Le Mans, 16H update: Iron Dames remain in contention for top-3
Sunrise at Le Mans: Sarah Bovy, Michelle Gatting and Rahel Frey are alternating at the wheel of the #85 Porsche, keeping Iron Dames' chances for a top-three in class alive after 16 hours of racing.
After such a chaotic first hours of racing, the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans continued to be drama-filled during the night: continuous position changes even at the top of the hypercar class are making the Centenary edition one to remember. There couldn't be more uncertainty even in LMP2 and GTE-AM, as several teams remain in contention for the top positions.
At the 10 hour mark, Doriane Pin's #63 Prema Oreca was forced to retire from the race following a big accident by Daniil Kvyat. After a difficult start - when Kvyat dropped to second to P21, having had to pit for a new front and rear bodywork in the very opening stages - the #63 Prema LMP2 had gained back one lap as the race approached its mid point; Doriane Pin and Mirko Bortolotti had survived the heavy and sudden rain, recovering many positions and thanks to good strategy calls and fast stints things were starting to fall into place. The accident meant the end of Pin's hopes of victory at Le Mans debut, but the young Frenchwoman will hopefully have more chances in the coming years.
Iron Dames' race has been perfectly executed from the first lap. Rahel Frey's first stint was a mix of great experience in avoiding troubles and flawless strategy from the team, with well timed pit stops that brought the #85 pink Porsche from 12th on the grid to second in class.
Sarah Bovy would then move up into the lead - and Michelle Gatting cemented the position, then battling around within the top three throughout the night.
Sarah Bovy had more very strong stints towards the end of the night, when Frey and Gatting alternated again. The #85 Porsche continues to run in contention for a podium, despite losing some time after a few pit stops under green.
With 16 hours in the books and 8 to go, here's what happened in the last four hours.
Toyota and Ferrari emerged as the top contenders for the overall win, but Cadillac and Porsche remained on the lead lap, with a chance to get back in the action at any time.
Meanwhile, the Duqueine Team had taken the lead in LMP2, ahead of the #34 Inter Europol and #41 WRT Orecas in between pit stops.
Iron Dames continued to run a flawless race: Sarah Bovy took over from fifth in class after a pit stop under green and climbed back into the class lead, cycling back and forth from third to first.
An accident for the #47 COOL Racing LMP2 Oreca at Porsche Curves required a slow zone. Iron Dames took advantage of the yellow flags to pit Sarah Bovy, who remained behind the wheel. Once Davide Rigon pitted in the #54 Ferrari, Bovy was back into second place. On lap 165, Kessel Racing's Daniel Serra pitted and Bovy could retake the lead.
Bovy would complete another amazing stint - running on very competitive lap times compared to the cars around her - before Michelle Gatting got back in the #85 Porsche, almost 14 hours into the race. A few minutes later, the D'Station Aston Martin grinded to a halt on track and the slow zone was good news for the #25 ORT by TF Aston Martin, as Michael Dinan pitted under yellow and, once in the hands of Ahmad Al Harthy, it was up to third. Another slow zone for barrier repair was another chance to pit under yellow for most of the remaining LMGTE-AM field, which cost Iron Dames almost two minutes.
Iron Dames did pit under yellow at the next occasion - and Gatting handed over to Rahel Frey from second place with a little over nine hours to go.
With a bold move by Fabio Scherer - who has an injured foot after being run over by the Corvette at the first pit stop - overtook the Team WRT Oreca for the lead in LMP2; five cars remained on the lead lap in this class.
The #51 Ferrari and the #8 Toyota are trading positions at the top- with the #2 Cadillac not far behind. Inter Europol leads in LMP2 ahead of the #41 Team WRT and the #30 Duqueine Team. Kessel Racing's Ferrari leads GTE-AM, preceding Iron Dames and the #54 AF Corse.
In the final minutes of the 15th hour, Michelle Gatting caught up with Takeshi Kimura, but had to pit and Iron Dames opted to bring back Rahel Fray behind the wheel.