Iron Dames collect top-5 finish after unlucky Safety Car timing
After another historic pole position, Iron Dames remained in contention for the win at the FIA WEC 6H of Monza throughout the opening hours, but a series of ill-timed safety cars wiped out their gap and then hampered the team's strategy just before the first driver change. Sarah Bovy, Michelle Gatting and Rahel Frey still secured their fourth consecutive top-5 finish and moved up to second in the championship standings.
Sarah Bovy, Michelle Gatting and Rahel Frey fought for victory in the fifth round of the 2023 FIA World Endurance Championship - contested on home soil at Autodromo Nazionale di Monza - but had to eventually settle for a solid fifth place finish at the end of a strategy-driven 6-hour race at the Temple of Speed, with a few unfortunate Safety Car timings playing a crucial role in the end result. With their top five in the final European round of the WEC season, Iron Dames move into second place in the LMGTE class championship standings, ahead of the final two events in Japan and Bahrain. The Italian round started off with an important initiative for the Iron Dames project, as 22 local girls aged between 6 to 15 were invited for a unique experience within the team, as part of the Irond Dames and Prema Racing-promoted Positive Impact School Programme. The programme is aimed at inspiring young girls to get closer to a STEM education and take interest in the exciting professional opportunities around the motorsport environment. The girls had the opportunity to visit the garages, hospitality and race control, as well as meeting the drivers, engineers and mechanics - and took part in activities to put to work their creativity and problem solving abilities. It was then time to take to the track for the drivers of the #85 Porsche 911 RSR-19. The team built speed throughout the three practice sessions, with Michelle Gatting posting the fastest lap for the trio in 1:47.497 in the third session; as per tradition, all three drivers were lapping with close times within each other, as consistency has been one of the team's strongest point in the last couple of years. In qualifying, bronze-rated Sarah Bovy put on one of her brilliant performances: it would be a battle between the pink Porsche and the ORT by TF Sport Aston Martin driven by Omani Ahmad Al Harthy. With two fast laps, Bovy set a 1:47.632 - the only reference under the 1:48 mark - that remained unbeaten by almost half a second, as Iron Dames claimed their fourth pole position in FIA WEC and the second of the season. Qualifying specialist Sarah Bovy also became the first female racer to achieve pole position for two consecutive times at the same event: the Belgian had in fact made history last year at the 6H of Monza, when for the first time in the history of the championship a woman started from pole position. "I am super happy and super proud of the team", Sarah said. "When you have a great car and are on a track that you like, it’s very nice just to push like that. It was just fantastic to drive the car today."
"It was more a case of being at the right place, at the right time and I think in that situation today, we were the best", she continued, having also picked up an important extra point for the championship. "Tomorrow we will be focusing on the race pace, it is always very tight in our class and we want to be consistently fast and avoid mistakes. We have learned a lot since the beginning of the season and I am confident that everybody in the team is ready to give their absolute maximum tomorrow. The race is going to be long, hot and hard. I cannot wait to face the challenge." With two pole positions out of the first five races - the last being at Sebring this year - Bovy took the start of the race on Sunday, in front of 65,000 spectators around some of the most famous corners in motor racing. Bovy had a great start and managed to avoid the chaos at the first chicane, as Hypercars made contact and spun. The #85 Iron Dames Porsche escaped unscathed from the first lap and Sarah started to open a gap to the closest GTE-Am competitor. Unfortunately, her progression was slowed at the first neutralization: 15 minutes into the race, the #8 Toyota of Sebastien Buemi - who had already hit the #51 Ferrari at the start - hit the #777 D'Station Aston Martin, which hit the barriers hard at Ascari. The safety car meant that most of the teams had to re evaluate strategy right at the beginning of the race, and many crews opted to pit. Iron Dames stayed out and Bovy continued to lead the pack, albeit with Bovy's gap now wiped out. When the race resumed, Sarah kept building a strong lead once again - but was now off-sequence. After one hour of racing, the GTE class was led by two women: Sarah Bovy and Lilou Wadoux (#83 Richard Mille Racing Ferrari) - who had also stayed out at the first neutralization. Dominant throughout the first two stints of the race, Bovy was set to hand over to Michelle Gatting at the two hour mark after another spectacular performance for the Belgian racer. Unfortunately, a badly-timed second safety car halted the action just before her pit stop - again tearing down her margin. The team had to pit for an emergency pit stop for fuel a few laps before the pit lane reopened and when finally Gatting could take over the #85 Porsche - now on the back foot. Gatting, though, showed great pace and soon moved up the field with strong passes - including a great move around the outside of Parabolica. The Danish driver had a great battle with the #33 Corvette Racing as she was back in the top three during the pit sequence. All the GTE-Am entries in fact cycled back and forth from first to seventh, in a tightly-contested competition midway through the race. Gatting was back in the top five once the third safety car - with two hours left on the clock - was yet another hurdle to the Iron Dames' recovery drive. Gatting handed over to Rahel Frey, who rejoined in fifth place. The #77 Dempsey Proton Porsche - now with Julien Andlauer behind the wheel - had taken the lead of the race, followed by the #60 Iron Lynx Porsche and the #86 GR Racing Porsche. The #33 Corvette had a good stint in the hands of Nicolas Varrone, but a penalty for speeding in the pitlane had reduced their chances for a podium. Rahel Frey had a strong drive against drivers of the likes of Picariello, Barker and Catsburg, as well as Cairoli and Eastwood. The Swiss racer cycled back up to third, but after the final pit stops during the final hours - when all teams that had gone off-sequence completed their last stop - she was back in fifth. Rahel set the team's fastest lap in 1:47.411 and was at one point closing in on the Corvette Racing machine, but eventually had to settle for an overall solid P5. "The Iron Dames all drove valiantly, amazingly well and without mistakes", stated Andrea Piccini, Iron Lynx's Team Principal. "It was a pity not to see them take at least a podium finish after all their efforts. Without the timing of the Safety Cars, they had the potential to take their first victory here, but it did not go their way today." The fourth consecutive top five for the Italian team, though, means that Sarah Bovy, Michelle Gatting and Rahel Frey move up to second place in the championship standings, now at 67 points with two rounds to go. "Start was good, pace was good, pitstops were good - great team work today ! We didn’t gamble enough on safety cars roulette today", Bovy wrote. "P5 at the end of the 6H of Monza. Disappointed, gutted, almost knocked out…but still not giving up!" The penultimate round of the 2023 FIA World Endurance Championship is scheduled for 10th September at Fuji Speedway, Japan. Iron Dames' busy racing schedule, though, will see the all-female squad contesting the fourth round of the GTWC Europe Endurance Cup at the Nürburgring, on 29-30 July.