #88 AF Corse Ferrari, which was served at the first to pit stop - allowing Gostner to move into third place in GTE.
When the first out of the four hours was about to come to an end, the #26 G-Drive Racing LMP2 was back in the overall lead with De Vries in the driving seat, as teams completed the first sequence of pit stops. Chinese driver Ye Yifey was running in second in the #41 Team WRT LMP2 after a recovery from fifth on the grid. Manuel Maldonado advanced into third place in the #32 United Autosports Oreca, right at the beginning of the second hour.
In GTE, the #88 AF Corse Ferrari recovered after the penalty when Francois Perrodo had taken over. The Frenchman overtook the #66 JMW Motorsport and, after few laps, caught up with Manuela Gostner. The latter was initially able to defend third place for the Iron Dames, but had to give up the position after a series of attacks.
Phil Hanson reduced the gap to Maldonado for P3 overall and, having studied his opponent for some laps, United Autosports was back in the top-3 with a move on the main straight. The battle went on until Turn 4: the Venezuelan tried to switch back, but lost out to Hanson and dropped over one second behind.
One and a half hour into the race, Manuela Gostner remained in the driving seat and defended fourth in GTE - the class being commanded by the #80 Iron Lynx sister car. The Iron Dames managed to close the gap from the #55 Spirit Of Race Ferrari and attempted the move. During the attack attempt, Gostner spun - without reporting damages. Nevertheless, she was once again forced to rebuild her recovery from fourth - just before leaving the car in the expert hands of Michelle Gatting a few minutes later.
The Danish lady rejoined the race seventh in GTE class, right behind the #77 Proton Competition Porsche. Richard Lietz and Rodrigo Sales battled for fourth in class - providing some exciting racing and position switches.
20 minutes before the mid-race point, the overall top four competitors completed their pit stops, with the #26 G-Drive and the #41 WRT that locked the first two positions. Former DTM driver Jonathan Aberdein overtook Maldonado for P3 and immediately reduced the gap to under two seconds to the #41 Team WRT LMP2 car - driven in the second stint by Robert Kubica.
Meantwhile, Michelle Gatting climbed to sixth with a 4-second advantage to the #77 Porsche - but with over 40 seconds to recover to the JMW Motorsport Ferrari. At the mid-race mark, Duncan Cameron pitted from second in GTE and allowed past the #55 Spirit Of Race Ferrari. Mastronardi in the #80 Iron Lynx remained unchallenged.
When the #66 Ferrari pitted, Michelle Gatting recovered to fifth place, but got stuck in the middle of a battling LMP3 group.
With 1 hour and 49 minutes left, the track was declared wet - in the biggest turn of events of the race. In seconds, most of the field spun in the desperate attempt to reach the pitlane to change tyres. Turn 7 proved particularly costly for a number of drivers.
This sudden weather change forced the race to almost 30 minutes of Safety Car action - that effectively mixed up the order.
The race finally restarted with 58 minutes to go: the #41 Team WRT LMP2 moved into the overall lead, ahead of the #26 G-Drive and the #22 United Autosports.
In GTE, the dominant run by the #80 Iron Lynx car was halted by the recovery of the #88 AF Corse team. Spaniard Miguel Molina though, once behind the wheel of the #80 Iron Lynx, closed the gap to under a second and was followed by Rahel Frey - who had taken over from Michelle Gatting from third. Rahel's gap to second was around six seconds.
With 48 minutes to go, Roberto Merhi and Tom Gamble battled for the overall final podium position: the G-Drive racer got the position after Gamble made a mistake under pressure. At the final round of pit stops for the leaders, Argentian young talent Franco Colapinto was up into third.
In GTE, the Iron Lynx powerhouse recovered to the top of the leaderboard, followed by Rahel Frey in second and the #88 AF Corse down to third, but committed to fight back the Swiss lady. Frey would indeed lose second after the return of Rovera, who further reduced the gap to Molina. After three and a half hours, the top-3 GTE cars were battling for the win and navigated through the LMP3 traffic - that ultimately helped the AF Corse Ferrari to clinch the lead after a great comeback.
Arguably the most exciting fight of the entire race, though, would come with 27 minutes to go, when Colapinto pitted for the final time and rejoined as the overall leader, ahead of Louis Deletraz in the #41 WRT Oreca right on his tail.
The Argentian defended with epic perseverance from the many attacks of the Swiss driver: Colapinto initially held off despite having to drive through traffic, but two mistakes at Turn 3 by the driver of the G-Drive Aurus allowed Deletraz to secure the lead.
Iron Dames received a drive through penalty for crossing the white line at the pit entry on the final pitstop: after a battling race, Rahel Frey was fourth in GTE class with 13 minutes left on the clock.
In the very final laps, the #93 Proton Competition Porsche reduced the gap to Frey's Ferrari and attacked the Swiss lady: there was contact and the Porsche moved into fourth; Rahel didn't give up and responded back. Unfortunately, in the final corners, Frey ended up in the gravel trap after another contact with the #93. As per regulations, the car didn't make it across the finish line and was not classified after 4 hours of racing.
"Endurance racing can be as brutal as beautiful." - said Rahel Frey. "What was meant to be our weekend ended with a DNF. We were very fast but crazy weather conditions and crazy mistakes ended by getting taken out of the race in the final lap. BUT: We keep speeding as speed is a way of life! Thank you once again team!" - she wrote.
"We will be back even stronger." - echoed Michelle Gatting. "Thanks to the whole team for the massive effort."
"This looked like it should have become one of our ever best races, but in endurance racing everything can change very quickly!" - wrote Manuela Gostner on social media. A sentiment also shared by Team Principal Andrea Piccini: “I think we made the right calls today, but the weather was just too unpredictable."
"I’m happy with how the team reacted, and we would do the same again. The whole team did a great job in such difficult conditions. We’re disappointed with the contact on the last lap that took away a solid 4th place for the Iron Dames. We’ll come back even stronger in Paul Ricard."
The Kubica/Deletraz/Ye trio won the 4 Hours of Red Bull Ring for Team WRT, followed by the two Aurus G-Drive on the podium, with the #26 (Rusinov/Colapinto/De Vries) ahead of the #25 (Falb/Andrade/Merhi). In LMP3, Maulini/Bell/Krutten took class victory at the wheel of the #19 Cool Racing Ligier.
The #88 AF Corse won in GTE, preceding the #55 Spirit of Race and the #80 Iron Lynx - the latter having led for the most of the first half of the race.
The original Iron Dames trio will return to track at the Italian venue of Monza on 10/11 July for the third round of the 2021 European Le Mans Series, while Frey and Gostner will be joined by Legge for the season round of the World Endurance Championship at Portimao, on June 13th.