WEC: 2022 season ends with podium for Iron Dames, top-10 for Wadoux
Sarah Bovy, Michelle Gatting and Rahel Frey brought home a well deserved third place in the FIA WEC championship standings after a historic season for Iron Dames, who completed every championship in the top-three. In her first year in endurance racing, Lilou Wadoux completed the 8H of Bahrain again in the top-10, with a recovery drive after contacts.
One last time, to make 2022 even more memorable. One last time, to close an era. One last time with the prancing horse. 2022 will go in the history books as the blossoming year for Iron Dames - the project that took to the track in 2019 and has since then made leaps forward for women in the world of sports car racing. Over mainly three world-class championships such as European Le Mans Series, GT World Challenge Europe and FIA World Endurance Championship, the all-female squad launched by Deborah Mayer gained momentum in 2022, as pole positions, podiums and victories started to materialize. Proof of concept of what quality, continuous support can achieve for female talents, Iron Dames famously took their first win in the Gold class at the 24 Hours of Spa, making global headlines. But that was certainly not a flash in the pan - and everyone knew that: the first pole position arrived soon after, at the 6H of Monza in WEC - followed by more record-breaking results in GTWC, which led to a thrilling title hunt. Towards the end of the season, a top-three was the target at every single race entered: historic podiums were collected in ELMS as well as in WEC, culminating with a dominant victory at the 4 Hours of Portimao, final round of the European Le Mans Series. Doriane Pin - the youngest driver of the line-up - was crowned Ferrari Challenge European champion and, one week later, in a wild-card outing at the Lamborghini Grand Finals, Iron Lynx/Iron Dames announced a partnership with Lamborghini - in a manufacturer deal set to take the team to the next level - and open a whole new era for the all-female project. But, before tackling the next exciting challenges of tomorrow, the Dames had one more mission to accomplish: ending the year on a high, at the 8 Hours of Bahrain - final round of the FIA WEC season. And the weekend at Sakhir was soon off to a great start: Sarah Bovy managed to qualify the Ferrari 488 GTE on pole position for the second time this year in the championship, following her historic pole in Monza, when she had become the first ever woman to do so.
Bovy was in charge of the start as well and, as lights went out, she pushed to the limit to maintain the lead in the LMGTE AM class. The race was barely underway when the Safety Car had already been deployed, as Christian Ried spun in the #77 Proton Porsche at Turn 10. The race restarted after a couple of minutes and Sarah had regained the top spot in class, while the LMP2 field saw plenty of battles: Richard Mille Racing Team's Paul Loup Chatin was also in the mix of the action. The French squad - which lines up Chatin, Charles Milesi and Lilou Wadoux - had promising practice sessions, including a second place in FP1, but had to settle for P9 on the grid after a flatspot in qualifying that prevented Chatin from starting higher up the field. Nevertheless, the Frenchman soon started to move up the order and passed the #10 Vector Sport of Ryan Cullen at T1. On the eve of the season finale, every class title was still up for grabs, which resulted in hectic battles right from the start. In the Hypercar class, the #36 Alpine tried to keep its chances alive, but eventually had to settle for second place, as the Toyotas' pace was just hard to match. Alessandro Pier Guidi and James Calado led the LMGTE PRO class until disaster struck. The Ferrari pair was still able to claim the championship - the last in the GTE-Pro history - as Kevin Estre and Michael Christensen failed to collect enough points to beat the #51 crew.
Amidst the hard battles in LMP2, the #1 Richard Mille Racing Team Oreca was involved in contacts that resulted in a slow puncture. Paul Loup Chatin therefore had to pit for an unscheduled stop early in the race that wrecked the team's strategy. Meanwhile, Sarah Bovy had to defend from Pierre Ragues' attacks for the GTE-Am lead: the two Ferraris battled until Bovy had to settle for a temporary second place at turn 11. Chatin was on a mission to catch back to the tail-end of the LMP2 pack and had cleared the GTE traffic when the pit stop sequences began and Lilou Wadoux jumped in the #1 Oreca - ready to make the most out of the situation. Unfortunately, the first Full Course Yellow's timing was again not helpful for the young Frenchwoman. The caution was brought out when the leading GTE-AM Spirit of Race Ferrari suffered a puncture and lost the right rear tyre. Having just pitted before the FCY, Michelle Gatting - who had just taken over from Sarah Bovy - lost the class lead when the #54 AF Corse Ferrari pitted under caution. Nevertheless, Wadoux did a brilliant job in recovering positions and was back in the top-10 among the LMP2 entries when she was hit by Riccardo Pera, at the wheel of the #86 GR Racing Porsche, who would later receive a drive through for causing the incident. Lilou rejoined, but lost several positions and had to build her recovery back from scratch. With six hours to go, the second FCY was deployed when the #93 Peugeot parked on track due to a gearbox issue. Iron Dames took advantage of the neutralization and Rahel Frey took over the #85 Ferrari. The restart saw Rahel being able to maintain the position, earning the lead a few moments later due to Castellacci serving a drive through penalty. Lilou Wadoux fought her way back to P12 and gave the wheel of the #1 Oreca to Charles Milesi with half of the race to go.
The Dames pitted again, with Bovy stepping back into the car, as the Belgian extended her lead by over 20 seconds on the #33 TF Sport Aston Martin and the #98 Northwest AMR. In the main class, the continuous gearbox issues of the fast by fragile Peugeouts handed third place to the #36 Alpine, behind the #7 and #8 Toyotas. After a Full Course Yellow for debris, everyone took the chance to pit and Bovy remained behind the wheel for yet another stint. In LMP2, Prema and United Autosport traded places at the top during the pit stops. Charles Milesi handed over to Paul Loup Chatin after he had almost caught back the top-10 in class with outstanding pace, despite a straight-forward race had not allowed for an order reshuffle. Iron Dames led for almost 6 hours straight, as the race settled in the final three hours of racing. Sarah Bovy completed one of the longest driving stints and handed back over the wheel to Michelle Gatting with 2 hours and 39 minutes to go. The Dane had a strong stint, setting the team's fastest lap - but the gap to the second-placed Aston Martin started to shrink. When Rahel Frey got behind the wheel at the next stop, the Swiss ace had to put up a fight with the #46 Project 1 Porsche. Matteo Cairoli's fast times were a serious threat to the Dames' GTE-Am dominance, and the pink Ferrari eventually lost first place with around one hour to go. Michelle Gatting was up next - as she tried to defend second place. After a tight battle with the #56 Project 1 Porsche, Iron Dames could do nothing more against the fast Porsches 911 RSR-19. Under the helm of Charles Milesi, the #1 Richard Mille Racing Team Oreca charged back to eighth in class, before Lilou Wadoux started her final stint, with the important mission of taking the car across the finish line.
Wadoux rounded out her rookie season in WEC with eighth place - and ninth in the championship standings. With yet another top-ten, Richard Mille Racing Team showed once again great pace and potential, despite a few unfortunate circumstances that prevented Lilou and her teammates to finish the season even higher. "Everything was there to be competitive, both with the team and the drivers", Lilou commented. "Unfortunately, this was without counting on the incidents during the race." "Despite this, we finished eighth, which shows how good our pace was. The result is mixed because everything was perfect, but it didn't pay off as was the case in Monza", she continued. "I have a lot of positive things to take away from this season though." Only one year after her sports car debut, Wadoux would also have the chance to complete the rookie test the day after the 8-hour race in the championship winning Toyota Hypercar. The #7 Toyota won the 8H of Bahrain, while the sister #8 car took the overall 2022 title with Sébastien Buemi/Rio Hirakawa/Brendon Hartley. Completing an equally impressive season were Antonio Felix Da Costa, Roberto Gonzalez and William Stevens, securing LMP2 honors with Jota; and Alessandro Pier Guidi and James Calado, two time champions in the #51 GTE-Pro Ferrari after finishing the race with no fourth gear. The LMGTE AM title was claimed by the #33 TF Sport Aston Martin.
After leading most of the race, Iron Dames were third across the finish line, in their third consecutive podium in the series that gained the all-female squad the sought-after third place in the championship standings. "After 8 hours pushing like hell we jump on our third consecutive podium in FIA WEC - it’s an amazing feeling, but we really thought we could win this one", Sarah Bovy summed up her feelings after the tightly fought race. "We spent most of the race in P1 with a good margin on the competition, but in the end, the pace of the Porsches was just too strong to keep it." "We were so close but not yet close enough" - Rahel Frey added. "Nevertheless we had an amazing season and I‘m proud of every single member of our team for their hard work." The Iron Lynx crew was in fact once again flawless throughout strategy calls and pit stops. The whole engineering team built up the weekend one step at a time, focusing on race pace through practice and delivering a perfect car to Bovy in qualifying. "P3 for the last race of the year here in Bahrain was not the result we aimed for as we were leading almost 7 out of 8 hours", echoed Michelle Gatting. "But we fought very hard." "Our team was amazing in the box with pit stops and strategy and in the end the Porsche #56 and #46 were just stronger. This year has been a very special year where we achieved some big milestones all together" - the Danish racer continued. While the first win in WEC just slipped away from them, the podium was yet another remarkable achievement for Frey/Gatting/Bovy, who reached the goal of finishing every championship they entered in the top-three.
"All together we jumped on many podiums this year, won the biggest GT endurance race in the world, finished top 3 of the 3 international championships we entered" - Sarah Bovy said. "But, most importantly: we had each other’s back in the hardest moments, we never gave up and we kept believing in ourselves."
"Success is a state of mind, hard work and dedication are the keys to reach it." - Bovy summed up Iron Dames' core values.
The 2022 season was certainly action and drama filled, but it gifted us with amazing memories and iconic moments: Michelle Gatting, Sarah Bovy, Rahel Frey and Lilou Wadoux - together with Doriane Pin and Christina Nielsen for the 6H of Spa - proved the world that women in elite racing series are not just making up the numbers on the grid.
"The season was long and now it's time for a short but well deserved rest", concluded Rahel Frey. "The next year is approaching quickly and we can't wait to share more exciting news with you very soon."
While there are only rumours surrounding the WEC future of the Iron Dames, one thing is certain: the 2023 season can't come soon enough.