Iron Dames clinch first podium of the season at 1000km of Paul Ricard
How about a second place in GTWC as a confidence boost before the 24 Hours of Le Mans?
With a brilliant performance at the 1000km of Paul Ricard, Iron Dames scored their first podium of the season - hours before heading to Le Mans for the most prestigious event of the calendar.
Is there a better confidence boost than a maiden GT World Challenge podium before the biggest race of the year? Iron Dames added another trophy to their cabinet after a remarkable weekend at Le Castellet, claiming a second place finish at the 1000km of Paul Ricard - second round of the GT World Challenge Europe Endurance series. While it is their first full-season in the SRO-sanctioned championship, the all-female team had already entered the 100km race in the South of France in 2021, with Sarah Bovy, Doriane Pin and Katherine Legge finishing sixth in the ProAm Cup and bringing the Iron Lynx squad at GTWC debut with a 30th place overall. Bovy was then promoted to the main line-up together with Michelle Gatting and Rahel Frey and the trio - which is also contesting the World Endurance Championship and European Le Mans Series - extended their participation to GTWC in an extremely busy season for the project launched by Deborah Mayer, now at the helm of the FIA Women In Motorsport commission. At the season opener in Imola, Bovy-Gatting-Frey had a really strong qualifying and set the third fastest combined lap time in class in one of the most competitive GT3 fields in the world. Unfortunately, a contact put the #83 Ferrari 488 GT3 out of contention on the first lap, but the Dames had decidedly proven their speed on track. Coming to Paul Ricard - a track that has historically been friendly ground for the Italian outfit - they knew that big points were up for grabs.
Free practice started with a P50 out of an impressive 64-car field overall, as they continued to climb the order session after session: a sixth place in class in qualifying was then followed by a great qualifying effort from all three drivers, which put the #83 Ferrari in P3 among the Gold Cup entries. All three lapped within tenths of each other, with Frey setting a 1:55.310, Bovy a 1:55.097 and Michelle Gatting further improved with a 1:54.552 which brought them in P23 overall. The sister #71 car scored pole position in the Pro class and Serra converted pole into the race lead at the start, with the yellow Iron Lynx Ferrari preceding the Dinamic Motorsport's Porsche of Klaus Bachler and the WRT Audi driven by Charlie Weerts. An early Safety Car triggered by Ethan Simioni's McLaren at the end of the first lap then saw Bachler taking the lead at the restart, as Serra dropped behind both Bortolotti and Marciello in the opening stages. Bortolotti was then able to make it into first place at around the 30 minute mark, followed by Marciello. Bachler was then forced to retire after collecting the SKY Tempesta Mercedes AMG and picking up significant damage to the front end of his Porsche. Left-rear punctures disrupted the races of several cars - among them the Emily Frey Lamborghini of Altoè, Silver Cup-leader Goethe, Lappalainen, Weerts and Tujula, who ended up into the tyre barrier at speed after the fast left-hander at Signes which brought out the Full Course Yellow. After a solid first stint, Sarah Bovy was steadily in the top three in the Gold class and pitted from second place at the Full Course Yellow. The caution also brought back into the mix the #71 Iron Lynx Ferrari of Serra, who had slipped a few seconds behind the leading duo. During the third hour, Iron Lynx made the most out of Davide Rigon's pace to move back into the lead at the third pit stop, overcutting the Akkodis ASP Mercedes and the Emil Frey Lamborghini, with the WRT Audi of Dries Vanthoor hitting trouble when he made contact in an over-ambitious move with the Madpanda Mercedes of Franco Girolami, while battling Jules Gounon (Akkodis ASP Mercedes). After Weert's tyre puncture in the first hour, the damage to the WRT Audi was now terminal. There was more drama for other frontrunners when the Akkodis Mercedes was handed a 15 second time penalty for a pit stop infringement and, while comfortably in second place, Albert Costa pitted with a tyre puncture in the #63 Emil Frey Lamborghini. This paved the way for the second Iron Lynx Ferrari, driven by Miguel Molina in the final stints. James Calado had recovered to fourth in the central part of the race, also saving the car from a big spin coming off of Signes corner during a close battle with Kelvin van der Linde (WRT Audi). Molina made the move stick at the final restart, passing the Mercedes of Gounon and claiming an impressive 1-2 for Iron Lynx in the Pro class. But Iron Lynx/Iron Dames continued the strong form In the Gold class, with highly competitive stints by Bovy and Rahel Frey - who also brought the pink #83 Ferrari into class lead at the three hour mark - ran all race within the top three, trying to manage traffic. A 25 second penalty seemed to have put them out of contention for a podium finish once again - but an outstanding final double stint by Michelle Gatting in the darkness of the night ended with the first GT World Challenge podium for Iron Dames. "A podium finish we were really longing for, and hopefully this will just be the beginning for us." - said Gatting. "Getting into the car in the end for the last double stint, I really drove my heart out. It wasn't easy managing the traffic, the dark and avoiding making mistakes so the concentration was extremely high", she continued. "Sarah Bovy and Rahel Frey did exactly the same in their stints, driving their hearts out and managing everything in the best possible way." "After serving a penalty of 25 seconds, the podium didn't seem possible but together with the whole team we fought until the very end which brought us our first podium of 2022." There were words of praise also from Iron Lynx Team Principal Andrea Piccini: “The Iron Dames also had an excellent race and all drivers did a brilliant job", he said. "Sarah, Rahel and Michelle performed well for the whole six hours to stay in the podium positions throughout. It’s a great result for the team that have shown massive improvements this year, and now we focus on the big one, Le Mans!” The 1000km of Paul Ricard was in fact great preparation for the endurance classic, which Iron Dames will be contesting for the fourth time this upcoming weekend. With official testing in the early days of the week, Bovy, Frey and Gatting had a very short time to celebrate. "So, [we] basically ran from the podium ceremony in Paul Ricard into the plane that took us to Le Mans around 3 am, getting to bed at 4:30 am and we are ready - more or less - for the official test." The 2022 edition of the most legendary event in endurance racing will get underway on Saturday 11th June at Circuit de la Sarthe. Iron Dames will be back on track for GT World Challenge at another prestigious event: the Total 24 Hours of Spa Francorchamps on July 30th and 31st.