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Iron Dames denied after dominant run with 40 minutes to go in 4H of Barcelona

"We can all be very proud of our performance on track, it was faultless and it was fast" - After an utterly dominant performance at the 4 Hours of Barcelona, Iron Dames' race came to a sudden halt with around 40 minutes to go due to a technical issue at the final pitstop.


Sarah Bovy, Rahel Frey, Michelle Gatting, Iron Dames Porsche GT3, European Le Mans Series 2024, Barcelona Circuit de Catalunya
Photo credits: FocusPackMedia - Marcel Wulf

Sarah Bovy, Rahel Frey and Michelle Gatting seemed headed towards a likely victory in the 2024 European Le Mans Series opener at Circuit de Catalunya, Barcelona, when their race came to a sudden halt with approximately 40 minutes to go, as an issue at the final pit stop brought their race to an end following an utterly dominant performance.


The Iron Dames #85 Porsche Porsche 911 GT3 R had in fact led the new LMGT3 class throughout the race, with flawless stints by Sarah Bovy and Rahel Frey, who had opened an almost 30 second gap to the closest rival ahead of the final pit stop.


While it was certainly a heartbreaking disappointment for the whole Iron Dames team, the speed and consistency shown in the pink Porsche from all three drivers across the weekend is a clear encouraging sign for the remainder of the season, highlighting once again the all-female team's competitiveness in one of the top endurance series in the world.


"It is a very unfortunate way to finish this race", said Gatting. "Sarah and Rahel both did amazing. A lot of lost points for the championship but the potential is here. There are still many rounds to go and we have a lot of positives to take."


The three drivers focused on car setup and on progressively building speed with the ultimate aim of long run consistency in practice, making good progress through FP1 and FP2 where they got closer to the top five. It was then Sarah Bovy's time to shine in qualifying - and the Belgian delivered once again, with one of her stellar runs that made the Belgian one of the world's top qualifiers: Sarah grabbed the top of the timing sheets on the second run, becoming the first driver to go under the 1:42 mark - then improved once again on her third timed lap, setting a 1:41.850 which put her 3 tenths clear of the Iron Lynx Lamborghini of Hiroshi Hamaguchi, thanks to a particularly strong final sector.


Despite a particularly strong Ferrari, nobody could challenge the Iron Dames Porsche in the final minutes of the session and Bovy claimed her first pole position of the year - picking up where she had left off at the 2022 4 Hours of Portimao, when Iron Dames last raced in ELMS and converted a pole position into a race win. Bovy therefore also signed the series' first ever LMGT3 pole position, as the championship transitioned from GTE to GT3 machinery.


Sarah Bovy, Rahel Frey, Michelle Gatting, Iron Dames Porsche GT3, European Le Mans Series 2024, Barcelona Circuit de Catalunya
Photi credits: Iron Dames

On a sunny Sunday morning, Sarah Bovy took on driving duties for the opening stint of the 4 Hours of Barcelona, leading the LMGT3 field at the start. Sarah soon had to avoid a spinning LMP3 car at the first corner, but managed to take evasive action and retained the class lead. In the traffic of some slower LMP3 cars, the Belgian was in fact still faster than the Formula Racing Ferrari and Iron Lynx Lamborghini just behind her.


Almost a second faster than anyone in the opening stages, Bovy slowly built a gap as per plan. A contact for the RLR M Sport LMP3 Ligier, though, brought out the Full Course Yellow 20 minutes into the race, which slightly slowed down Sarah's progression. Luckily there was no safety car intervention and the race was soon back underway, with Bovy again mingling with the prototypes.


The action was short-lived, though, as a contact between the #10 Vector Sport LMP2 and the #47 COOL Racing Oreca brought out the virtual safety car - for the first time in ELMS. Bovy made use of the free pit stop before the safety car was eventually deployed.


The Kessel Racing Ferrari of Takeshi Kimura was now in the lead of the GT3 class as the Japanese racer had not stopped under caution and held a sizable gap when the race finally went back to green, 50 minutes into the race. While all her hard work in the first hour had come undone, Sarah immediately caught and passed Kimura for the lead, then tried to build a gap again.


Once in clear air, Bovy's margin grew to over 6 seconds at the one hour mark - which soon became an 18 second advantage over the next 20 minutes. Despite contact while lapping the Kessel Racing Ferrari, Sarah continued on a strong pace.


At the 90 minute mark, Sarah Bovy completed one of her trademark stints, having opened an over 20 second gap before she handed over the pink #85 Porsche to Rahel Frey.


Rahel's pace was consistent enough to allow the Iron Dames Porsche to keep the gap stable over 25 seconds to the second-placed Iron Lynx Lamborghini driven by Axcil Jefferies - even once Conrad Laursen took over the Formula Racing Ferrari and the Danish driver passed Jefferies and became the Iron Dames closest pursuer.


Sarah Bovy, Rahel Frey, Michelle Gatting, Iron Dames Porsche GT3, European Le Mans Series 2024, Barcelona Circuit de Catalunya
Photo credits: FocusPackMedia - Jan Patrick Wagner

The Swiss driver was in total control and pitted on lap 76, remaining at the wheel following a really solid stint that resulted in an ever-growing gap. On the new tyre, Rahel improved her personal best lap then settled in a very steady pace, now almost 30 seconds up the road.


An off track for the Virage LMP2 Oreca of Piquet Jr triggered a second Virtual Safety Car, but luckily the recovery was quick and no full neutralization was required; Frey kept up the pace until the final stop on lap 103, when Michelle Gatting took over with 45 minutes to go.


When everything was looking good for a final stint, Gatting drove away but the car came to a halt right at pit exit. In a dramatic moment, Michelle's Porsche had to be retrieved and pushed back into the pitlane. Sadly, that was the end of the race for the #85 car, who had utterly dominated the race from the very start.


"It is really tough to not finish the race today and to not pick up any points because I think everybody did the job in the car and outside of the car", said Bovy, who despite having her stint disrupted by a couple of neutralizations had then built the healthy margin. "I want to thank everybody for the hard work and what we saw today is very promising for the rest of the season."


Frey had been just as impressive, as her average lap time was one of the best in the LMGT3 class, ahead of all but one gold rated driver.

"We can all be very proud of our performance on track, it was faultless and it was fast", the Swiss racer added. "We made very good steps; the car was in brilliant shape. We win together, we lose together, and we will definitely come back stronger at Le Castellet for the next round."


The European Le Mans Series will be back on track in two week's time at Circuit Paul Ricard - typically a strong track for Iron Dames - who will nevertheless tackle the second round of the FIA World Endurance Championship before: Michelle Gatting, Sarah Bovy and Doriane Pin will be back in the Lamborghini Huracán GT3 Evo 2 at Imola from 19-21 April.


Sarah Bovy, Rahel Frey, Michelle Gatting, Iron Dames Porsche GT3, European Le Mans Series 2024, Barcelona Circuit de Catalunya
Photo credits: FocusPackMedia - Marcel Wulf



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