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ELMS: Iron Dames dominant run at 4H of Le Castellet halted by safety car timing

Sarah Bovy, Rahel Frey and Michelle Gatting have been flawless throughout the first two rounds of the 2024 ELMS, driving at their absolute best and building sizable margins - but once again it was not meant to be for the drivers of the #85 Iron Dames Porsche, who still salvaged a fourth place finish at Le Castellet after an ill-timed safety car erased an over 50 second lead.

Sarah Bovy, Rahel Frey, Michelle Gatting, Iron Dames Porsche 911 GT3 R, European Le Mans Series, 2024 Le Castellet
Photo credits: FocusPackMedia - Marcel Wulf

For the second consecutive round, Iron Dames utterly dominated a European Le Mans Series race before being denied by circumstances outside of their control: after a technical issue at the final pit stop at the Barcelona season opener, an ill-timed safety car intervention erased an over 50 second gap ahead of the last stint - and a final pit stop lost the all-female trio the lead of the race as well as the chances of a podium.

Sarah Bovy, Rahel Frey and Michelle Gatting have been flawless throughout the first two rounds of the 2024 European Le Mans Series, driving their best races to date and mounting sizable margins - but once again it was not meant to be for the drivers of the #85 magenta Porsche 911 GT3 R, who still salvaged a fourth place finish after a superb final stint by Michelle Gatting.

The Barcelona disappointment had been brushed aside as the team headed to Le Castellet, in the South of France, where the outfit had traditionally enjoyed some of their strongest results since the project debut in 2019. The 5.770 km circuit - this weekend used in its configuration without the chicane on the Mistral straight - had in fact always been friendly ground for the Iron Dames, and early sessions suggested that Bovy, Frey and Gatting were once again in contention for a big result.

A competitive lap by the Danish driver in the first session, as well as the third fastest times in both the Bronze and second practice set the tone for the rest of the weekend, as Sarah Bovy took over driving duties for the LMGT3 class qualifying on Saturday afternoon with high hopes.

And the Belgian bronze-rated driver lived up to expectations once again. Sarah's first timed lap put the #85 Porsche in P4, as the Kessel, Spirit of Race and Formula Racing Ferraris made up the top positions. Bovy, though, got in the rhythm and immediately snatched the top spot with a 1:56.003 which was almost a second faster than anyone, with 5 minutes left on the clock.

Takeshi Kimura (#57 Kessel Racing Ferrari) struggled to reduce the gap in the final minutes and it would be Duncan Cameron to take second place, although the driver of the #55 Spirit of Race Ferrari could never challenge Bovy for the top spot.

Following Célia Martin's pole position in the Michelin Le Mans Cup, Iron Dames took their second pole position of the day, as qualifying master Sarah Bovy conquered her second pole in just as many ELMS rounds in 2024.

Sarah Bovy, Iron Dames Porsche 911 GT3 R, European Le Mans Series, 2024 Le Castellet
Photo credits: Iron Dames

Just three weeks after the start of the 2024 European Le Mans Series season, the crews of the 43 teams lined up on the grid for the 4 Hours of Le Castellet under clear skies.

Sarah Bovy led the LMGT3 field into turn 1, as she tried to make her way past the slower LMP3 cars - and a spinning prototype was in fact the cause for a lead change, as the Spirit of Race Ferrari 296 of Duncan Cameron seized the opportunity to pass the Iron Dame on lap one.

Bovy, though, immediately fought back and reclaimed the top spot after a pass on the Mistral straight on lap 2; the Iron Dames Porsche soon tried to pull away, as Cameron came under pressure from the #63 Iron Lynx Lamborghini driven by Hiroshi Hamaguchi.

The Belgian established her trademark commanding pace and, after setting the class fastest lap almost a full second faster than her closest competitor, she started to open a gap.

By lap 20, Iron Dames already enjoyed a 7 second lead. Hamaguchi found a way past Cameron for second place 30 minutes into the race - and the #55 Spirit of Race Ferrari hit trouble soon after, dropping down the order for a spin.

Bovy continued to extend the gap throughout the first stint and, at the 45 minute mark, the magenta Porsche was over 20 seconds ahead, courtesy of an uninterrupted first part of the race.

Iron Dames opted to pit 50 minutes into the race for fuel and Bovy remained behind the wheel. After the first LMGT3 pit cycle, Kessel Racing's Takeshi Kimura was up to second in class, although over 20 seconds behind Bovy. Sarah's pace continued to be unchallenged and, with position changing behind her for second, Iron Dames' race was going according to plan.

At the end of two monster stints, Sarah Bovy had built a 50 second advantage and pitted from the lead, handing over to Rahel Frey. The Swiss driver set the car's new benchmark on lap 60 and was one of the few drivers in class to lap under the 1m57. Frey's pace was highly competitive as well as consistent and, faster than most silver-rated drivers, the gap continued to grow.

Her glorious run was suddenly interrupted when the #88 Intereuropol LMP3 of Kai Askey came to a halt on the main straight and the Virtual Safety Car was deployed - which by regulation translated into a full Safety Car despite the issue being fully cleared by that time.

This meant that Rahel Frey saw the 54 second margin disappear on lap 69.

At the restart, Frey led the Iron Lynx Lamborghini - now driven by Axcil Jefferies - and the #59 Racing Spirit of Leman Aston Martin of Casper Stevenson. Frey tried to regroup and get back into her rhythm, building up again a 7 second gap.

When the overall race leader - the #37 COOL LMP2 Oreca of Malthe Jakobsen - came to a halt on track, Iron Dames reacted and pitted just before the full course yellow was deployed. Michelle Gatting took over the #85 Porsche and the team fitted a new set of tyres for the final stint. Their competitors, though, opted to only pit for fuel and, with a slightly longer stop, Michelle found herself in P5, battling for fourth with Valentin Hasse Clot (Racing Spirit of Leman Aston Martin).

Michelle was faster but couldn't clear the Vantage GT3, having also been squeezed on the Mistral straight. The Dane continued to follow the Aston Martin like a shadow but Hasse Clot always closed the door. Nevertheless, Michelle showed impressive pace and was the protagonist of one of her most remarkable stints, running on par with most gold and platinum rated drivers.

While she couldn't eventually get a move stick for fourth on track, she gained the position following a penalty for GR Racing's Davide Rigon and took the chequered flag in fourth place, salvaging a positive result for the all-female team that banked 13 important points for the championship after the Barcelona retirement. Iron Dames are now up to 7th in the LMGT3 teams' standings.

The European Le Mans Series will resume at Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari in Imola on 6-7 July - but the Iron Dames will now switch their focus to next week's 6 Hours of Spa Francorchamps, third round of the FIA WEC, on 9-11 May. 



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