A slow puncture and an ill-timed Safety Car hindered Iron Dames' weekend at the 3 Hours of Hockenheim - but Rahel Frey, Sarah Bovy and Michelle Gatting remain in the title fight for the GT World Challenge Gold Cup with one race to go.
One month from the class victory at the 24 hours of Spa Francorchamps, the history-making Iron Dames trio were back reunited in Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe, as they tackled the 3 Hours of Hockenheim from the lead of the Gold class championship standings.
Rahel Frey was back alongside Michelle Gatting and Sarah Bovy after missing the ELMS round at Barcelona, where young gun Doriane Pin was scheduled to make her European Le Mans Series debut in GTE. An unfortunate first lap contact with a LMP3 car, though, put an early end to the race of the #83 Iron Dames' Ferrari.
One week later, morale was high again, as the three Dames had another big task: defending the championship lead in GTWC, at their first season in the series. With a podium finish at the 1000km of Le Castellet and the class win at the Belgian round, Iron Dames are in contention for their first title as the series approaches its final rounds of the year.
Hockenheim surely presented its challenges: rain on Friday and Saturday morning made everything more complex, with Sarah Bovy and Michelle Gatting both having to learn the 4.574 km circuit for the first time.
While the Dames were not particularly happy after Pre-Qualifying, everything changed on race day, when Iron Lynx's brilliant work on the car setup once again allowed the pink Ferrari to be in contention for the top positions.
In the combined qualifying on Sunday morning, Rahel Frey, Sarah Bovy and Michelle Gatting were fifth fastest in the Gold class, with Frey putting in a great performance in Q1 with P3.
With their peculiar consistency, Frey, Bovy and Gatting knew they had in the race their chances to shine – but an unfortunate streak of bad luck hit once again.
Sarah Bovy took the start in the #83 Ferrari 488 GT3 and, as often is the case for the Belgian driver, she had a blistering start and gained a position in class.
She would hand over to Rahel Frey approximately one hour into the race from P4.
Meanwhile, Charles Weerts held the overall lead at the race start for team WRT, as the #71 Iron Lynx Ferrari of Alessio Rovera defended on the Emil Frey Lamborghini driven by Jack Aitken. The latter would then lose third place to the Car Collection Audi of Mattia Drudi.
Soon after the restart, Drudi was up into second place, as Weerts tried to pull away once again after dominating the first stages. There was drama for Iron Lynx, as Rovera retired after contact with the sister car driven by James Calado.
In the hands of Gold-rated Rahel Frey, Iron Dames climbed the order and were steadily into second place in class.
Up ahead, Drudi took over the race lead from Weerts – with also Aitken snatching second – after the WRT driver hit trouble and eventually retired with technical issues. After the first rounds of pit stops, the #12 Car Collection Audi R8 LMS GT3 – now with Steijn Schothorst behind the wheel – took over the race lead, followed by Chris Mies in the Sainteloc Audi.
While Rahel Frey was looking strong for a potential race win in Gold Cup, bad luck hit again and a slow puncture eventually hindered her stint for almost 30 minutes.
Frey masterfully managed the situation, but the Iron Dames Ferrari lost over 30 seconds before the third and final driver change – when Michelle Gatting jumped in for the final stint.
Markus Winkelhock (Attempto Audi) passed Stuart White (Emil Frey Lamborghini) and hunted down the leading duo – but everything changed once again after the third stop, when Patric Niederhauser (Sainteloc Audi) got behind the wheel for his driving shift and emerged in the lead, having passed Christopher Haase in the #12 Car Collection entry. Meanwhile, Michelle Gatting was on a mission and made up positions until the doorsteps of the podium. Unfortunately, a Safety Car in the closing stages came right at the worst possible moment for Iron Dames: the pace car positioning allowed their rivals to effectively gain a lap over Gatting while she was already eying a podium finish. At the restart, Niederhauser had a perfect getaway and checked out from the #12 Audi of Haase – before the latter was forced to abandon the race for mechanical gremlins, paving the way to Dennis Marschall and Matteo Cairoli, respectively in the Attempto Racing and Dinamic Motorsport entries. Michelle Gatting crossed the finish line in sixth place in class, after a perfect race for Iron Dames was ultimately crushed by a series of unfortunate events. "A slow puncture mid-race ruined our chance to fight for the victory", wrote Bovy. "We were then running P2 in class with a very strong pace from Rahel Frey – we lost 30 seconds but kept fighting our way back in top 5 and with another strong stint from Michelle Gatting we came back to less than 10 seconds gap to the podium - and we had the pace to get it - but then an incident on track deployed a safety car and very unfortunately it came just between us and our competitors, they then gained a free lap on us." "Sometimes you do everything right and it just doesn’t work", she summed up.
Brendan Iribe and Frederik Schandorff claimed their second Gold Cup win for Inception Racing, as the #7 McLaren inherited the lead in the final stages after the dominant Herberth Motorsport Porsche of Ralf Bohn/Alfred Renauer/Robert Renauer dropped down to fourth. The #5 HRT Mercedes driven by Haupt/Maini/Scholze was second and preceded the AF Corse Ferrari of Balzan/Sbirrazzuoli/Delacour. Despite the disappointment, Iron Dames remain in contention for the Gold Cup title – now second in the standings, merely 10 points behind the Inception Racing McLaren. “I am very proud of the Iron Dames this weekend, this was the best race they have ever done" – commented Andrea Piccini, Team Principal at Iron Lynx. "Rahel managed the puncture very well and the team prepared a car which was flying." "Despite a puncture and safety car conditions, they showed that they are able to fight for victory. We had the perfect strategy but sixth place doesn’t represent what they deserved", he concluded. Iron Dames will attempt their first title assault next 30 September - 2 October, at the season finale of the GT World Challenge Europe Endurance championship at Circuit de Catalunya, Barcelona. But before that, Sarah, Rahel and Michelle will travel to Japan, for the upcoming 8 Hours of Fuji, penultimate round of the 2022 World Endurance Championship.