Impressive pace goes unrewarded for Iron Dames at Watkins Glen
After leading a sizeable portion of the 6H of the Glen, a tyre requirement penalty and an unscheduled late-race pitstop curtailed the Iron Dames' chances of a podium finish. Nonetheless, the team took a huge step forward in performance at a new track and they will be aiming to take this momentum into the 24 Hours of Spa.
The Iron Dames enjoyed their best showing in the IMSA Weathertech Sportscar Championship at Watkins Glen, which was not reflected in their overall finish of 16th place in GTD. After leading a sizeable portion of the race, a tyre requirement penalty and an unscheduled late-race pitstop curtailed their chances of a podium finish. Nonetheless, the team took a huge step forward in performance at a new track and they will be aiming to take this momentum into the 24 Hours of Spa.
Deborah Mayer was especially proud of the performance in which the Iron Dames contended for the victory. "I am extremely proud to see the Iron Dames competing in the United States in one of the most competitive championships worldwide. Today, Doriane, Rahel and Michelle bravely faced a particularly challenging race. The overall result was largely impacted by small technical issues and unwanted penalties. Their fighting spirit and attitude of never giving up in the face of adversity inspire great respect and makes us more motivated than ever for the future."
For the first time this season, the Iron Dames trio comprised of Rahel Frey, Michelle Gatting and a returning Doriane Pin whose only appearance with the team in 2023 came at the 24 Hours at Daytona. The opening practice at Watkins Glen featured changeable conditions, with rain persisting during the second half of the session leading to limited lap time improvements.
Ending the session 19th in GTD was not representative of the speed shown by the team, with further progress to be made in second practice. In a fully dry second practice, the Iron Dames ended the session 18th quickest, with Doriane Pin setting the quickest time aboard the #83 Lamborghini Huracan.
Doriane was nominated to take part in qualifying and rewarded the faith shown in her by the team. Setting the fastest first sector of any driver, Pin qualified third in GTD, also setting a faster time than six cars in the GTD Pro category. Doriane was also just two tenths behind factory Lamborghini driver Jordan Pepper, despite Pin having never raced at Watkins Glen prior to this weekend.
Doriane also took the start in the #83 Lamborghini Huracan and navigated a busy opening lap in third position prior to the first full course yellow period. Pin continued her strong pace throughout the opening stint and was unlucky to find herself on the wrong side of second safety car period which coincided with the first pit stop. This meant Doriane restarted in ninth but the young French driver was determined to made progress, passing four cars in as many laps following the restart.
By lap 27, Doriane had regained third position and following a further full course yellow period, begun to make inroads on fellow Lamborghini driver Misha Goikhberg. Pin’s speed was superb as she made the move for second, before running consecutive personal best lap times to hunt down GTD leader Frankie Montecalvo. Doriane’s pace was further highlighted by passing GTD Pro class driver Patrick Pilet, before setting the fastest first sector of any GTD car. As Montecalvo pitted on lap 56, the Iron Dames took the lead for the first time.
Reflecting on her Watkins Glen debut, Doriane commented "I really enjoyed driving in Watkins Glen for the first time and the atmosphere of the United States races again. We can really be happy with the qualifying we did in P3 showing that the performance is there. I enjoy every single lap completed today following and passing the leading pack thanks to a good pace. The end of the race was a bit difficult for us, but we keep in mind all the positives and keep working as a team for the next one."
After handing over to Michelle Gatting, the #83 Lamborghini Huracan remained in the lead with the Danish driver doing brilliantly on her out lap to repel the advances of the chasing Lexus RCF. Gatting’s pace continued to be strong as she confidently paced the GTD field before the Iron Dames were given a mechanical black flag for tyre requirements, meaning an extra pit stop was required.
After the race, team principal Andrea Piccini explained that "We found ourselves with tyre pressures that were too low by a very small amount. Unfortunately, with the highly changeable weather conditions, the sun alternating with completely overcast skies meant the temperature of the asphalt fluctuated by several degrees."
"This made it tricky to control the pressures accurately with many teams encountering the same problem. The good news is we were competitive with both cars so that gives us motivation for the Petit Le Mans later in the year.”
This misfortune dropped Michelle to ninth, however it placed the team on an alternative strategy which had the potential to play out successfully as the race progressed. Running eighth at the halfway mark, the off-sequence strategy saw the Iron Dames reclaim the lead with two hours and 40 minutes remaining.
With Gatting’s lap times remaining excellent, this allowed Michelle to pit from the lead as the full course caution was displayed with a little under two and a half hours remaining in the six hour race. "Yet again I think we proved we can fight at the front. In the end, we are always performing at our best and pushing to the maximum”, Michelle added as she took away the positives from the race.
Rahel Frey jumped into the car during the pit stop and restarted in eighth, with the off-sequence strategy costing them a little extra time in the pits compared to their rivals. After falling to 11th on lap 121, Frey settled into a rhythm and set about regaining positions.
Superb moves to pass Kyle Marcelli and Alessio Rovera elevated Rahel to ninth, before a penalty for a car ahead and an overtake on Patrick Liddy lifted the Iron Dames to seventh.
As teams made what they hoped would be their final stop with around one hour to go, Frey had moved into sixth and was tasked with defended from a hard-charging Rovera.
Moving into the top-5 with just half an hour remaining, a season’s best IMSA Weathertech Sportscar Championship result looked within reach. However, a late-race unscheduled pit stop meant the trio finished the race 16th in GTD. Despite the final result, it was a hugely encouraging race for the Iron Dames with all three drivers displayed excellent speed across the six hours.
Throughout the weekend, the #83 Lamborghini Huracan was one of the cars to beat in GTD and only a series of unfortunate events prevented the Iron Dames from stepping onto the podium. Doriane’s superb qualifying effort and charge through the field in her second stint highlighted her potential, while Michelle and Rahey both battled adversity to continue moving through a hugely competitive IMSA Weathertech Sportscar Championship field.
The trio of drivers will be back in action next weekend where they will be re-joined by Sarah Bovy as the Iron Dames look to make it back-to-back class victories in the 24 Hours of Spa. Rahel Frey is keen to replicate the success of last year and commented: “We are looking ahead to Spa this week with unchanged passion and determination."