"Of course, we would have preferred to climb the top step of the podium, also because we were in contention for victory until the very last stages of the race: we came close, and we’ll try again at Spa, where we’ll target our first win." - Effectively at her first race in GTE, new Ferrari factory driver Lilou Wadoux claimed a historic podium in FIA WEC, as she continues to impress in her spectacular rise in sports car racing.
The 6 Hours of Portimao represented a great comeback for the #83 Richard Mille AF Corse Ferrari, following an unluckily season opener at the 1000 Miles of Sebring.
New Ferrari factory driver Lilou Wadoux didn't even get to jump in the Ferrari 488 GTE during the race, as a massive accident in the opening stages of the race took her teammate Luis Perez Companc out of the race after four laps. The Argentinian driver was luckily unharmed - but the car #83 machine was less than in an optimal state after hitting the tire barrier and flipping upside down.
Heartbroken and with a lot of work to do in order to rebuild the car for Portimao, the #83 team was back stronger than ever at the second round.
And the sun shone bright in Portimao, right from the first sessions of free practice on Friday, where Lilou managed to get up to speed with the car on the tricky Portuguese track of Autódromo Internacional do Algarve. Wadoux was the fastest of her team, fourth and second in class - soon showing what she is capable of.
The qualifying session featured bronze-rated Perez Companc behind the wheel - as it's required from the championship regulations. He would complete the session in 6th position, with the #33 Corvette Racing of Ben Keating claiming the pole position ahead of Iron Dames' Sarah Bovy. Mirko Bortolotti was fastest in LMP2 and Brendon Hartley snatched the top spot for the Hypercar grid with the #7 Toyota. The focus of the whole paddock then switched on Sunday's big race.
At lights out, Perez Companc was at the wheel of the 488 GTE in Richard Mille's colors; by the end of the first lap, the class leader was Diego Alessi, at the wheel of the #21 AF Corse, followed by Ben Keating's Corvette and the Iron Dames' Porsche driven by Bovy. The Argentinian made up two positions and moved up to P4, also opening the gap from the rest of the pack.
Meanwhile, in the Hypercar class, the #51 Ferrari was able to settle between the two Toyotas, after a tight battle at turn 1 that saw the LMP2 field mingling with the top class.
After one hour of racing it was Lilou Wadoux's time to shine and start her very first stint of the season in FIA WEC. As soon as she stepped into the #83 car, she chased the drivers in front, with consistently faster laps. Wadoux closed in on Bovy - who was stuck behind Ben Keating - and eventually overtook both.
It didn't take her too long either to gain the GTE class lead: with a clean move at turn 1, Lilou passed the #21 Ferrari of Diego Alessi and began to open a gap ahead of her next pit stop. With unchallenged pace, Wadoux brought the car back into first place, as Perez Companc took over the 488 GTE for his second and final stint.
Companc's driving shift was pretty solid, but he eventually lost a few positions: Rahel Frey at the wheel of the Porsche #85 claimed the lead. Lilou would be back in the car on lap 100 once Perez Companc had completed his driving time, and handed the car over in fourth position.
Fifth after the pit stop, Wadoux wrestled her way up the field up to third place. Nicolas Varrone meanwhile had taken the class lead in the #33 Corvette. Lilou, though, was soon the fastest driver in class once again and recovered one more position to the Iron Dames' Porsche.
It was then time for Alessio Rovera to fight for the win: after a wheel to wheel battle with Michelle Gatting, the Italian was back into second place, just before the only Safety Car of the race was deployed. Jacques Villeneuve's Vanwall spun and hit the wall following a brake failure that triggered the race neutralization. As soon as the race resumed, Rovera was quick to catch the Corvette, ready to snatch the first position from Dutch driver Nick Catsburg.
In an exciting duel, Catsburg was able to defend his first place from Rovera, who tried to surprise his opponent in unusual places, but ultimately couldn't find a gap. Second after 0.260 of a second after six hours of racing, Lilou Wadoux missed out on her first WEC win - but claimed an equally remarkable podium, at her first race in GTE.
“I am delighted with my second place in Portugal thanks to the tremendous work of the team and my teammates", Lilou said. "After the tricky debut at Sebring, we gained our first crucial championship points."
"Of course, we would have preferred to climb the top step of the podium, also because we were in contention for victory until the very last stages of the race: we came close, and we’ll try again at Spa, where we’ll target our first win."
"We leave the Algarve knowing that we have a very competitive car, so we hope to continue improving and try to win a first race alongside Luis and Alessio” - Wadoux concluded.
The GTE podium featured - for the first time ever - four women stepping on the biggest stage of endurance racing: Lilou Wadoux in second place and the Iron Dames third across the finish line, in their first podium of the season. A historic moment for women in motorsport, as they keep making strides, closing in on a first win that feels just around the corner.