Le Mans 24H: 8H update – Iron Dames on the move, Lilou Wadoux starts first stint at Le Mans
8 Hours in – one third of the race is in the books. Lilou Wadoux completed her first stint at Le Mans as the sun set into the night. Iron Dames and Sophia Floersch continue their recovery drives; Rahel Frey currently sits in P11.
The start of the 2022 Le Mans 24 Hours was not what the female drivers on the grid had forecasted. A gearbox issue even before the start resulted in Sophia Floersch completing the first lap of the race in first gear, before coming in the pits as Algarve Pro Racing’s crew fixed the gear actuator. Starting from P21 in LMP2 – and with pace to make it back into the top-three in the ProAm class – Floersch lost five laps and rejoined the race at the bottom of the field.
It was a similarly heartbreaking start for Iron Dames, who also were eying a strong result after practice and qualifying – when Rahel Frey had made it into HyperPole.
Michelle Gatting picked up a puncture on lap 3 and pitted, also dropping to the tail end of the GTE-Am pack.
From 7th in LMP2, Richard Mille Racing sent out Charles Milesi for the first stint of the race; the Frenchman was quickly up to 5th after a hectic start in LMP2, before settling well within the top-10.
Milesi alternated behind the wheel with Sebastien Ogier and then was back for another driving shift. Unfortunately, Milesi picked up a 1 minute stop and go penalty for crossing the white line at pit entry, just as he had made it into third place after a brilliant first part of the race for the #1 Oreca.
Milesi served his penalty and rejoined in P12 – but he put on a fight and immediately started to charge back, one stunning pass after the other. He was soon back in the top-10, not without taking some risks.
After stints by Gatting and Frey, Sarah Bovy completed a very solid double-stint in the Iron Dames Ferrari. Frey had brought the car back into P19 and, after steady progress, Bovy was back in P15 when she had a contact with the Nielsen Racing LMP2 of Rodrigo Sales. Bovy was hit into the fast Porsche curves and went off through the gravel at speed – but masterfully managed to save the car and was soon back in the race. The accident was deemed a racing incident by race direction.
In the overall battle, Kamui Kobayashi took over the race lead in the fifth hour, having passed the sister car of Ryo Hirakawa. The Toyotas have been absolutely unreachable for the competition and put almost 3 minutes between them and the closest pursuer – the #708 Glickenhaus.
The latter spun and made contact with the barriers at Tertre Rouge with 7 hours and 20 minutes into the race and Olivier Pla was back in the garage.
Despite a quick stop into the garage, the #709 had managed to catch back the Alpine hypercar and Richard Westbrook had claimed fourth into the third hour. They now sit in P3 overall.
At the eighth hour mark, Sebastien Buemi leads Mike Conway, with Franck Mailleux in third. The race of the #36 Alpine went from bad to worse as it spent over 10 minutes in the garage with a gearbox issue, before going out again with Andre Negrao at the wheel. They had to pit again with clutch issues, before a further trip to the gravel. They are now 28th overall, also behind most of the LMP2 field. In LMP2, the #38 JOTA Oreca has been leading steadily after the first hours, when Antonio Felix Da Costa got ahead of the #9 Prema Oreca of Lorenzo Colombo after Robert Kubica had led in the opening stages. Prema is now running second again, after the second-running Penske dropped to sixth after pitting with technical issues. That promotedthe TDS Racing x Vaillante – with now Mathias Beche behind the wheel – to third. There was trouble for the CD Sport LMP2 of Cristophe Cresp who had a big off in the gravel but kept it out of the barriers.
Sarah Bovy, who had been closing in on the #86 GR Racing Porsche before the contact, continued the Iron Dames recovery and completed her first shift behind the wheel in P15, handing the car back to Michelle Gatting into the sixth hour.
After a solid stint by John Falb – who moved up as some LMP2 cars hit trouble and traded places on strategy with the #10 Vector Sport prototype – Algarve Pro Racing sent out Sophia Floersch again in the #47 Oreca. The German cleared the GT field, as she ran in P25 in LMP2 and eighth in ProAm. Despite the early bad luck, with a clean race from now on they can still aim to make the most out of the situation with 16 hours still to run.
At the six hour mark, Lilou Wadoux, 21, made her racing debut at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the #1 Richard Mille Racing. Lilou, a proven race winner in the Alpine Cup, is contesting her first season in sports cars in WEC, and is making great progress in her rookie season. Having won a support race in the Porsche Sprint Challenge France in 2021, she had some knowledge of the over-13km track, but her first Le Mans will be all about learning. Wadoux went out in P13 when the sun was setting over the horizon and, having completed her first night stint, handed over to Sebastien Ogier from P12 in class. In GTE-Pro, the #63 Corvette Racing led from the start of the race, only trading places with the #92 Porsche during the pit stop cycles.
Antonio Garcia, though, had to return to the pits at slow speed with a puncture, effectively handing the lead to the Porsche of Kevin Estre a few minutes before the seventh hour. The damage sustained, though, was more significant than the team expected and the car was brought back in the garage. This meant that the second Porsche was now up to second. There was also trouble for both the #64 Corvette – which was wheeled back in the garage – and the #52 AF Corse Ferrari, as Miguel Molina picked up a puncture in the sixth hour and was passed by the sister car as he struggled to make it back to the pits. The #74 WeatherTech Racing Porsche leads LMGTE-Am since the third hour, ahead of the Dempsey Proton Porsche and the TF Sport Aston Martin. The #93 Proton Competition Porsche driven by Michael Fassbender, meanwhile, was hit by the class pole sitting car, the AF Corse Ferrari of Vincent Abril. Fassbender's car picked up significant damage and the Irish driver struggled to bring it back into the pitlane. The #61 Ferrari received a 1 minute stop and go penalty for causing the accident. In the hands of Michelle Gatting, Iron Dames continued to climb the order as the Danish racer advanced to P13 in class after the unlucky start of the race, before it was again Rahel Frey's turn behind the wheel. The Swiss is making up places and completed the 8th hour in P11. At the seventh hour mark, Sophia Floersch handed the #47 APR back to Jack Aitken from P31 overall. The Briton is now up to P30, still retaining 8th in LMP2 ProAm. One third of the race is in the books and the female drivers of the 2022 edition of the legendary 24-hour race are in full charge.