The Iron Dames trio was taken out from the 4 Hours of Le Castellet after an early contact. Michelle Gatting, Rahel Frey and Manuela Gostner have endured a tough start to their ELMS campaign, but they already turned their focus on their upcoming WEC commitments.
The all female trio composed by Rahel Frey, Manuela Gostner and Michelle Gatting headed to Le Castellet for the third round of the 2021 ELMS season. Just one week before, the Iron Dames had made history on the French track, when Katherine Legge, Sarah Bovy and Doriane Pin became the first all-female crew in GT World Challenge Europe, as they finished sixth in Pro-Am at the 1000km of Paul Ricard.
The original line-up, which is set to compete in their third European Le Mans Series campaign, was coming from an unfortunate round at Red Bull Ring, when Rahel Frey was taken out of the race while running fourth on the final lap of the race. The team – which is ran by Italian GT powerhouse Iron Lynx in collaboration with the Deborah Mayer-founded project and with support from the FIA Women In Motorsport Commission – had scored a fourth place finish at the season opener in Barcelona, just missing out on a podium due to a series of unfortunate events mid-race.
In Saturday's Qualifying session, Swiss ace Rahel Frey qualified the #83 Ferrari GTE in fifth class position, as the #95 TF Sport Aston Martin of Hartshorne/Gunn/Hankock took LMGTE pole position. Nick De Vries was the fastest driver overall and clinched the pole position for Sunday's 4 Hours race in the #26 G-Drive Racing. The #4 DKR Engineering Nissan led in LMP3, with Horr and Dayraut sharing driving duties.
At the green flag on Sunday, Team WRT's Yifei Ye was the protagonist of the best start at the top-end of the field and took the lead, while the GTE class was commanded by Oliver Hancock at the wheel of the #95 Aston Martin.
The #55 Spirit Of Race Ferrari driven by Duncan Cameron followed the GTE class leader in second and #80 Iron Lynx Ferrari of Rino Mastronardi battled against the #77 Proton Competition Porsche for the third spot. Manuela Gostner – who is often in charge of the first stints for Iron Dames – closed the gap to Michael Fassbender after the challenging opening laps, where she had dropped to sixth in class.
At the top of the overall leaderboard, the #22 United Autosport of Phil Hanson overtook the #28 Idec Sport driven by Paul Lafargue for P3 in a very competitive LMP2 field: the drivers from third to six were all following each other closely, while the leading duo started to open a gap and pull away from the rest of the pack.
Italian Rino Mastronardi (Iron Lynx) continued his strong run and moved past Duncan Cameron for second in GTE, despite picking up small damages to the front-end of his Ferrari – as battle scars from the previous fights started to add on. Racing in GTE was just as entertaining and on lap 12, the #77 Proton Competition Porsche with Christian Ried behind the wheel had a great duel for fourth place with the #88 AF Corse driven by Francois Perrodo.
Oliver Hancock continued his very solid run and significantly extended his lead from the rest of the GTE field. In a similar situation was Robert Wheldon in the LMP3 category, who had led from the early stages with a very comfortable gap on his rivals.
40 minutes into the race, Manuela Gostner and Hollywood star Micheal Fassbender battled for sixth in GTE, with the two contenders swapping positions before the Iron Dames' driver completed a bold move on Fassbender at the final corner. Few minutes later, though, the race was interrupted by a full course yellow and the entire field took the opportunity to come to pit road for the first round of pit stops.
Unfortunately the Iron Dames' 4 Hour of Le Castellet ended prematurely, when in another duel against Fassbender, the driver of the #93 Proton Competition Porsche driver made a very optimistic move into the Beausset corner and hit Manuela Gostner. Both the cars returned to the respective garages; the #93 Porsche was able to rejoin the track successively, while it was game over for the Iron Dames' Ferrari.
After a great stint in the final hour, Nyck De Vries took the overall lead and overtook the #32 United Autosport LMP2. With 44 minutes to go, there was another interruption by a Full Course Yellow when the #20 LMP3 caught fire at Turn 12 – luckily with no consequences for American driver Charles Crews.
In the remaining minutes after the restart, the #26 G Drive Racing Aurus of De Vries / Colapinto / Rusinov held on to the top spot and ultimately brought home the first victory of the year for the Russian squad. The trio, always among the main contenders in the previous rounds, were in fact fourth and second at Barcelona and at Zeltweg.
The #80 Iron Lynx Ferrari of Cressoni/Mastronardi/Molina completed an outstanding 4-hour run with GTE victory, ahead of the #55 Spirit of Race Ferrari (Cameron/Griffin/Perel) and the #88 AF Corse Ferrari driven by Perrodo/Collard/Rovera.
The #4 DKR Engineering won unchallenged in LMP3.
After the race, Irish actor Michael Fassbender visited the Iron Lynx garage and apologised to Manuela Gostner for the incident.
With ELMS now entering its second half of the season, the all-female #83 crew has certainly endured a rough start of the championship, and currently sits ninth in the points-table.
But, having proven their pace in the past two years at the wheel of the Ferrari 488 GT3 Evo, Michelle Gatting, Rahel Frey and Manuela Gostner are certainly going to fight back in the remaining rounds, starting from the home race at Monza on July 11th.
But, given their incredibly busy racing program, the three ladies have already turned their focus on their next commitment: the upcoming 8 Hours of Portimao, second round of the World Endurance Championship. With Katherine Legge competing in a double program in WEC and IMSA, it is believed that the British star will prioritize her commitment with the Richard Mille EBM Team Hardpoint entry at the GP of Detroit, leaving an empty seat in the #85 Iron Dames Ferrari. Despite Legge appearing on both the races' provisional entry lists, Michelle Gatting is likely to make her WEC debut in Algarve.