The first all-female ELMS crew closed their first racing season at the Gulf 12H, one year after their first race and podium. The Iron Dames will be back stronger in 2020.
Abu Dhabi's Yas Marina Circuit was the stage of the last big international event of the motosport 2019 calendar last weekend.
30 GT cars were ready to fight for the Gulf 12 Hours, including the all-female line-up of the Iron Dames, among the leading protagonists of the 2019 European Le Mans Series championship and of the iconic Le Mans 24 hours.
The Iron Lynx team went into the Abu Dhabi classic with a new special livery on its #83 Ferrari 488 GT3 car, composed by a main pink colour with the addition of black stripes.
Rahel Frey, Michelle Gatting and Manuela Gostner proved since the free practice sessions to be one of the fastest teams on track; the Iron Dames then confirmed their performances during Friday's qualifying, as they finished with the fourth fastest time overall, wich allowed them to take the start of the race from the second row on the grid.
The race was composed by two 6 hours sections, with a two hours break in between.
Rahel Frey got behind the wheel of the #83 GT3 Ferrari for the race start and managed a solid start to hold fourth, while Danish Michelle Gatting and Italian Manuela Gostner also kept the position in their respective opening stints.
When Rahel Frey jumped back in the car for her second personal shift, the Safety Car was deployed, forcing the Iron Dames to lose one position at the restart.
The Swiss driver fought hard to recover the fourth overall place with the #19 Porsche, as Frey kept lapping steadily faster then the Hall-Goethe-Grogor trio. Despite spending all her stint in the gearbox of the GPX Racing Porsche, Rahel could not make a winning move stick.
The battle with the Porsche forced Rahel to lose vital time to the GT3-Pro leading cars, thus the team opted to call her in for one last time during the initial six hours race section, leaving the car in Michelle Gatting's hands.
Gatting managed another consinstent stint, as she continued the battle previously started by her teammate with the #19 Porsche. Just as Frey, the Dane could not find a way past her opponent after another closely fought final hour.
In the last lap before the break, the #48 HTP Motorsport Mercedes suffered an engine issue while running in P3, allowing to the Iron Dames trio to end the first six hours in fourth overall position, with a one-lap advantage over the other Kessel-run Ferrari crew, lining up MotoGP legend Valentino Rossi, in fifth place and leading the GT-Am class.
Unfortunately, 40 minutes into the second half of the race, dreams of glory came to an abrupt end for the ladies.
A contact between Michelle Gatting and a lapped competitor forced the Danish to stop her car on track-side just after turn 7, with a broken rear-left suspension and no further chance to come back into the pitlane for repairs.
"Not what we expected or deserved. I had a contact with a GT4 during an overlapping which took us out of the race with a broken rear suspension. Super sad for the whole team of Iron Lynx." - said Michelle Gatting.
"But there is no doubt, we showed our pace, our fighter spirit and most importantly what the Iron Dames are standing for.".
It was an unlucky final race of 2019, that didn't take anything away from a very succesful season for the new all-ladies team, which has been reconfirmed by the reassuring words of the Iron Lynx project.
"In Abu Dhabi we proved once again our competitiveness. Despite the retire, Iron Dames showed to being able to fight on equal terms against the other drivers at the wheel of their official cars. This is the major gratification of the work that the Iron Lynx team has done in 2019 and an confidence injection which makes us look with optimism to the upcoming 2020".
The confirmed Iron Dames squad will compete again in the European Le Mans Series in 2020, with its Danish driver Michelle Gatting also sharing the wheel with the Women in Motorsport and Ferrari ambassador Deborah Mayer, to form the first ever all-female crew in the Michelin Le Mans Cup championship history.
Ph credits: Iron Lynx Motorsport