ELMS: Iron Dames clinch third podium of the season in Monza 4H
After claiming two top-10 finishes in a row in the legendary 24 Hours classic, Rahel Frey, Michelle Gatting and Manuela Gostner secured yet another stellar result in the 4 Hours of Monza, as they could clinch their third ELMS podium in 2020.
The 4 hours of Monza, fourth round out of the five scheduled in the 2020 European Le Mans Series calendar, was the first race since the Le Mans 24 Hours for the two fully-female teams currently competing in the series. After the toughest race on the planet, the Iron Dames got back behind the wheel of their Iron Lynx-run Ferrari 488 GTE targeting more class podiums after a stellar season and another 9th place finish at the endurance classic less than a month ago.
A project born from the vision of driver and advocate for women in motorsport Deborah Mayer, the Iron Dames have become icons of female empowerment within the motorsport industry and have established themselves as serious championship front-runners with a series of notable results: the Dames - Manuela Gostner, Rahel Frey and Michelle Gatting - proved once again after their second top-10 in two participations that their adventure at the highest level of endurance racing is by no means a representation quota.
Despite showing slight disappointment after Le Mans for having missed a top-5, the three drivers reflected back on their experience and had time to process their recent achievement:
“We have to see our Le Mans race positively, as there are not many drivers in the world that can do this race; not many can finish and even less in the top-10." - Manuela told us.
"So to finish ninth two years in a row in such a complex race - now a couple of weeks later, we can say that we’re happy about it. Surely, we wanted something more from it honestly, but we couldn’t do it. Hopefully we’ll be back next year again, because we want to finish around the top-five and step up our target. If we can go back to Le Mans, we’ll be super happy.”
In their return to ELMS, the #83 outfit started the Monza weekend by showing good pace in the practice sessions. Rahel Frey qualified the car in fifth position after encountering some troubles with track limits - similarly to most of the LMGTE field. After Frey saw her two fastest laps deleted, pressure was building for her very final attempt, which put her in P5.
“Qualifying was quite difficult because a lot of laps got deleted for track limits, which was a shame.” - said Rahel after qualifying. “For us, P3 would have been possible - in the end we made it to P5 which is okay, but also not perfect. But we’re going to fight back in the race, we feel confident, we feeld good.”
The sister car, Iron Lynx #60 driven by Schiavoni-Pianezzola-Piccini, secured pole position ahead of the two Proton Competition Porsche 911 RSR cars of Richard Lietz and Alessio Picariello.
Rain showers overnight washed out the track and represented one more difficulty for the drivers at the race start, which went underway at 11:00 on Sunday in a still very damp Autodromo di Monza. Manuela Gostner took the green flag and opted for a cautious approach into Turn 1, where chaos unfolded ahead of her: the #26 G-Drive Aurus - starting from second overall - was sent into a spin by the #39 Graff Oreca. As Roman Rusinov got stuck on the kerb into the First Chicane and more cars went off at Biassono few metres ahead, the first Safety Car of the day was deployed at the end of the first lap.
Gostner was down to seventh in class, but had avoided the carnage.
Claudio Schiavoni had maintained the LMGTE leadership, ahead of Michael Fassbender (#93 Proton Competition), Christian Ried (#77 Proton Competition) and Duncan Cameron (#55 Spirit of Race). At the restart, Ried and Cameron were able to jump both the leading pair, with also the #74 Kessel Racing Ferrari making big progress after having to start from the back of the field. The Porsche driver straight-lined the second chicane and opened the door to Cameron, who was quick to steal first place. He then would go on to open a small gap thanks to the battle behind him for second between Broniszewski (Kessel) and Ried.
Manuela Gostner started to recover positions and advanced up to fourth place towards the end of the first hour. In a sudden turn of events, Sergio Pianezzola - who had taken over from Schiavoni in the #60 Iron Lynx Ferrari formerly on pole - was hit and sent into the gravel at Ascari by the #3 United Autosport LMP3 Ligier of Jim McGuire. The American would be handed a 10-second stop and go penalty for the incident, while Pianezzola could not continue and became the first retirement fo the race.
To allow the marshals to remove the stranded Ferrari, a second Full Course Yellow was called out. Taking advantage of the race neutralization, Iron Lynx - now down to a one car operation - pitted the #83 crew. Gostner handed over to Rahel Frey after a very solid stint and a confident recovery.
“Monza is a track where I’m always happy to come back." - said Manuela after completing her driving duties. "Today’s race started in really difficult conditions: it rained overnight and the track hasn't dried in time, so there was quite some water still in places."
"At the beginning of my stint I was super cautious, but it was very good overall, I managed to pass three cars in front and I went up from P7 to P4 when I came back to the pits, so I would say that my driving shift was very positive and I’m happy about it.”
After the teams had completed their driver change, the #55 Spirit of Race Ferrari led the #74 Ferrari and the #77 Porsche in an incredibly tight battle for class leadership. Proton's Alessio Picariello completed a stunning move for second and, soon after, brought himself up to first place.
Meanwhile, Rahel Frey started a remarkable stint and closed in on the leaders after posting a series of fastest laps. After closing a gap of over 30 seconds, Frey moved ahead of the #55 Ferrari, giving the Iron Dames podium chances.
With 1 hour and 45 minutes left on the clock, Frey took the way of the pitlane to perform the final driver change: Michelle Gatting got in the driving seat with the target of defending third place: “Rahel got behind the wheel after me and did an unbelievable stint - she was often the fastest car on track - and brought us to third place." - commented Gostner. "Now we have Michelle in the car and she keeps running really fast. It seems that so far everything is going well. In endurance you never know, there are so many things to manage - traffic, the track conditions for example - so I’m really crossing my fingers.”
Danish racer Michelle Gatting had another very strong opening stint and could build a comfortable gap over Aaron Scott in the #55 Spirit of Race. David Perel jumped in the #74 Kessel Racing Ferrari and pulled away, putting over a minute between his 488 GTE and its closest competitor, the #77 Proton Competition Porsche of Michele Beretta.
Gatting pitted for fuel and new tyres with 49 minutes to go; despite a fast charging Matt Griffin behind, Michelle kept her cool and managed the gap, bringing the #83 Iron Lynx Ferrari safely across the line in third position.
“I jumped in the car and I was supposed to do a double stint until the end - so that’s almost two hours in the car." - explained Michelle Gatting. "The first stint was really good on my side, I was always one of the fastest cars on track, which is quite good. The second stint was a bit more difficult for me, I was struggling a bit with the tyres."
"I knew I had Matt Griffin behind me who was pushing quite a lot to catch me, but I was managing the gap quite well with the support of my engineer. Everybody did a good job, Manuela did a good start and Rahel’s stint was really strong, as well as my first stint. As I said, the second was not too good, but still we managed to finish P3.”
Rahel Frey also echoed her teammates' feelings and was positively impressed by the end result: “Our weekend started with some difficulties, but we made it through and in the end we can finish on the podium. Honestly, this time I didn’t expect it, but we take it, we take the good points for the championship."
"It was a happy ending: we did well, Manuela, Michelle, the whole team did well, no mistakes at all. The car was really nice to drive, we had a strong pace, so definitely a happy ending. Now we go for another podium in Portimao.”
It was Iron Dames' third podium finish of the year, after their third places at both the 4-hour events at Circuit Paul Ricard.
With today's victory ahead of its main title rivals, the #74 Kessel Racing crew leads the standings from the #77 team by seven points. The Iron Dames made a big jump in the points table as they now move up to third, one point ahead of Spirit of Race with only one round left on the calendar.
“Portimao last year was quite positive because that was the race where we were the closest to the cars in front." - said Gatting, as the Iron Dames now look forward to the ELMS season finale. At the Algarve venue, the three ladies had a promising weekend last year, unfortunately crushed by a lap 1 accident that denied them of a finish in the top three in the standings.
"I think we all have good experiences with Portimao: Manuela did very well last year there, despite the accident in the race where she couldn’t do anything. So I think we have a pretty good chance. Some of the fast cars are starting to get a bit heavy now with the success ballast, which can be of our benefit.” - explained the 26-year old Dane.
“In general, we made a big step this year, we came a lot closer to the front-runners. We are fighting to finish P3 in the championship - second will be difficult, but of course we’ll be starting to fight for the overall win: it’s starting to get boring to finish P3 all the times!”