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Iron Dames fight through adversities to claim top-5 at 6H of Spa

"It’s a hard one to swallow." - An almost unreal streak of bad luck has marked the start of the Iron Dames season, with another superb run for all its three drivers at the 6 Hours of Spa eventually coming undone in the closing minutes.

Iron Dames, FIA WEC 2024, 6H of Spa
Photo courtesy: DPPI, Javier Jimenez

It has not been an easy start of the season for Iron Dames, the revolutionary project that has been breaking barriers in motorsport since its launch in 2019.

With victories at the very top of world endurance racing, the team continues to step up its game and entered the 2024 season in FIA WEC with the clear goal of clinching the title after a historic first win at the end of 2023, which also marked the end of the LMGTE era.

And indeed its incredible drivers line up - featuring Michelle Gatting, Sarah Bovy, Doriane Pin and Rahel Frey - has consistently shown more than enough speed to contest for victories, but an almost unreal bad luck has continued to mark most of the weekends to date. Having lost victories in the closing stages of both the opening rounds of the European Le Mans Series after dominant runs throughout most of the 4 hours, Iron Dames returned to FIA WEC for the third round, looking for redemption.

The previous round at Imola - the first European leg of the championship - was just as unlucky, with Sarah Bovy being hit at the start by a competitor, which caused a recurring technical issue in the first hour of the race. The team's first DNF on home soil came just as the magenta Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo2 was really starting to come alive, picking up a positive trend from the Qatar curtain raiser.

The 6 Hours of Spa Francorchamps was therefore a great opportunity to showcase the progress made by the Italian marque in its FIA WEC debut season in LMGT3. Additionally, the race represented Sarah Bovy's home round - on a track where the Belgian star moved her first steps in sports car racing.

And the practice sessions were yet another proof that Iron Dames would be battling again at the top-end of the pack in LMGT3: a 2:21.886 lap by Gatting put them fourth fastest in the LMGT3 field in FP1, before Bovy clocked a 2:21.372 in FP2, ending Thursday second fastest. On Friday morning, the trio continued to make strides in FP3: it would be Rahel Frey to set the car's fastest lap in 2:21.208, again finishing second fastest in class.

Next up was qualifying for home hero Sarah Bovy: one of the best qualifiers in the world, Sarah soon snatched the top spot after the first flying lap, leading by almost one full second. Tom Van Rompuy (TF Sport Corvette) and Aliaksandr Malykhin (Manthey Porsche) managed to improve, but one lap later, Bovy was again one second clear on top of the timing screens.

Iron Dames opted to pit Bovy, having secured a fast enough time to go through the second session with the fastest time.

The top ten progressed to the 12-minute Hyperpole - but the session was soon red flagged for a monster crash by Aliaksandr Malykhin's Manthey PureRxcing Porsche on top of Raidillon. Once the track repairs were completed the session could resume for the final 7 minutes.

Sarah Bovy reclaimed the top spot by two tenths with two minutes left on the clock and nobody could dethrone the Belgian in the closing minutes: with a 2:20.755 lap, she claimed the historic first pole position for Lamborghini in FIA WEC - and the first of the season for the team in the series.

Sarah Bovy, Iron Dames, FIA WEC 2024, 6H of Spa
Photo courtesy: DPPI, Javier Jimenez

On a sunny day in the Ardennes, Bovy had a great start and got a good gap out of La Source; a clean first lap allowed the Iron Dames Lamborghini to open an over 2 second margin in just one lap, ahead of the #46 Team WRT BMW and the #59 United Autosport McLaren. With an early fastest lap, the Belgian lapped over 2 seconds per lap faster than anyone in class in the opening laps, building a healthy margin to James Cottingham, who had meanwhile passed Al Harthy for second.

A brief full course yellow for debris was deployed 20 minutes into the race, but Bovy resumed her unchallenged run with an over 12 second advantage. A second FCY interrupted the race before the end of the first hour - and cost some more time to Bovy, who nevertheless resumed her brilliant stint and pitted on lap 22 from a healthy lead. Both Cottingham and Shahin (Manthey Porsche) also pitted on the same lap, with the whole LMGT3 top three running on the same strategy.

After a clean stop, Bovy remained behind the wheel and continued to pull away consistently even on the used tyres. Throughout the first hour, Bovy was not just the only driver to have driven a lap in the 2m22 seconds, but also the only one to have set a lap in the 2m21. That lap would remain unbeaten for most of the race.

A contact between the #20 BMW and the #38 Hertz Team Jota hypercars resulted in a bigger accident also involving the #46 BMW M4 GT3 of Ahmad Al Harthy: with significant damage to the cars as well as the barriers, the safety car was deployed and Sarah Bovy lost a 40 second gap as the race was about to enter its third hour - a situation that brought up flashbacks from one week before.

Despite another monster double stint for Sarah Bovy, luck was again not on Iron Dames' side, and the Belgian hard work was wiped away with the safety car; the all-female crew would have to build everything back from scratch, with Rahel Frey now behind the wheel. Unfortunately, a slightly slower stop under the safety car lost Iron Dames the lead, with the #59 McLaren of Nicolas Costa now leading Rahel Frey and Zacharie Robichon.

The race was back underway with 3 hours and 35 minutes to go, with Frey back into net second once Claudio Schiavoni's sister car pitted after briefly leading. Rahel had a great restart, attacked and passed Costa - but the McLaren responded back at Les Combes.

A couple of laps later, Frey committed around the outside and completed a spectacular pass to reclaim the lead in LMGT3. The top three in class pulled away: Frey was followed by Costa and Daniel Mancinelli (#27 Heart of Racing Aston Martin), who was making up ground. Once in clear air, Frey managed to drive away, aiming to make up for the lost time.

The Swiss driver was superbly consistent - every lap among the fastest drivers in class, continuously eating away a few tenths from her rivals.

Mid-way through the race, an off at Blanchimont for the overall-third placed #5 Porsche brought out the full course yellow. Under the neutralization, Frey lost a 4 second gap to United Autosport's Costa, who was right behind at the restart. But the Iron Dames Lamborghini held on.

Iron Dames, FIA WEC 2024, 6H of Spa
Photo courtesy: DPPI, Javier Jimenez

Frey pitted on lap 66 and handed over the class lead to the #27 Aston Martin, with several other teams also opting to pit with 2 hours and 40 minutes to go. The Swiss driver stayed behind the wheel - but the fast charging Morris Schuring (#91 Manthey Porsche) snatched second in the pit cycle.

Rahel's pace again stabilized on competitive times and closed in on the Porsche ahead, while keeping the gap stable to the leading McLaren. After a strong double stint, Rahel pitted with 1 hour and 40 minutes to go - and Michelle Gatting took over the #85 pink Lamborghini.

Only two laps into her stint, Gatting had to take evasive action from a monumental crash on the Kemmel Straight, after the Cadillac of Earl Bamber hit the back of Sean Gelael's Team WRT BMW. With severe damage to the track barriers, the race was red flagged for over one hour and a half. This put the Iron Dames down to fifth place, as the #27 Aston Martin, the #55 AF Corse Ferrari and the #777 D'Station Aston Martin had not pitted yet at the time of the neutralization.

After the lengthy delay, the race was resumed behind the safety car and the clock was reset for the entire red flag duration. This gave the chance to Michelle Gatting to reclaim second once the cars ahead pitted for emergency fuel behind the safety car.

Michelle overtook the #59 McLaren at the restart and took over the lead with one hour and 25 minutes to go. Having stood for the vast majority of the race, Sarah Bovy's fastest lap was eventually topped by TF Sport's Baud on lap 95, four hours and a half into the race.

Gatting, meanwhile, stabilised on a very competitive pace and tried to build again a small gap to the second place in class - now the #54 Vista AF Corse Ferrari of Davide Rigon, before the Italian pitted. Michelle settled in her rhythm and kept the gap stable to the United Autosport machine of Saucy as the race entered its final hour. Unfortunately, an issue at the final stop cost Gatting almost 20 seconds and she rejoined P8 in class. The Dane also survived a contact at La Source when she was hit by the #7 Toyota hypercar that would later receive a penalty. But Michelle was undeterred and kept on pushing, on a mission to fight back from every hardships thrown at her.

Gatting made a great pass on the #77 Proton Competition Ford of Ben Barker - then climbed to fifth when the last cars pitted. Now with a 11 second gap to the sister car of Franck Perera, Michelle continued to push and grabbed fourth at the final stop for the #55 Ferrari. Perera went on to pass both the Manthey PureRxcing Porsche and the United Autosport McLaren, claiming the lead of the race in LMGT3 with 17 minutes to go. Gatting was also catching Klaus Bachler and Gregoire Saucy.

With 10 minutes to go, the #85 Lamborghini gained one more place over the #59 McLaren and Michelle, having managed to recover to a podium position, was now catching the second-placed #92 Porsche as well. The two Lamborghinis, though, were short on fuel and they eventually had to pit with a handful of laps to go; Gatting dropped to fourth, as the two Manthey Porsches inherited the lead and, having swapped places, crossed the finish line to win the 6 Hours of Spa.

While it wasn't quite a podium finish, Iron Dames took a hard-fought fifth place after a post.race penalty, having had everything thrown at them during a dramatic third round of the season. While pace and drivers' performance surely suggested that a win was on the table, the team bounced back from all sorts of misfortunes and still collected a positive top five - their best result of the season in FIA WEC to date.

Michelle Gatting, Iron Dames, FIA WEC 2024, 6H of Spa
Photo courtesy: DPPI, Javier Jimenez

"It’s a disappointing result in the end, no podium", said Michelle Gatting after another superb run."Everybody fought extremely well. Sarah was making again a huge gap to the front. Rahel maintained the gap, was overtaking, fighting for P1 and keeping the lead."

"When I got into the car I was also staying in front and keeping the lead", explained the Dane. "Unfortunately, an issue during the pitstop again had to ruin it. It’s very heartbreaking. It’s not fun anymore to have all this bad luck. We keep showing that we fight until the very end and so far, it didn’t pay off yet. It’s a hard one to swallow. We had a fast car, but again, no result."

Gatting emerged as the most consistent gold-rated driver in the LMGT3 field, with an average lap of 2:23.325 which was beaten by only a handful of platinum drivers.

"Today we are not leaving the track with the result we deserve", echoed Bovy, who was once again outstanding in her double stint before seeing her work coming undone at the safety car. "It’s a very hard one to take and we are obviously disappointed. During the race we had the pace. It was good that we could show that the Lamborghini can do it, but we will have to come back and do better next time."

Indeed, the whole team has clearly proven to be increasingly in tune with the Huracan GT3 Evo2 since the start of the season and the first pole position, as well as the dominant performance in the race by all three drivers is a source of encouragement for the remainder of the season.

"We learned a lot again", added Rahel Frey, putting things in perspective. "Sarah had an incredible start. Then the safety car came again, that's the risk, we know it, it all melts down again. But we have self-confidence so we can never give up and keep fighting. Me too, I had great fights, it was fun to drive, we had a pretty good pace, I would say, all three did a great job."

Frey herself fought elbows-out and was the protagonist of one of the best overtakes in the race. The team will be joined again by Doriane Pin for the next round - which is the one that has the power to shape an entire season: the iconic 24 Hours of Le Mans, in June.



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