Iron Dames forced out on first lap of 4H of Barcelona
Sarah Bovy luckily emerged unhurt from a big accident on the first lap of the 4 Hours of Barcelona, as the Iron Dames Ferrari was hit and put into the wall by a LMP3 car.
The team's busy schedule, though, means that they will be back in action this weekend at Hockenheim, as they aim to defend their points' lead in GTWC.
At their return to the track after the historic win at the 24 Hours of Spa, Iron Dames were targeting another remarkable result at Barcelona, for the fourth round of the 2022 European Le Mans Series. And, indeed, the weekend started with the best premises, when Sarah Bovy clinched a front row start on Saturday, in another very tight GTE qualifying session.
On Friday, the drivers of the pink #83 Ferrari 488 GTE had explored different setup solutions and were eighth fastest in the morning practice session. In the afternoon, more improvements to the car allowed Bovy to move further up the order in the Bronze Test, which she finished in third place.
As the Bronze-rated driver, Sarah Bovy was also behind the wheel for the 10-minute qualifying, where the Belgian was again ready to show the Iron Dames' fighting spirit and battled with Oman Racing by TF Sport's Ahmad Al Harthy for the class pole position, in an intense session.
With impending rain, everyone was out on track in the opening minutes to set a fast lap and Sarah Bovy slotted into second early on.
She pitted with three minutes left on the clock for a new set of tyres and set the fastest first sector overall, before maintaining the gap within a few thousands in sector 2 to provisional pole-sitter Al Harthy. A slower third sector, though, meant that Bovy opted to come in the pits and settle for second.
Christian Ried (Proton Competition Porsche) held P3, as Omani racer Al Harthy claimed his second pole position in the GTE category.
Positivity, though, reigned in the Iron Dames garage, as the team's race pace has consistently proven to be their strongest point during the race.
"Obviously with the weather being so uncertain everybody wanted to quickly do a lap, so traffic was a bit crazy", she told us. "It was not easy to do a clean lap and put everything together, but at the end I’m happy with P2: we are starting on the front row and let’s see what tomorrow will bring.”
Having clinched another front row start, the 4 Hours of Barcelona was set to be another hunt for the podium - or even a victory, in what would have been another record-breaking result for the Italian team.
But motorsport often has different outcomes.
At lights out at 11:45 local time, Sarah Bovy had a brilliant start and cleared the Oman Racing Aston Martin of Al Harthy - who lost out to Christian Ried as well after a slow getaway. Coming into the second and third corners of the 4.675 km-long Circuit de Catalunya, the 33-year-old Belgian was already leading in class and mixing up with the LMP3 cars.
Unfortunately, the #10 Eurointernational LMP3 Ligier driven by Freddie Hunt drove into the side of the #83 Iron Dames Ferrari, forcing Bovy into the wall and out of the race.
A few hundred metres into the 4-hour race, it was game over for the three Dames - as Sarah Bovy climbed out luckily unhurt from the heavy impact.
"Took a strong start and [I was] P1 after Turn 1, left as much space as possible to the LMP3 on my right in Turn 2, got sent into the wall by one of them between Turn 2 and Turn 3" - Bovy wrote later in the evening, summing up the accident.
"Car hit the wall pretty hard, damages were too big to restart. After a check at the medical centre I'm fine, just a bit shaken and gutted like never before", she continued.
"Our team did an amazing job all week and we had a car to go and fight for the win with Michelle [Gatting] and Doriane [Pin]."
As Bovy reported, Freddie Hunt went to check Sarah's conditions after the race and apologized for the unintentional move.
“It was a mixed weekend for us" - said Andrea Piccini, Team Principal at Iron Lynx.
"It is sad the Iron Dames in the #83 car were out of the race so early as Sarah had a nice start. I know they would have been very competitive in the race, most likely fighting for the victory."
Doriane Pin was set to make her ELMS debut alongside Bovy and Gatting - as the 18-year-old Frenchwoman had quickly adapted to the 488 GTE and the tyres used in the championship.
“Doriane adapted well this weekend, quickly taking to the car and tyres of the ELMS environment. It is a pity she didn’t get to race." - Piccini commented.
After the early Safety Car phase for the opening lap accident, Christian Ried led in the championship-leading #77 Proton Porsche. The sister car of Michael Fassbender was hit and spun around by Petrobelli (JMW Motorsport Ferrari) at the exit of Turn 13 and was forced to an early stop.
Petrobelli found himself leading the race after the first Full Course Yellow, ahead of the Spirit of Race Ferrari of Griffin once the Proton Porsche had pitted for the driver change: Ried completed a double-stint and handed over to Lorenzo Ferrari. A contact for the #69 Oman Racing TF Sport Aston Martin dropped Al Harthy down the order and out of contention for the top spots.
The JMW Motorsport and the Spirit of Race Ferraris - now driven by Sean Hudspeth and Duncan Cameron - had a brilliant battle for the class lead, as Cameron took first place with 1 hour and 30 minutes to go.
A drive through penalty for the Petrobelli-Fassbender collision, though, relegated the #66 JMW Motorsport entry to third, as the #77 Proton Porsche of Gianmaria Bruni was quickly making up positions in the final stint. Bruni found a way around Perel with 20 minutes to go and secured the team's second consecutive win in ELMS.
An outstanding duel saw the bright-yellow Kessel Racing Ferrari of Mikkel Jensen eventually moving into fourth, ahead of the Absolute Racing Porsche of Martin Rump.
A great recovery from tenth on the grid for the second Iron Lynx car meant that Schiavoni/Cressoni/Rigon could charge up to sixth, supported by the efficient strategy of the Italian team.
While the race ended early for the sister #83 car, Iron Dames will quickly regroup and return to the track next weekend, with Rahel Frey back behind the wheel alongside Michelle Gatting and Sarah Bovy for the Hockenheim round of the GT World Challenge Endurance series, where the trio leads the points' standings after the Spa victory.