In a historic moment for motor racing, Sarah Bovy, Doriane Pin, Michelle Gatting and Rahel Frey claimed a dominant win in Gold Cup at the 24 Hours of Spa - one of the most iconic sportscar races in the world. It is the first win for the Iron Dames project -and the first for an all-female squad.
It was a matter of time, we wrote after their historic pole position and podium just a few weeks ago, at the WEC 6 hours of Monza. Sarah Bovy, Rahel Frey and Michelle Gatting led most of the race at Autodromo Nazionale di Monza, only to lose the top step of the podium for an unlucky Safety Car timing. But the pace and confidence of this trio was only suggesting that all the progress made in the three years of this revolutionary project were paying off. Next up on their calendar - a very busy schedule made up of the most iconic events in sportscar racing - was the 24 Hours of Spa, commonly known as the biggest GT race on the planet. The 24 Hours of Spa in fact belongs to a small group of really legendary races - like Le Mans, Nurburgring, Daytona - that can shape the career of a racing driver. "It's going to be tough, but I think it's the first time that I will get there with a team like this one, with the preparation that I have this year", Sarah Bovy told us after Monza, as she was getting ready for her sixth participation at her home race. "We know each other as teammates and we know we can be competitive; it's the first time that I have the real chance to fight for something." While Bovy and Frey had previous experience of the race - Gatting and newcomer Dorian Pin were at their first participation. 18-year-old Doriane has been dominant in Ferrari Challenge this year and was at her second GTWC appearance, having raced with Bovy and Legge at the 2021 1000km of Paul Ricard.
An extremely demanding race, with a 66 car field and 235 of the most elite sportscar racing drivers in the world, that once again proved how Iron Dames are the real deal and definitely not a quota. After red-flag filled qualifying on Thursday, Iron Dames couldn't do better than eleventh on the grid, with Frey and Gatting getting their best laps hampered by the disruptions. But the race was long and they knew they had pace for a potential top three in the Gold Cup class. Rahel Frey took the start on Saturday and held P12 in the opening laps. The Swiss ace managed to climb up to eighth, when she pitted for the first driver change during the first Safety Car of the race. Michelle Gatting took over the reins of the #83 Iron Dames Ferrari 488 GT3 and continued the mission. Next up was Doriane Pin - who started her first ever stint in a 24 hour race, as well as the first night shift. As the sun was setting over the Ardennes, in fact, Pin would recover to fourth in class - and ninth overall during the round of pit stops - in one of the most impressive performances for a driver that never fails to amaze. Home hero Sarah Bovy would take it into the top three for the first time and ran second in class, chasing the early Gold Cup leaders - the #5 Haupt Racing Mercedes.
It was at that point clear that a podium finish was again a very realistic possibility. Rahel Frey did some of the most demanding night hours, followed by Michelle Gatting - who was on fire and, with 16 hours to go, briefly led the race for the first time before the pit stop. During one of the many Full Course Yellow, Gatting handed over to Pin and the Frenchwoman, in her second stint, ultimately claimed the top of the Gold Cup standings, making the most out of Iron Lynx's perfect race management and strategy. The second placed #5 Haupt Mercedes of Piana/Scholze/Haupt/Maini hit trouble at the mid-race mark, when Arjun Maini made contact at Les Combes with the Ferrari of David Perel and eventually had to retire. With Rahel Frey behind the wheel, Iron Dames extended their lead, as they put a full lap to the #34 Walkenhorst BMW of Dinan/Foley/Heistand/Klingmann. With eight hours to go, Iron Dames were now completely in control of the race. The sun rose again and in the morning, Michelle Gatting had a challenging stint where she couldn't find the same feelings with the car. Nevertheless, she survived without mistakes and retained the safe margin with extremely consistent times before handing over to Pin. The gap further increased when the #34 Walkenhorst BMW driven by Richard Heistand had an off track excursion and brought out a Full Course Yellow. Pin and Gatting alternated again behind the wheel and, soon, the gap was up to 2 laps on the closest pursuer - now the #93 SKY Tempesta Mercedes of Hui/Spinelli/Froggart/Cheever. The #93 Mercedes would survive a huge accident with the Garage59 McLaren, who was tagged and sent at high speed into the barriers at Blanchimont and that required a lengthy Safety Car for barrier repairs. A 25 penalty for a second incident dropped the Mercedes to third.
In the final hours, it was all about managing the race and the cars for Bovy/Gatting/Pin/Frey. They kept calm throughout the whole race and never made a single mistake - executing a perfect race, leading in class by over 12 hours. At the same time, the Iron Lynx crew was absolutely flawless in every strategy call. In the final stint, Rahel Frey further extended the gap to almost three laps and climbed the overall top 20, settling in a very respectable 18th among the PRO entries and gaining 32 positions overall from the start. Frey crossed the finish line - in a historic moment that sealed Iron Dames' first ever win. For the first time, an all-female team conquered the 24 Hours of Spa - an achievement that will remain in the history books and that further confirms the relevance of a project like Iron Dames. Since the first race in 2019, the Iron Dames project - founded by Deborah Mayer, now FIA Women In Motorsport Commission President - has been one of the biggest game changers in the industry and continues to prove what talented women can achieve when provided with adequate funding and equipment. “This unprecedented victory shows the evolution and development of the project", commented Mayer. "We race to inspire and demonstrate further that hard work allows you to achieve your dreams." “Dedication, professionalism, an amazing team and a lot of passion are the key ingredients to success", she continued. "I would like to thank the drivers and the whole team for this extraordinary achievement."
Iron Dames' victory at the 24 Hours of Spa is not only a milestone for the careers of Sarah Bovy, Michelle Gatting, Doriane Pin and Rahel Frey - but also for the whole movement of women in motorsport and for all young women starting out in the sport. “Today it is a very important day for women in motorsport. Everyone here at the team is so proud of the Iron Dames and what they have achieved. Scoring their first victory as a team at 24 Hours of Spa, they made history and can now push on and progress even further." - said Andrea Piccini, Team Principal at Iron Lynx. “The girls drove very well without making mistakes and always had a great race pace", he explained. "In particular, we were surprised by Doriane, who at her first experience in a 24 hour race managed the pressure well, even at night." "None of us still realized what we have just won", said Michelle Gatting to Boxengasse after the race. "We just highlighted what Iron Dames is about and what we want." "We were competing in a really strong class, because the Gold Cup has drivers from all categorizations - from Platinum, Gold, Silver and Bronze", she continued. "The level here is extremely high." "We talked for a long time about how to crack the code and win a race. It was difficult, we've been so close in various occasions, so it means a lot to us as a team and it really sends a strong message about why we're here", Gatting stated. And there is no doubt that this is just the beginning.
GT World Challenge Europe Endurance returns to the track on 2/4 September for the Hockenheim round - but Iron Dames will be back on track at Barcelona for the fourth round of the European Le Mans Series, on 27/28 August.