Female drivers impress in WEC Prologue at Sebring
The five female drivers of the 2023 FIA WEC grid had an impressive start of the season at the Prologue at Sebring - with Iron Dames leading sessions in GTE and Lilou Wadoux and Doriane Pin ending second in their respective classes.
The new season of FIA WEC is about to get underway at the iconic Sebring racetrack, opening one of the most anticipated eras in sports car racing. Eleven hypercar from seven manufacturers will contest the 2023 top class - but there's hype across all the extraordinarily competitive classes, featuring new line-ups, new cars - and new challenges for the five female drivers on the grid. Four of them will race in the now-sole GTE category, which will include both Pro and Am crews. Sarah Bovy, Michelle Gatting and Rahel Frey will be a consolidated trio - but this time they will have to master for the first time the Porsche 911 RSR GTE, as new Lamborghini manufacturer team Iron Lynx teamed up with Proton for the last season of GTE machinery, switching from Ferrari. At the WEC Prologue last weekend, Iron Dames had their first official session in the 911 RSR, after private tests at Portimao, Le Castellet and Barcelona. And the fast trio immediately turned heads, topping the timesheets at Sebring in the first and second sessions. Frey, Gatting and Bovy ended Saturday as the fastest in GTE, thanks to Michelle's 1:59.201 in the afternoon, which put the all-female team 2 tenths clear of the #21 AF Corse Ferrari. In the morning session, Iron Dames and the sister #60 Iron Lynx car had led the field, with Gatting setting the fastest lap by 22 thousands of a second. The multiple-podium finishers in the World Endurance Championship kept momentum and continued to log fast times and collect important insights for the season. The #85 Porsche was third and fifth in the two Sunday sessions, testing different solutions and showing great teamwork and coordination. Confirming one of their strongest points, Gatting, Bovy and Frey were extremely close in their lap times. Gatting completed 78 laps, Bovy 82 and Frey 91; the Danish and Swiss aces were both in the top-8 of the fastest aggregate laps throughout the weekend. The GR Racing and Project 1 Porsches led on day two - rounding out an extremely positive test for the German brand. “We’re very pleased with the car", said Sarah Bovy. "It suits us really well." "Michelle, Rahel and I worked on improving our performance systematically. We also attempted to maintain a steady pace on the long runs. We have a lot of fun in the Porsche 911 RSR and we’re really looking forward to this coming weekend." "Let’s see how the competition looks. Our expectations are high. We aim to bring home our first class win this year.” Having won in both GT World Challenge and ELMS, Iron Dames will aim for their first win in FIA WEC, after a pole position and near-wins in 2022. Certainly, the strong performances at the two-day FIA WEC Prologue are an encouraging sign for the whole Italian team. "We are pleased with the progress we've made during these two days of testing", explained Andrea Piccini, Team Principal at Iron Lynx. "The drivers worked well together with the team, and we were able to get valuable feedback from them that will help us in our preparations for the upcoming race." For Iron Dames, it will be a very busy weekend, as the 1000km that opens the FIA WEC season on Friday 17th March will be followed by the second round of the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup, the equally challenging 12 Hours of Sebring, which Iron Dames will contest with the Lamborghini Huracan GT3 EVO2. "It will be a tense week ahead as we will be racing in both FIA WEC and IMSA, but we are looking forward to the challenge.” - Piccini added.
19-year-old Doriane Pin was just as impressive. The Iron Dame and 2022 Ferrari Challenge Europe champion made her official debut in LMP2 as part of the Prema Racing #63 crew, sharing the Oreca 07 with Mirko Bortolotti and former F1 driver Daniil Kvyat.
The team had a busy work schedule, testing on high and low fuel, different solutions for the car setup, simulating different race scenarios, as well as pit stops and driver changes.
The drivers of the #63 Oreca soon bonded well and completed a total of 263 laps around the notoriously bumpy Sebring circuit, as they also learned to manage tyre temperatures after the ban of tyre heating.
Doriane and her teammates were fourth on Saturday morning, but then ended the first day in second position, with Daniil Kvyat setting the best lap of the trio.
On the second day, though, times dropped significantly - and Doriane Pin remained all day the fastest driver of her team. The young Frenchwoman completed the third session second fastest - and would end the WEC Prologue with the third fastest lap of the aggregate results - only two tenths behind Filipe Albuquerque and Robert Kubica, out of the 36 drivers of the LMP2 class.
"I’m really really happy about the prologue. I enjoyed every single moment and it feels so special to be here for my first official test", Doriane Pin said.
"We worked very well since the beginning with the team and my teammates. The sensation is good, and we can say it was a productive test."
"We are there, the pace is competitive, and we look forward to next week, my first LMP2 weekend. The Sebring track is amazing, and I cannot wait for the race."
Coming off a strong season in LMP2 - at her FIA WEC debut - Lilou Wadoux was promoted as the first ever Ferrari factory driver in the GT division. The 21-year-old French driver will start her first season in GTE-Am with the Richard Mille AF Corse squad, at the wheel of the Ferrari 488 GTE Evo.
Wadoux had the chance to test the car for the first time in Bahrain at last year's Rookie Tests - when she had also stepped in the Toyota Hypercar, becoming the first ever woman to drive hypercar machinery - and is now quickly getting up to speed in the #83 Richard Mille-sponsored entry that she shares with Luis Perez Companc and Alessio Rovera.
The three were sixth and seventh fastest on the first day of testing, lapping in 2:00.268 in the hands of the Italian factory driver. Wadoux, though, was less than half a second behind, and would make big progress on the sunny and warm Sunday.
Wadoux was the highlight of the second day for the Ferrari teams: she completed 61 laps, with a best time of 1:59.263 that put the Richard Mille AF Corse 488 GTE in second place in class. At her debut in the category, Lilou was the fastest of her team - and the fourth fastest driver among all the class, across the two days of testing, only 0.093 of a second off the fastest.
The Prologue ended with extremely high hopes for the five female drivers of the 2023 WEC field; qualifying for the 1000 Miles of Sebring, inaugural round of the season, will take place on Thursday 16th March.