Despite heartbreak, Iron Dames complete impressive GTWC campaign in Barcelona
After scoring their first pole position in GT World Challenge Europe, Iron Dames were on course to clinch a historic first title at debut in the series – but a drive shaft failure shattered their dreams with 40 minutes to go. Nevertheless, the debut season of the all-female project in one of the most competitive series in the world showed that this is just the beginning – and sky is the limit.
The final race of the 2022 Fanatec GT World Challenge season contested last weekend at the Circuit of Catalunya, Spain, was quite a hectic one. All the class titles still had to be assigned, with several teams in contention; among them were also the Iron Dames, as the all-female trio fought for the Gold Cup title. Sarah Bovy, Michelle Gatting and Rahel Frey, in fact, were the protagonists of an outstanding debut season in one of the most competitive GT championships in the world, collecting remarkable results including their first win, as well as consistently scoring valuable points. The weekend, surely, started on a high: the Dames were able to run as many laps as possible during the practice sessions to prepare for the race. Qualifying went underway on a sunny Sunday morning and Bovy, Gatting and Frey made headlines once again, earning their first class pole position in the series. Most importantly, the drivers of the #83 Ferrari showed really consistent speed among each other – as well as to their sister car, the #71 that eventually scored the overall pole position. The pole position also contributed to cut the point gap, as Iron Dames gained one extra point and entered the final 3-hour race of the championship with only 8 points to recover.
The almost 50 car-field resulted in a busy start throughout the classes but everyone was able to get away untroubled: Sarah Bovy was the chosen driver to start, given the brilliant starts this year. The Belgian smartly took a cautious approach and found herself third at the end of the first lap – but lost no time to gain her positions back, chasing the #5 Haupt Racing Team and the #57 Winward Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3.
Across the field, there were a few contacts and spins: crucially, the #7 Inception Motorsport of Brendan Iribe – Iron Dames' main rival in the championship – went around in the opening stages and hit trouble, dropping at the back of the Gold Cup field.
The first hour of the race went by and, with the first driver changes happening, Bovy entered the pits. The team did a perfect job and Michelle Gatting jumped in the #83 Ferrari 488 GT3 from second in class. After managing her tyres for the first few laps, Gatting started to push and hunted down Fabio Scholze, at the wheel of the #5 Haupt Racing Team, for the lead of the race.
After one of the most thrilling battles of the race, Michelle was able to brilliantly overtake the Mercedes at turn 4, finally taking the lead of the race. She started to increase her gap lap by lap and was the fastest in class.
The second hour of the race saw many battles for the title fights, as every category was about to go down to the shortest points' margin. For the overall championship lead, Albert Costa – driving the #63 Emil Frey Lamborghini – made contact with Alessio Rovera, in his stint in the #71 Iron Lynx, as the teams fought hard.
Nevertheless, Michelle managed to stay out of trouble and handed the car over to Rahel Frey in first position. When Rahel exited the pits in a comfortable lead, no one would have expected the final stretch of the season to be cut short by an issue outside of anyone's control: with 42 minutes remaining until the end of the race, the Ferrari 488 GT3 suffered a drive shaft issue and had to be retired from the race – in the first technical issue of the season for Iron Dames, across WEC, ELMS and GT World Challenge.
A heartbreaking moment that showed how cruel motorsport can be.
Despite the engineers' work from the garage, the issue was unfixable and the pink Ferrari remained stranded on track. Almost 30 minutes away from their first title, their dreams shattered.
The race ended with the #54 Dinamic Motorsport seeing the checkered flag in first position overall, followed by the #71 Iron Lynx – which also, unluckily, lost the championship fight and came home second after some thrilling battles – and the #63 Emil Frey Lamborghini. Even if the win would have been the cherry on top of a historic and iconic achievement – and it certainly will remain a difficult pill to swallow – we cannot but look at the bright side of an outstanding and record-breaking campaign: the 2022 season will remain in history books as the year when the Iron Dames project finally showed its true potential, fighting for podiums and race victories in all the most elite sports car championships in the world. Performance from all three drivers have been incredible. They worked hard, battled and delivered. The class win at the 24H of Spa was the apex of this ongoing process, but certainly not the end point. Iron Dames showed the importance of the project in regards to inspiring the youngest generations, with women – and men – looking up to them. Iron Dames showed that everything is possible and achievable through hard work, dedication, and serious support from a team with a long term vision.
“The Iron Dames had an incredible season which was well above all expectations. They grew massively in the first part of the season until they claimed the victory at the 24 Hours of Spa. Today the win was possible, they came so close to winning the Gold Cup championship, starting in pole position. However, a technical failure took that away."
said Andrea Piccini, Iron Lynx's Team Principal.
Sarah Bovy, Michelle Gatting and Rahel Frey finished second in the championship, with 77 points to their tally – which remains an impressive result for their debut season.
Iron Dames will be back on track in Portimao next week, for the last round of the European Le Mans Series, where they're currently fourth in the standings.