Iron Dames complete IMSA season after fighting for the win at Petit Le Mans
Iron Dames completed their first season in IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship with a highly promising performance at the Motul Petit Le Mans, where the all-female team led the race in the early hours, before sustaining damage from a hit by a LMP3. Despite running 8 laps down, Pin, Gatting and Frey pushed through to gain back 5 laps, finishing P12.
Iron Dames completed their first season in IMSA - their first North American campaign - with the iconic Motul Petit Le Mans, a testing 10 hour race at the fast Road Atlanta circuit that showcased once again the all-female team's resilience and fighting spirit.
Rahel Frey and Michelle Gatting were joined at the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup season finale by Doriane Pin, while Sarah Bovy was also present trackside in support of her teammates. In the premier North American Sports Car Championship, Iron Dames endured a challenging season, but filled with promising signs, as the Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo2 picked up speed and the team got to know its secrets better.
The #83 pink Lamborghini immediately proved competitive at the 4.088 km-long Road Atlanta, as Pin, Frey and Gatting had encouraging practice sessions where they progressively got closer to the top five in the highly competitive GTD class, albeit changeable weather conditions made for a tricky start of the weekend for most teams.
In mixed-conditions, Doriane Pin took on driving duties for qualifying - and the young Frenchwoman - who has raced full time in the FIA WEC LMP2 class in 2023 - had a stunning session, spending the majority of the 15-minute running time on top of the GTD - as well as GPD Pro class. While the track improved and Ian James' Heart of Racing Aston Martin - who had gambled for slicks - improved and took pole, Doriane Pin held second in class and third among all the GTD entries, which put Iron Dames in a perfect starting position for Saturday's ten hour race.
Having been the star of qualifying, Doriane Pin was also behind the wheel for the first part of the race; at the green flag she took no unnecessary risks, as a slippery track surface caused more than an issue among the prototypes. After only 2 laps, in fact, the #8 Tower Motorsports LMP2 Oreca went off and brought out the first full course yellow of the race.
At the restart, Pin was passed by Telitz for second in class, but the Frenchwoman fought back with a spectacular move at the final corner; one lap later she passed the leading GTD-Pro car, and hunted down Ian James' Aston Martin. Doriane attacked James but had to call off the move, as a tyre carcass by the Cetilar Racing Ferrari of Antonio Fuoco brought out another safety car.
While under caution, half of the GTD field pitted; Pin stayed out and the Iron Dames Lamborghini - who briefly was up to fifth overall - took over the race lead in GTD. When the green flag waved again, Pin had two GTD Pro entries in between her closest rival and she stretched her legs by setting the fastest lap of the race. Pin continued to extend her gap, as the #83 Lamborghini was now almost 10 seconds ahead of Telitz after one hour of racing.
Doriane hit lapped traffic and she had to manage a jungle of LMP2, LMP3, GTP and GTD cars which ended up costing her several seconds to the closest class pursuer. She had just cleared a big group of cars when the High Class Racing LMP2 car cut across the #023 Triarsi Ferrari, triggering a big accident at turn 10 which also took out the #70 Inception McLaren and, crucially, the #6 Porsche of Nick Tandy.
Iron Dames had to pit for fuel but had to drive through the pit lane as the full course yellow had just been deployed. She therefore had to pit again once the pit lane opened, and having lost track position, she handed over to Rahel Frey who rejoined in ninth.
At the restart, Frey was stuck in traffic but drove smartly and stayed out of trouble; the Swiss ace picked up a couple of positions in the process and, once in cleaner air, she settled on a very competitive pace. After yet another safety car, Rahel was quick to grab fourth in class, then battled with Frankie Montecalvo's Vaser Sullivan Lexus.
A few laps later, though, a LMP3 car hit Frey's Lamborghini, who had to pit with a right rear suspension issue which resulted in the #83 Huracan being taken behind the wall with 7 hours and 34 minutes to go. Iron Lynx's top work allowed Frey to rejoin the track after only 8 laps, having fixed the suspension damage. Iron Dames' winning ambitions, though, suffered a big blow.
Three hours into the race, Rahel Frey got a lap back at the caution, before she pitted for the team's fourth stop. On lap 150, Michelle Gatting got behind the wheel for her first stint in the race. Michelle gained a position on the Cetilar Racing Ferrari and ran in P15, showing good pace in her stint. At the following caution, Iron Dames recovered another lap and Doriane Pin was back in.
Pin had some stellar laps and cleared traffic, before setting the new fastest lap of the race in class on lap 200 - which would stand for most of the race. Despite being 5 laps behind the cars ahead, Pin never gave up and pushed with front-running pace. Doriane was about to gain another lap when Iron Dames pitted for a driver change to Michelle Gatting, with a little over 4 hours to go.
Michelle and Doriane alternated behind the wheel in between the frequent full course yellow, as the sun went down on the highly demanding racetrack.
In these stages of the race, the key mission was to manage traffic. As temperatures had dropped, Iron Dames had moved up to P13, now three laps behind.
Doriane continued to eat up the gap, in a spectacular performance that displayed the entire team's spirit. Having retained the fastest lap of the race throughout the second half of the contest, Doriane's fastest lap was eventually improved by a handful of thousandths of a second by Kyle Marcelli in the final 20 minutes of the race.
The 12th full course yellow was out with 10 minutes to go and ultimately the race finished under yellow after a new contact at the restart, which took out Mirko Bortolotti's Iron Lynx Lamborghini and Jan Heylen's Wright Motorsports' Porsche.
Like in a perfect representation of their season, Doriane Pin, Michelle Gatting and Rahel Frey showed incredible fighting spirit: despite the early setback, Iron Dames pushed to the end and crossed the finish line in P12, having recovered five laps.
"The result is not the one we expected after a strong qualifying and with a very good car we could aim for something great" - said Doriane Pin. "For sure, the unfortunate contact didn’t help us but we tried to push until the end but it was not enough. I really enjoyed driving here. Road Atlanta is a fantastic track like most of the American ones and I hope to come back soon."
Until the unfortunate contact, Iron Dames had been in contention for the class win, and their pace also in the latter stages of the race should be an encouraging sign of the big progress made by the team with the new car, which proved to be fast in both the GTD and GTD-Pro classes.
"Of course, it is a very disappointing result for this race because Doriane did a great qualifying and a great first stint which put us in the lead with a big gap and gave us a lot of confidence", Michelle Gatting added. "Unfortunately, Rahel was hit by a LMP3 with damage on the car. The positive thing that we can take we could see improvements in the car which was competitive all the weekend indications that we are going in the right direction."
At their first participation in IMSA, Rahel Frey, Michelle Gatting, Doriane Pin and Sarah Bovy - who contested the opening two rounds at Daytona and Sebring - battled with some of the world's top GT3 teams and drivers in the world, on legendary as well as challenging racetracks in a new car which required some adaptation; having led the early stages of the race is undeniably a positive end to their season, as they will build upon the learnings.
"Our IMSA season over. It was a pleasure even if it was a hard first one for us" - stated Rahel Frey. "We have finished Road Atlanta with a lot of positive notes. We have been fast, all the three of us, throughout the race unfortunately a contact dropped us down eight laps. It’s a pity, I am very sorry for the entire team which did great job but it is overall a good finish to the season and something we can build on for next one."