Iron Dames end day 1 with second place in class in FP1
They're back: Sarah Bovy and Michelle Gatting return to the Iron Dames line up for the 4 Hours of Imola, as the all-female team end the first practice session in second place in GTE.
Sarah Bovy and Michelle Gatting were unluckily forced to sit out last week’s 6 Hours of Spa Francorchamps, second round of the 2022 World Endurance Championship, due to a positive Covid test for the Belgian – which meant that Doriane Pin and Christina Nielsen were brought in last minute and made a surprise WEC debut in the Ardennes, alongside team leader Rahel Frey.
Now the iconic trio is back reunited for the second round of the European Le Mans Series in Imola, returning to the historic racetrack a little over a month since the GT World Challenge Endurance opener, where they showed great pace in practice and qualifying.
And they seem to have carried that momentum, as Michelle Gatting, Sarah Bovy and Rahel Frey ended the first Friday practice in second place in the GTE class: the young Dane set a 1:42.070 that brought the bright pink #83 Ferrari 488 GTE Evo just behind the leading #18 Absolute Racing Porsche of Haryanto/Rump/Picariello, two tenths up the road.
Gatting went out first, before handing over to Bovy and finally Frey, who ran in the final minutes of the session.
At Paul Ricard, round 1 of the ELMS season, Bovy was protagonist of an outstanding first part of the race – but a sequence of Safety Cars and Full Course Yellows ultimately hampered their chances of a podium, or even a victory.
The Belgian was close to score Iron Dames’ first ever pole position on Saturday and led most of her stint, but the continuous interruptions led to a difficult second half of the race and the team completed the 4-hour race in fourth position, seconds away from a podium.
“We were struggling a bit on pace in Le Castellet yet we could have won the race”, said Gatting. “Here we’re back in the mix and now it’s all about figuring out the tyre strategy”.
“It’s going to be tight, but Sarah [Bovy] will do a great job again tomorrow”.
On the long straight at Le Castellet, the Ferrari lacked a bit of straight line speed compared to the Porsches and especially Aston Martins, but the Imola layout should allow the three massively talented drivers to battle again for the front-running positions.
What could prove to be trickier, on the other hand, is the LMP3 traffic. Iron Dames struggled to find a way past the slower LMP3 prototypes as they battled for a podium spot in the South of France – and the inherent nature of the Imola racetrack might cause even more issues in traffic.
With a few Safety Cars and FCY expected, traffic management will be crucial, especially since LMP3 cars seem quite closer to the laptimes of the GTE cars.
Strategy will indeed play an important role.
Algarve Pro Racing topped the overall timesheets, with the #47 Oreca of Falb/Allen/Peroni – the latter signing the 1:32.845 that allowed the Portuguese team to finish on top.
The second APR LMP2 prototype of Floersch and Viscaal was quick throughout Thursday collective testing but finished in P17 on Friday, as Floersch said they "still had some work to do”, but was confident they could return to the pace they showed at Le Castellet.
In the afternoon’s session reserved to Bronze-rated drivers, Bovy took over the helm of the #83 Ferrari and was again in the top three for most of the 30-minute session, before ending in fifth place.
The #69 Oman Racing with TF Sport Aston Martin of Al Harty topped the timesheets for the second round in a row and preceded the #77 Proton Ferrari of Ried and the #55 Spirit of Race Ferrari of Perel.
Bovy was just 32 thousandths of a second adrift the #18 Absolute Racing Porsche in fourth place.
Saturday will be a big day for both Sophia Floersch – who had made history at Paul Ricard with her second podium in a row – and Iron Dames, with Free Practice 2 getting underway at 09:30 local.
Qualifying will follow in the early afternoon: the GTE class is scheduled for 14:05, while the LMP2 class will hit the track for the allocated 10 minute qualifying at 14:45.