Le Mans 24 Hours: Richard Mille Racing and Iron Dames clinch historic P9
Updated: Sep 20
After a flawless race, Sophia Floersch, Tatiana Calderon and Beitske Visser completed their rookie Le Mans 24 Hours with a P9 in LMP2, as Rahel Frey, Michelle Gatting and Manuela Gostner equelled her 2019 result after an evenly notable performance in GTE-Am.
Saturday, the Start
One hour into the 2020 edition of the 2020 Le Mans 24 Hours, Mike Conway maintained the overall leadership in the #7 Toyota Gazoo Racing, after the sister #7 car driven by Sebastien Buemi lost valuable time due to a puncture in the very early stages.
When the French flag fell on the 59-car field, Bruno Senna in the #1 Rebellion Racing LMP1 car briefly led pole-man Conway into the first corner, but positions were quickly restored at the Dunlop chicane. The Toyota and Rebellion cars alternated in the top 4, with Tom Dillmann in the ByKolles prototype rounding out the small LMP1 field.
Buemi managed to get ahead of Senna with a shorter first pitstop, but an unfortunate puncture ruined all the team's efforts and dropped the #8 Toyota to a distant fourth - leaving Conway in a solitary lead.
Pole-sitter Albuquerque (United Autosport) was able to maintain the lead in LMP2 as well, ahead of the Racing Team Nederland Oreca. ELMS and WEC powerhouse United Autosport quickly rose to the top also with its second crew, as Alex Brundle moved ahead of former-F1 driver Giedo Van Der Garde before the Dutchman slowed down on track with tecnical issues.
Similar problems occurred to the Signatech Alpine LMP2 prototype, that also dropped down the order.
Starting from 25th overall position and 20th in LMP2 class, the first ever fully-female team in the category had a good start and started to move up the order, slowly getting closer to the top-10 with Tatiana Calderon in the driving seat.
Taking the start for Iron Dames - the project launched by driver and advocate for women in motorsport Deborah Mayer - was Manuela Gostner, who had a good first stint and approached the top-15 in the GTE-Am category, where together with experienced teammates Rahel Frey and Michelle Gatting, she was ninth in her first participation last year.
8 Hours in, 16 to go
We are past the quarter of a race at Le Mans - the sun has set on one of the most legendary motorsport venues in the world, this year sadly without the scenic backdrop of the thousands enthusiasts trackside.
With 8 hours now in the books, the two fully-female crews are making great progress: the #50 Richard Mille Racing squad - starting P25 overall - is now up to seventh place in LMP2 category. It's been a really clean race for the girls so far: Tatiana Calderon took the start before handing over to Sophia Floersch and finally to Beitske Visser. With all the drivers completing their first double-stints, Calderon is now back in the car and solidly in the top-10.
The #85 Iron Lynx Ferrari started P18 in GTE-Am class and is also moving up the order, currently P11 in class with Michelle Gatting out on track.
The competition saw 3 Safety Cars so far - all of them after the 6-hour mark. Toyota Gazoo Racing leads the overall standings with the #7 car ahead of the sister #8 car, after the second placed crew was hit with a puncture very early in the race and lost further time in the seventh hour for braking issues. The team then took advantage from a Safety Car phase to pit the #8 and perform a brake change under yellow.
The first SC was triggered by the #55 Spirit of Race Ferrari (GTE-Am) that subsequently retired, just as the #30 Duqueine Oreca of Tristan Gommendy crashed heavily at the second Mulsanne chicane. Following lengthy barrier repairs, another stoppage was brought out shortly after when the ByKolles LMP1 prototype lost its rear wing and went off at the Esses.
In LMP2, two of the front-runners also hit trouble: Gabriel Aubry's #37 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca came to a halt at the Porsche Curves, with also Oliver Jarvis slowing down in the #16 G-Drive.
The United Autosport team currently leads the huge 24-car field in LMP2, with the #32 car of Alex Brundle leading the sister #22 car.
In GTE-Pro, the #51 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE Evo (Pier Guidi, Calado, Serra) is ahead of the #97 Aston Martin, with the #71 AF Corse Ferrari in third place after having lost significant time during the last Safety Car period.
12 Hours mark - Into the longest night
At the half-race mark, the two Toyota Gazoo Racing LMP1 cars continued to lead the overall classify, with the #7 enjoying a one-lap advantage on the sister #8 car - driven by Brendon Hartley - just before a dramatic turn of events for the Japanese manufacturer: Kamui Kobayashi made it back to the garage reporting turbo issues on his #7 Toyota, which paved the way for a lead change just into the 13th hour.
Gustavo Menezes - who holds the fastest lap of the race so far with a 3:19.264 in the #1 Rebellion Racing - advanced to second place, 2 laps behind the leader.
The top prototype class is now down to four cars, as the ByKolles team retired after an accident by Bruno Spengler during the seventh hour.
The LMP2 category kept providing great racing and the closest competition: the two United Autosport Orecas driven by Will Owen and Paul Di Resta are following each other closely, with the class leader having less then a second gap to second place.
The #38 Jota advanced to third, while the #21 G-Drive of Jarvis-Cullen-Tandy were forced to retire for recurring technical issues. It was a bitter end to their race also for the #37 Jackie Chan DC Racing LMP2 car of Gabriel Aubry, Ho Pin Tung and Will Stevens: after leading and spending most of the first part of the race in the top-3, Aubry came to a halt and was handed by a team member a new component while stranded on track. The #37 car was thus disqualified.
The recovering Signatech, Cool Racing and IDEC Sport crews closed in on the #50 Richard Mille Racing Oreca driven by Beitske Visser after a pitstop during the last slow zone that costed the Dutchwoman a couple of positions. With most of the LMP2 field running incredibly close after 12 hours, Visser dropped to eleventh position. Just after the clock had marked the start of the second half of the race at La Sarthe, Tatiana Calderon jumped back in the car for her third driving shift.
"It's so much fun to drive to be honest" - said Floersch after completing a triple-stint before Visser. "Until now it hasn't rained, so that's positive. I'll jump back in four or five hours, now I'm going to eat something and go to sleep, because I'm tired. It's been hard - the first 24 hours race is tough - but as long as we stay in the top ten and maybe even gain some places it's gonna be good. There is still a long time to go, I'm enjoying it so far, but my eyes say that I need to sleep."
Positions were unchanged in GTE-Pro: Calado leads in the #51 AF Corse, approximately 20 seconds clear of the #97 Aston Martin of Alex Lynn. Formerly in third place, the #71 Ferrari 488 GTE Evo also had troubles and was pushed back into the garage with a right-rear problem that dropped them to sixth in class.
In GTE-Am, Rahel Frey and Michelle Gatting continued to make their way through the field and could broke into the top-10 during the eleventh hour. The Iron Dames #85 Ferrari is now the best placed Iron Lynx car out on track, as Mastronardi’s #75 spun and went off in the gravel likely due to a tyre issue. A slow zone was employed at the Porsche Curves to allow the marshals to recover the white and black Iron Lynx Ferrari.
Gatting had minor scraps with the #70 MR Racing Ferrari, but neither of the cars picked up damages.
8 Hours to go, approaching sunrise.
Two-thirds of the biggest and most awaited endurance race of the season have already been completed, with 8 hours remaining on the clock and the 48 cars remaining on the field still circulating in the darkness of the French night.
It will in fact be the longest night at La Sarthe, with the event being rescheduled to September compared to the usual date of mid-June.
After 16 hours of intense racing and few Safety Car interruptions, the overall classify is led by the #8 Toyota Gazoo Racing with former-F1 drievr Kazuki Nakajima in the driving seat. The #8 crew saw its chances coming back alive after a the sister #7 car was forced to a 13-minute stop just after the mid race point for a turbo issue. Kobayashi-Conway-Lopez returned to the track in fourth place and 6 laps down, but immediately started to gain on the third-placed #3 Rebellion Racing.
The United Autosport cars were set for a 1-2 in LMP2, but the #32 car hit trouble and dropped back the order, leaving the #22 car of Philip Hanson currently behind the wheel in a solitary lead over the #38 Jota prototype.
The #50 Richard Mille Racing Oreca lost a coupe of positions half-way through. But with more solid triple stints by Calderon and Floersch, the first all-female LMP2 crew could recover back to P11. When Visser took over driving duties with eight hours left on the clock, the 25-year old lady was back in the top-10 and in 14th overall position.
In GTE-Pro, the #97 Aston Martin and the #51 AF Corse Ferrari continued their close racing for the class leadership. Harry Tincknell currently holds the position, 1.5 second ahead of his closest rival Daniel Serra.
The #90 TF Sport Aston Martin Vantage, on the other hand, has a comfortable lead over the #77 Dempsey Proton Porsche after the #98 Aston, second throughout the night, reported a suspension failure.
Thanks to impressive night stints by Michelle Gatting and Rahel Frey, the #85 Iron Lynx Ferrari could advance further up to ninth place. The Iron Dames continue their clean race as the best-placed Iron Lynx car and will try to top their 2019 9th place finish in GTE-Am category.
The night brought disappointment for the #21 Dragonspeed USA crew of Juan Pablo Montoya, who retired with misfire problems. Different reason but same fate awaited the #63 Weathertech Ferrari, which was caught in an accident with the #29 Racing Team Nederland at Tertre Rouge 13 hours into the race. While the LMP2 car made it back to the pits and continued, the Ferrari 488 GTE Evo of Toni Vilander saw its race coming to a premature end.
As a pale light starts to emerge over the horizon, both the FIA Women in Motorsport-supported teams continue their pursuit of a top-ten finish in the most prestigious sportscar event worldwide.
2 Hours to go, holding on to the top-10.
The sun returned to shine on the legendary circuit de La Sarthe, with the rain forecasted for the night not showing up when the clock marks the final two hours in the buggest endurance race on the planet.
Brendon Hartley, after taking over from Sebastien Buemi in the #8 Toyota LMP1 car, kept leading comfortably from the charge of the two Rebellion Racing. Gustavo Menezes, in fact, closed in dramatically on the sister Rebellion #3 prototype and started to battle for second place, also following small issues to the #1 car in the early hours of the morning that forced Bruno Senna to two very short stints. But the fight between the teammates could potentially be very costly for the Swiss team, which sits in second and third place overall, 6 laps behind the race leader and with very little chances of catching up with the #8 Toyota.
Paul Di Resta still leads the LMP2 class from Antonio Felix Da Costa in the #38 Jota - approximately one minute and a half behind the United Autosport dominant trio.
In the morning stages, Tatiana Calderon was back behind the wheel of the #50 Richard Mille Racing Oreca and battled with the #25 Algarve Pro crew. When ancountering the lapped #56 Porsche around the Porsche Curves, Calderon showed real sensitive and smart driving and let McMurry go by, only to re-gain her position soon after after the round of pitstops.
“It’s been an incredible opportunity to really feel the car, the conditions” - said Calderon after her driving shift. “You have to adapt to the lights, the conditions, it’s a huge challenge. it’s extremely hard. after 2 hrs you you can’t sleep because your adrenaline is over the moon. I think we did no mistakes and it would be a dream to finish in the top 8.” - concluded the Colombian.
When Sophia Floersch went back out on track, the Richard Mille Racing ladies returned to P9. The German 19-year old completed another impressively solid stint, her final one for her debut at Le Mans.
Green flag racing continued with very few interruptions: only short slow zones were employed to recover the stranded cars of Schiavoni (#60 Iron Lynx Ferrari), the #89 Porsche and the #34 Inter Europol Competition.
In GTE-Pro, the #97 Aston Martin of Lynn, Martin and Tincknell extended their lead over the #51 AF Corse Ferrari that was demoted to second in the final hours of the night.
Manuela Gostner completed a long stint for the #85 Iron Dames Ferrari, always maintaining ninth place, previously clinched by her teammates Rahel Frey and Michelle Gatting. Frey is currently back in the car and defends a 30 seconds gap from the #98 Aston Martin.
With two hours left on the clock, both the all-female teams sit in ninth place in their respective classes.
1 Hour to go - It's chaos in Le Mans
Just as the positions seemed settled in most of the classes, Le Mans did its magic and provided one of the most unbelievably tense finish to date.
Both the Rebellion drivers pitted to perform one last driver change and Norman Nato and Louis Deletraz went out on track replacing Gustavo Menezes and the fuming Romain Dumas, visibly annoyed by the attacks of his teammate. But the atmosphere in the Rebellion Racing garage quckly changed again when the #3 car driven by Swiss rookie Deletraz went off at Indianapolis, hitting the outside wall. The LMP1 car, running in second position, had to be wheeled back into the garage to be fixed.
Sebastien Buemi in the #7 Toyota - who looked out of contention for a podium finish - could thus recover back to third place.
Beitske Visser had to watch her mirrors from the return of the #25 Algarve Pro LMP2 team and ultimately lost ninth place coming into the final hour of the race. Soon after, Visser pitted for the last time and handed over to Tatiana Calderon, as the Colombian racer was elected to take the #50 Richard Mille Racing across the finish line.
All hell broke loose when the #99 Dempsey Proton Porsche went hard into the wall at Tertre Rouge, scattering debris all over the racetrack. A slow zone was employed to allow the marshals to fix the barriers, but there was more drama when the third-placed #26 G-Drive Aurus driven by Jean-Eric Vergne suffered a suspension failure and went off at Indianapolis. The Frenchman limped back to the pits, as the Russian team attempted the desperate mission to fix Vergne's car with little over 30 minutes left on the race. Their efforts were helped by the Safety Car neutralization, which was brought out when the #39 Graff Oreca of James Allen had a scary crash into the Porsche Curves. Allen was safely out of the car but visibly shaken, while the developments promoted the #31 Panis Racing to third place and the Signatech Alpine to P4.
The race went back to green for a final-sprint race of 23 minutes, which created more hectic action in the LMP2 and GTE-Am fields.
With Manuela Gostner back in the #85 Ferrari 488 GTE Evo, the top Iron Lynx crew went down to P10, before claiming back ninth place.
Incredibly, Vergne lost only two laps and could rejoin the race in fifth place in LMP2.
But, with 10 minutes left on the clock, it was the battle for the class lead to emerge as the next big story: Phil Hanson, who had silently led LMP2 since the night, was instructed to pit for a splash-and-go. The Jota Racing team was then handed the biggest opportunity but Hanson managed to marginally stay ahead after his quick pitstop. A few laps later, just when Anthony Davidson had seemed able to close the gap, also the #38 Jota had pit for a last splash of fuel.
Sunday, h:14:30, Chequered flag.
With battles throughout the field after 24 uninterrupted hours of top-class racing action, the #8 Toyota Gazoo Racing of Kazuki Nakajima, Brendon Hartley and Sebastien Buemi took the chequered flag to win the third 24H of Le Mans for the Japanese manufacturer.
Five laps behind, it was the Rebellion Racing driven by Norman Nato, Gustavo Menezes and Bruno Senna, who preceded the #7 Toyota squad of Conway-Kobayashi-Lopez.
United Autosport could clinch a last-lap victory - and the WEC title - ahead of the #38 Jota and the #31 Panis Racing in LMP2, while GTE-Pro glory went for the first time to the Aston Martin Racing of Alex Lynn, Maxime Martin and Harry Tincknell. After several hours of close battles the British team prevailed over the #95 AF Corse Ferrari driven by Calado, Pier Guidi and Serra. In third place, the #95 Aston Martin could outrival the Risi Competizione Ferrari, after the Bourdais-Gounon-Pla trio had to overcome several technical issues.
Aston Martin brought home also the GTE-Am honor, as tyhe #90 TF Sport Vantage of Adam, Eastwood and Yoluc (the first Turkish Le Mans winner) held on to first place in the critical final stages.
The two all-female crews crossed the finish line to both claim an impressive ninth place finish in LMP2 and GTE-Am respectively. A top-10 for the Richard Mille Racing ladies at their absolute Le Mans debut - and for Floersch and Visser in a 24-hour race - is an outstanding achievement, something that the three young drivers have probably not realized yet.
"I think it was one of the best experiences of my life." - summed up Calderon right after the race.
It was a flawless drive for both teams, in one of the most challenging races on the planet. Floersch, Visser and Calderon, with limited experience of managing traffic in different classes, perfectly called each situation, while the Iron Dames, at their second participation, equalled their 2019 result in another evenly notable performance. Rahel Frey, Michelle Gatting and Manuela Gostner were the best Iron Lynx crew for the whole second half of the race.
The 2020 Le Mans 24 Hours marks a small step for motorsport, but another giant leap for the female movement in motor racing. Thanks to the invaluable support of the FIA Women in Motorsport Commission - and of sponsors such as Amanda and Richard Mille - these projects proved what these six talented ambassadors are capable of when provided with competitive material. With the aid of two top-teams, today, Floersch, Calderon, Visser, Gatting, Frey and Gostner wrote another small page of motorsport history and proved that the best weapon to break the glass ceiling is the trust of someone that supports and believes in them.