"We made another good step, but we're not yet where we want to be." - mixed feelings for Rahel Frey, Michelle Gatting and newcomer Sarah Bovy at the 6H of Monza, where the Iron Dames were denied a top-five after a Safety Car.
One week after the ELMS 4 Hours of Monza, the Iron Dames made their return to the most iconic Italian racetrack, to tackle the Temple of Speed for the third round of the World Endurance Championship.
The team created by visionary Deborah Mayer is only in its third season yet has revolutionized female accessibility at the top of GT and endurance racing. After two years in ELMS, the all-female crews promoted by the Iron Dames project have already secured two top-10 finishes at the most challenging endurance race in the world - the 24H of Le Mans - and has expanded its presence to 9 different championships.
In 2021, the original line-up stepped up to WEC - the most elite sportscar championship in the world - while more talented women were given a chance in ELMS, Michelin Le Mans Cup, Ferrari Challenge, GT World Challenge, Italian GT and, recently, ADAC F4 and Italian F4.
At their second race in the series Michelle Gatting, Rahel Frey and Manuela Gostner were one place away from their first top-five in the World Championship at Portimao - and that same line-up went on to finish again sixth in ELMS, as the preparation for Le Mans is ticking down.
There were some shuffles in the drivers' line-up ahead of the first WEC round in the Autodromo, as Sarah Bovy was handed her series debut alongside Michelle Gatting and Rahel Frey. Bovy - second in the Michelin Le Mans Cup one week ago - got her first taste of the Ferrari 488 GTE Evo and was thrown in the deep end in qualifying. After the 10-minute session, she was seventh in LMGTE-Am - a remarkable result for the 32-year old Belgian.
“It was my first time to be qualifying in the World Championship, so clearly the pressure was a little bit there, but I’m quite happy, we’re P7.” – told us Sarah Bovy on Saturday.
“I think fifth place was reachable with a little bit more experience, but I know that it’s tomorrow that matters.”
“We’re going to take a good and secure start and then bring the car in the pits in the best possible position.”
GTE pole position went to the #92 Porsche GT Team of Kevin Estre, who edged the #51 AF Corse Ferrari of Alessandro Pier Guidi by 0.065 seconds - in what would be a weekend-long battle between Ferrari and Porsche.
In GTE-Am, the TF Sport Aston Martin of Ben Keating took pole, ahead of the Cetilar Racing Ferrari driven by Lacorte/Sernagiotto/Fuoco.
Having shown promising speed in the second practice with a fourth place, the ladies of Iron Dames had high hopes for Sunday's race, where a top-five was a realistic goal.
When the lights went out at noon on Sunday, it was a clean start from the whole field into the often messy First Chicane in Monza. Sarah Bovy got behind the wheel of the #85 Ferrari for the first stint, thus making her official WEC debut. She had a great start and moved into sixth position in GTE-Am, then battled hard with the #98 Aston Martin of Paul Dalla Lana and the #54 AF Corse Ferrari. Keating held the lead in the #33 Aston, while Rovera and Perfetti battled for fourth.
Showing determination and racecraft, Bovy was in the mix and impressed in her first stint.
It was a tougher day for the sister #60 car of Schiavoni/Piccini/Cressoni, following a massive shunt in FP2 that left the black and yellow Ferrari heavily damaged. With a monumental effort by the Iron Lynx crew, the car was fixed but driver and team principal Andrea Piccini pitted after only a handful of laps with technical troubles.
The first Full Course Yellow was deployed at around the 30 minute mark, when Andrew Haryanto beached his #88 Dempsey Proton Porsche in the gravel at La Roggia chicane. He was able to rejoin, but the race was neutralized, giving the chance to the prototypes to stop for their first pit stop of the day.
At the neutralization, the positions were unchanged in GTE-Pro, with the #92 Porsche leading the two Ferrari of Pier Guidi and Molina; in GTE-Am, Ben Keating held position from the AF Corse Ferrari of François Perrodo and Thomas Flohr. Sarah Bovy moved up to fifth and continued her solid run into the second hour of racing.
She pitted for the first time of the day from P5, while the prototypes started to perform their first driver change. There was drama for the Cetilar Racing Ferrari soon after, when Roberto Lacorte spun at the exit of Lesmo 2 and was collected by the Porsche driven by Gianmaria Bruni before making contact with the inside barrier. The Ferrari rear-wing collapsed, but Lacorte managed to find the track before the race direction had to call for the second Full Course Yellow. The second neutralization did come into the second hour, when the GTE-Am race leader suffered a high-speed tyre blow under the bridge leading to Variante Ascari: the TF Sport Aston Martin scattered bodywork debris all over the track, and the Safety Car was deployed. Sarah Bovy pitted under Safety Car from fourth place, two hours into the race. The GTE-Pro race was also coming alive, as Serra (AF Corse Ferrari) and Lietz (Porsche GT Team) swapped places for the final step of the podium. The restart was a messy one for the GT field, with Flohr being pushed off at Prima Variante and amidst the fast approaching LMP2 cars. After 2h23 minutes, Sarah Bovy pitted to hand over to Michelle Gatting, having just completed her first stints in WEC. Gatting rejoined in ninth and started to work her way up the order. After Keating's tyre issue, the new class leaderboard saw the #56 Projekt 1 Porsche leading the race, followed by the #83 AF Corse and the #777 D'Station Racing Aston Martin. The fast Danish racer had an equally strong double-stint and climbed back to seventh during the central phase of the race, before handing over to Swiss ace Rahel Frey, who took over for the final two hours of racing. After the pit stop, Frey rejoined in 9th position and had her eyes on eighth place after her final stop for fuel with 52 minutes left on the clock. A final Full Course Yellow with 32 minutes to go probably cost Frey the chance to further recover. Once the race resumed, she had to settle for eighth across the finish line, having closed a 17-second gap in the final minutes. The GTE race was won by the #92 Porsche of Kevin Estre and Neel Jani after a race-long duel with the #51 AF Corse Ferrari of Alessandro Pier Guidi and James Calado. The Italian driver's hopes were shattered with two minutes to go, when he had to pit for a final splash and go, leaving the home race in the hands of the Porsche rivals. Similarly, the #91 Porsche of Bruni/Lietz edged the second AF Corse Ferrari of Serra/Molina by three seconds to take third in GTE-Pro. On the other hand, Ferrari took its revenge in GTE-Am, where Perrodo/Nielsen/Rovera claimed a remarkable win from the back of the field after being disqualified from Saturday's qualifying results due to a technical infringement. The runner up spot went down to the wire, as Augusto Farfus (#98 Aston Martin Racing) managed to find a way around the #777 D'Station Racing Aston of Fujii in the very final laps and following a great side-by-side battle. The Iron Dames were once again close to securing their first top-five in WEC, but scored more points for the championship and will now analyze the data to bounce back stronger at the most important round of the season: the legendary Le Mans 24 Hours. "This race was full of learnings, for sure" - told us Sarah Bovy after a notable debut. "The car is very different from the GT3, so it took me a little bit of time to get into the pace - and to be honest I still have some work to do." "But overall the first stint was interesting - it was also my first double stint and all went well." - she explained. "I did some good lap times and had a good pace. The team is happy - I am just really sad that we were a bit unfortunate with the Full Course Yellow and Safety Cars, and we lost a bit of time here and there during the pit stops." "But big props to my teammates: Rahel [Frey] and Michelle [Gatting] are really impressive behind the steering wheel to be honest." - Bovy added. Gatting was disappointed by the result in Monza but is expecting to make the most out of their previous experience at Le Mans to fight back. "The weekend ended not as we expected - it was quite a disappointing result in the end." - she said. "We had a different driver line-up this week, with Sarah Bovy joining us - which was very nice and I think she did a good job. It was her first time in a GTE car. Beside that, we also had Manuela [Gostner] with us the whole weekend supporting us, which was very important.", she stressed. "We were lacking some pace, but nothing we could do about that. We have to go home and analyze and see what we can improve for Le Mans because that's the next one and the big one." "The experience at Le Mans helps a lot." - she told us. "Also at home now I have a proper simulator so I can really prepare for Le Mans now - I know that will help. We go into it not as beginners and that is a good thing. We have a complete new team compared to the other years, so I'm still optimistic for Le Mans: it's 24 hours and a lot can happen, and if we look back to last year, hopefully the pace will be better now.``, concluded Gatting. Experienced GT driver Rahel Frey - one of the team's reference points - was happy about Sarah Bovy's debut and shared Gatting's bittersweet feelings about the 6H of Monza. "We had a new line-up as we welcomed Sarah Bovy in the #85 car and we have to say we are really happy with her - she performed really well, which gave us some new possibilities. We've seen we closed the gap a little bit with the front, now we're in the mid-field and we made another good step. But we're not yet where we want to be." - said Frey. "Nevertheless we finished P8, we definitely take this but we have to keep working hard because so far we twice finished ninth in Le Mans and thinking ahead at the big race we definitely want to do better." "We have three more weeks so I guess we're going to do quite some simulation work to be ready. But all in all, we finished and we take it.", she added, noting how Monza was good preparation for the main event of the WEC calendar. "Monza is a high speed track, and low downforce - so definitely a good track to prepare for Le Mans and we have learnt that we still have some points to improve, but it was good preparation." The 2021 24 Hours of Le Mans will see the teams and drivers battling on the iconic Circuit de la Sarthe on 21–22 August, where for the second year in a row, we will get two fully-female crews on the starting grid.