It was the story of the weekend: with a stunning drive at the 6 Hours of Monza, Sarah Bovy, Michelle Gatting and Rahel Frey clinched the first Iron Dames podium in the World Endurance Championship – in a historic first for an all-female crew in the series. Relive the historic achievement through their words.
There are hardly more historic places in motorsport than Autodromo Nazionale di Monza – a venue that, together with Indianapolis and Silverstone and Le Mans, has written the most legendary chapters of the sport. It only seems fitting, now, that it was the backdrop to the biggest milestones in the Iron Dames' project history to date.
Coming off a positive yet bittersweet ELMS 4 Hours of Monza, Sarah Bovy, Rahel Frey and Michelle Gatting were committed to return to the 5,793m track with bigger ambitions. And the fourth round of the FIA World Endurance Championship a few days later offered them that opportunity.
Bovy, Gatting and Frey – an established line up that made their debut together exactly at the same event one year ago – progressed through the practice sessions with steady improvements and all three drivers lapped within tenths of each other – in one of the most consistent GTE crews in the series.
In the ten minute qualifying session, Belgian 33 year-old Sarah Bovy went out against some of the biggest names in endurance racing and led the early pace in the GTE-Am class.
Ben Keating then topped the timing sheets in the #33 TF Sports Aston Martin, with Bovy setting the fastest sectors 1 and 2 but then having to scrap the lap in sector 3 when she got too close to a car in front. She settled in fourth place until the final attempt.
With a phenomenal lap in the last minute, Sarah clinched a historic pole position with a 1:47.431 lap that put Iron Dames 0.227 seconds clear of the #33 TF Sports Aston Martin.
“It was a crazy session to be honest" – Sarah commented. "I was really unhappy with what I was doing in the first eight minutes – a lot of little mistakes coming from the fact I knew we could do it. We worked really hard for it and I wanted to deliver. Then I got the message on the radio that it was time to do the lap and I’m really happy that I managed to clip it at the end, it was a nice lap and I pushed with everything I had, thinking about my teammates, about my team, about all the hard work that we’ve done.”
It was the first ever pole position for a woman in the history of FIA WEC – but Bovy was already looking to surpass that achievement on Sunday. “It’s nice, but what we want to do tomorrow is bigger than that – and it’s something we want to achieve together" – she said on Saturday afternoon. Glickenhaus took its second pole position in the overall classification, beating the #8 Toyota and the #36 Alpine. The return to sports cars of Peugeot was marked by a very encouraging fifth place for the #94 French hypercar, while the second car was forced to take the start from the very back of the grid after it brought out a red flag in the final minutes of qualifying for a technical issue. Under clear and sunny skies of a hot summer day in Italy, the 6 Hours of Monza got underway with the pink #85 Ferrari leading the GTE-Am field. Sarah Bovy once again was flawless at the lights out and retained the first place coming into the tricky first corner; after the first couple of laps, Bovy and Keating were opening a gap on the rest of the class competitors, until the first FCY neutralized the race at the 12 minute mark. The #54 AF Corse Ferrari of Thomas Flohr was stuck in the gravel at Parabolic after being tagged by the Aston Martin of Paul Dalla Lana. A few cars across the classes took the opportunity to pit for a refueling, but the leading teams in GTE-Am stayed out. A second Full Course Yellow followed shortly, as the #93 Peugeot – who had meanwhile cleared the GTE traffic and was chasing back the other hypercars – slowed down and came to a halt at the exit of Ascari. Mikkel Jensen would make his way back to the pits and the French manufacturer tried to fix the issue. Most of the teams pitted at the second caution – except for TF Sports' Ben Keating, who opted to stay out and then temporarily inherited the lead in GTE-Am when Sarah Bovy pitted for Iron Dames. When the race went back to green, Sarah was gaining ground on the #33 Aston and she would reclaim the top spot on lap 32, when Keating ultimately had to stop. After a flawless first third of the race, Sarah Bovy always kept Ben Keating at bay and led the race with confidence before handing over the #85 Ferrari to Michelle Gatting on lap 56, during the FCY brought out by the stranded #21 AF Corse Ferrari of Ulrich at Lesmo. Keating also brought the #33 Aston in and Henrique Chaves got behind the wheel. After two hours of racing, the two GTE-Am leaders almost perfectly matched their lap times and the fight for the lead was as tense as possible – until Chaves was handed a 50 second penalty for speeding in pit lane that demoted the early contender to fourth place. On his out lap, though, Chaves had a monumental crash at the second chicane and rolled over at speed over the sausage kerbs at La Roggia, fortunately emerging unscathed. The obvious intervention of the Safety Car, though, wasn't good news for Iron Dames, as they saw an over 30 second lead to the #77 Dempsey Proton Porsche evaporating. Gatting saw Sebastian Priaulx closing in and, at the next stop, Rahel Frey took over the helm of the #85 Ferrari. Priaulx tried to hunt down Rahel, but the Swiss talent held on and kept the Iron Dames Ferrari at the top albeit under increasing pressure. Mikkel Pedersen's #46 Porsche briefly led, as the Project 1 entry went off sequence and then settled in third. Meanwhile, the leading #708 Glickenhaus, who had comfortably led the race in the opening hours, had to serve a penalty for speeding under FCY and, once Derani had rejoined in second, there was more drama for the American hypercar as it suffered an engine failure and retired.
With great consistency, Frey slowly built a few second gap and stretched her lead over the #77 Porsche that gave Iron Dames some breathing space. On lap 110, the Dempsey Proton entry pitted and Platinum-rated Harry Tincknell started his driving shift from second place in class. Frey remained behind the wheel at the next stop and, with four hours of racing in the books, managed to retain the lead despite the unbelievable pressure. When the overall leaders collided on the main straight, a Full Course Yellow was deployed with 1 hour and 11 minutes left on the clock. The #36 Alpine of Nicolas Lapierre was hunting down the Toyotas and, after passing the #8 following an hour-long battle of incredible close racing, he attacked the first.placed #7 Toyota of Kamui Kobayashi. The two made contact on the start-finish straight and the Japanese driver ended up with a tyre cut and some bodywork damage. While the FCY for debris neutralized the action, tension was high for strategic calls. Tincknell pitted under caution on lap 142, while Iron Dames – on the edge of fuel count for the final stint - tried to stretch the stop by one lap. Unfortunately, when Rahel Frey made her way back to the pits, the race went back to green, resulting in the #85 to lose its first place and around 30 seconds when Michelle Gatting rejoined for the final hour. Michelle made her absolute best and, with a strong final stint, she kept the gap to the fast charging Matteo Cairoli in third, conquering an equally impressive second place. The #77 Proton Porsche had to complete a splash-and-dash for fuel in the final minutes but Harry Tincknell was able to retain the lead by a handful of seconds, before Gatting also had to take the way of pit road with one minute left for a splash. After 6 Hours of intense racing, Sarah Bovy, Rahel Frey and Michelle Gatting claimed Iron Dames' first ever podium in FIA WEC – becoming the protagonists of another historic achievement: they became the first ever all-female crew to stand on the World Endurance Championship rostrum. The only previous woman to have finished in the top three in WEC was Keiko Ihara, who last was on the podium in Bahrain 2014. Bovy, Frey and Gatting thus broke a 7-year hiatus for women at the top level of endurance racing. "I think when we arrived in Monza we would have signed for a P2 in the WEC race and the pole position as the cherry on top", Sarah Bovy told us after the race. "Of course when you lead for five hours it's always a bit disappointing that we finished second, but it's actually a very good sign that we are now disappointed with a P2 in a World Championship – it shows that the level of expectations is linked to the level of performance. That's what I want to take home from today."
"The team has made an immense effort, immense progress", stressed Rahel Frey. "We basically made all the right calls throughout practice sessions, qualifying and first part of the race. We gave our everything to fight on track and we had a good car" – she continued. "Honestly speaking, today we didn't lose the race on track, but that's racing. In the end second place is by far our best result – and also the team's result, because the sister car finished fourth. We can be happy about P2, but of course we are still a little bit disappointed because today we could have had the chance to win." "It means we just keep on going and keep on working hard. I think we have left a mark this weekend and we can be very proud." In three weeks' time, Iron Dames will hit the track on another iconic circuit – Spa Francorchamps – for another bucket-list race in the career of every racing driver. "Next up is going to be the 24 Hours of Spa – my last edition was 2018 so it's been a while", continued Sarah Bovy. The Belgian has in fact raced in five previous editions of the biggest GT race on the planet. "The competition is higher and higher every year and we know it's a crazy race, so that's what I'm expecting." "It's going to be tough but I think it's the first time that I will get there with a team like this one, with the preparation that I have this year. We know each other as teammates and we know we can be competitive; it's the first time that I have the real chance to fight for something." "When I see how we build up our race week here in Monza and the pace we had, I know we have a chance for a good race."