Rahel Frey: "Le Mans is the place where history meets the future"
Since their first Le Mans, Iron Dames have come a long way – and team leader Rahel Frey is sure there's much more to come. Here's what she told us about the prestige of the 24 Hours race, the team's progress over the years and the future of the project.
With a stunning lap on Wednesday afternoon, Rahel Frey put the #85 Ferrari 488 GTE in the HyperPole session. It was a historic moment for the all-female Iron Dames team, launched in 2019 by now-FIA Women In Motorsport's President Deborah Mayer and run by Iron Lynx.
Coming off an equally impressive second place in class at last week's 1000km of Paul Ricard, the inspiring trio carried momentum and built on their growing confidence.
“It was personally a great improvement", Frey told us. "It was an honour to do the HyperPole – for myself but also as a leader of Iron Dames. It was very important for the entire team", she continued.
Gold-rated Rahel Frey, Michelle Gatting and Sarah Bovy are contesting their second Le Mans 24 Hours as a trio, while Rahel and Michelle are at their fourth entry at La Sarthe as teammates. They finished in ninth place in GTE-Am in all the previous years.
"We already had shown the years before that we have the performance, we can do well, but this was really the proof", Rahel stressed. "It was an important step and I have to say thank you to the entire team, to my teammates, but also to all the people who are standing behind the project. Now we have shown that we belong to the top runners and it was an important statement – for us personally but also for the entire crew and the entire project."
At its fourth season at the top of endurance racing, the project has indeed come a long way and Frey, Gatting and Bovy – one of the fastest bronze-drivers around – are definitely not on the grid to make up the numbers, as they continuously run in contention for podiums in all the series they tackle.
"Now we are already in the fourth year and we showed that we belong here. That is how we want to continue."
"What we see this year is that we get more and more visibility", Rahel continued, highlighting how Iron Dames are now perceived. "The interest is different now, the questions from the media go a little bit deeper and are more about the background of the Iron Dames. They see that we take it very seriously and, in our fourth year, performance is increasing and that we have a long term perspective."
"The respect and acceptance is on a different level", she said. "That means that our way of communicating is paying dividends – therefore a big congrats goes out to all our communication and marketing team. We have chosen great people to surround ourselves with and we work really well together. We can only get stronger and stronger."
The project, which started with an ELMS line up in 2019, has been extended significantly over the years and now the Dames can be found in World Endurance Championship, European Le Mans Series, GT World Challenge Europe Endurance, Ferrari Challenge as well as Italian and German F4. The busy schedule means hard work but also plenty of crucial mileage.
"Now I look very much into the future, because I strongly believe there is much more to come – not only for us, but we are growing and willing to work even harder. I’m happy to be on this journey with all the other Iron Dames."
It is really noticeable how the trio managed to create a special bond and enjoy spending time with each other. All with different character features, Rahel, Michelle and Sarah complement each other.
"A very important aspect for performance is not to change a winning team", Rahel observed. "We haven’t won yet, but we are on the way to win. We try to keep the same people around us, we try to stick to the same drivers line up, because if you know each other it’s always an advantage. It’s a long and intense week, so knowing each other, communicating well and not making mistakes are key factors for being successful."
And, performance-wise, their approach is paying off; during the whole week preceding the big race, Iron Dames were consistently within top-five reach.
"So far it’s going well, we are improving all the time – and the HyperPole just showed it. We always have good pace in all the sessions and all conditions. Now it’s important that luck is on our side."
Formula Renault, International Formula Masters, Formula 3, FIA GT1, DTM, ADAC GT Masters, Blancpain Endurance Series, NLS, Nurburgring 24H, Bathurst 12H, Gulf 12H, Daytona 24H, ELMS, WEC – you name it. Rahel Frey has raced it all. A fierce racer in the car, capable of incredibly consistent stints, Rahel is the reserved one off track, always humble yet determined. A pragmatic hard worker that took on the challenge to build the team around her experience.
"Looking back, I’m pretty impressed about my career, honestly speaking", she joked. "It’s always a long journey and you’re so into it that you don’t realise what you already have done. You always only look forward – and I strongly believe there’s still more to come" – she told us.
Frey made her Le Mans 24 Hours debut in 2010, in another all-female and all-Swiss crew alongside Natacha Gachnang and Cyndie Allemann. 12 years later, the magic of La Sarthe has surely not disappeared for Rahel.
"Le Mans has such a unique atmosphere" – she remarked. "The track is fast and with no room for mistakes. Le Mans is within the heart of motorsport and we are very honoured to be here for the fourth time. Coming back to this track is pure pleasure."
"The more often you come here, the better you know the procedures and the better you can take your time off and have your breaks. It’s easier with time. But Le Mans remains unique for me; here history and future meet in one place. You can feel it's a historic place and you see a lot of former race drivers. All the big names in motorsport meet here."
"At the same time, you can also see the future of motorsport. A lot of meetings happen here and a lot of new technology is presented in Le Mans. That’s very interesting to see and to follow, it really is the place where history and future meet."
In Rahel's future, there is certainly a vision for Iron Dames to keep establishing itself as a leading player in the sport as well as increasing opportunities for women in all roles within motor racing.
"I hope we can double the number of Iron Dames – not only on the driving side, but also in engineering, marketing, communication and technical sides", Rahel explained. "I hope we will attend more championships and continue to increase our visibility. I think there are great things to come."
"We always go with the flow and we’re very flexible", she said, after being asked where she sees the project in five years' time. "We walk through life with open ears and eyes."
The 36-year-old Swiss driver has recently taken on the role of Project Manager at Iron Dames, as her commitments with the team are expanding beyond the race seat. In particular, she will be in charge of providing the up-and-coming Dames with all the know-how and wisdom she can pass on.
"I am not only following our GT races – I also try to follow the youngest generation with Maya [Weug] and Laura [Camps]. I try to attend the F4 tests and F4 races, as well as Doriane [Pin] in Ferrari Challenge. So it’s really about following the young generations on and off the track so that they can learn as fast as possible and have a great dedication for the physical and mental sides. They also join us on the bigger races, as we are a big family and we can learn from each other"– Rahel added.
"I see myself as a coordinator, their point of contact: whenever they have questions or issues they call me and we try to solve it together. It’s really important that they have this figure they can always rely on."
With this approach, Rahel Frey has surely contributed to take Iron Dames to where they are today: in the top six on the grid of one of the biggest and most prestigious motor races on the planet. And, while her role has expanded, Frey still plans to add a few more trophies to her cabinet – the 24 Hours of Le Mans one being high on her list.
"I believe that together we’re stronger – and that’s my role within the team."