Spa 24H, 8H update: Iron Dames making up places in Gold class, reach top-3
After 8 hours of racing, Iron Dames navigated through the Gold Cup class up to a podium position from 11th on the grid, after outstanding stints by Rahel Frey, Doriane Pin, Sarah Bovy and Michelle Gatting - who also briefly led in class. A diffuser issue cost some laps to the Samantha Tan Racing BMW; Reema Juffali started her first stint in the night and sits P2 in Bronze Cup.
A field of 65 cars took the start of the biggest GT3 race on the planet - the 24 Hours of Spa - with six female racers among the entries: record-breaking team Iron Dames started from P11 in the Silver Cup class, having had their qualifying on Thursday evening hampered by two red flags but with enough pace to recover in the Belgian iconic race. Rahel Frey took the start in the #83 Ferrari 488 GT3 and held P12 in the opening laps. Also behind the wheel for the opening stint was Samantha Tan, the young Canadian driver-owner at her first ever appearance in SRO Europe - and at her first participation in the 24 Hours of Spa. Tan - who shares driving duties with regular teammates Harry Gottsacker, Nick Wittmer and newcomer Maxime Oostens - started from P17 in the Silver Cup. Tan in fact has completed her first laps around the Spa Francorchamps circuit just a few days before practice - as well as the rest of her team, which is assisted in its European races by Dutch team Bas Koeten Racing. Samantha kept it clean at the start and ran a safe first stint in P19 in Silver Cup. Tim Muller took the helm of the #20 SPS Automotive Performance from pole position in Bronze Cup, as Saudi racing star Reema Juffali and her teammates had a good qualifying on Thursday night. Muller held position throughout his stint. It was a very clean start from the whole 56 car field; Klaus Bachler took the early overall lead in the #54 Dinamic Porsche, followed closely by Raffaele Marciello in the ASP Mercedes. A series of tyre punctures marked the opening hour: among the affected teams were the #77 Lamborghini who led the Gold Cup, as well as the third place Emil Frey Lamborghini and the fourth placed #12 Audi of Christopher Haase. At the first round of pit stops, Luca Stolz took the overall lead and preceded Marciello and Come Ledogar - the latter then losing third to Kevin Estre. The #26 Sainteloc Audi of Cesar Gazeau had a big off at Blanchimont and made contact with the barriers, becoming the first retirement of the race.
At the first Safety Car, Rahel Frey pitted from eighth place in Gold Cup and handed over to Michelle Gatting; Samantha Tan completed her first stint and Harry Gottsacker got behind the wheel - he would move into P17 in Silver Cup. The #20 Mercedes leading in Bronze Cup also had its first driver change and George Kurz started driving duties. As soon as the race went back to green, though, a long series of contacts and off track excursions resulted in several neutralizations with Full Course Yellows. It would be Mikael Grenier (#55 GruppeM Mercedes) to come out on top, with the ROWE BMW of Nick Yelloly and Michael Christensen (#221 Porsche) behind. The #6 KPAX Lamborghini was the protagonist of a brilliant first part of the race, after having all its laptimes deleted in Super Pole for a technical infringement. Unfortunately, a puncture dropped the American team down the order once again. The sun went down over the Ardennes and the #98 BMW started to stretch its lead after another round of pit stops. Meanwhile, Doriane Pin had taken the helm of the Iron Dames Ferrari and brought it up to fourth place in Gold Cup - and ninth overall. Despite a 10 second penalty for track limits, Pin handed over to local hero Sarah Bovy clearly in contention for a class podium. Bovy soon moved into second place in class and at one point hunted down the class leader, the #4 HRT Mercedes. As the race closed in on the 6 hour mark - Davide Rigon (#71 Iron Lynx Ferrari) chased the ROWE BMW but the Italian team's fuel strategy didn't pay off and he closed the first quarter of the race in second place, just ahead of the ASP Mercedes and the GPX Porsche. With Rahel Frey back behind the wheel of the Iron Dames Ferrari, the team settled in fourth place in class. While Gottsacker and Wittmer had brought the #28 Samantha Tan Racing's BMW M4 GT3 up to P13 in Silver Cup, the Canadian outfit hit trouble at the 6 hour mark and lost over 10 laps due to a diffuser issue. Wittmer would resume the race from P17, before a second run by Samantha Tan. The crew is making up positions and has currently recovered to P14 in class, 55th overall. The #20 SPS Automotive Performance Mercedes lost two laps to the Bronze class leader but continued with steady pace, now in 53rd place overall and second in class. Reema Juffali has started her first stint of the day and will carry the team through the night. With 16 hours to go, Michelle Gatting was briefly on top of the Gold Cup class and the Iron Dames Ferrari is now running second in class, P23 overall, after an outstanding first part of the race.
After 8 hours of racing, Augusto Farfus (#98 BMW ROWE Racing) precedes the ASP Mercedes of Raffaele Marciello and the GPX Porsche of Kevin Estre, while the Iron Lynx Ferrari now driven by Daniel Serra follows in fourth place.