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WEC: Iron Dames secure top-10 at 1812km of Qatar

Iron Dames debuted the Lamborghini Huracan EVO2 GT3 in the new LMGT3 category - and completed a solid FIA WEC opener in Qatar with a very consistent performance that gained the all-female trio an eighth place at the 10-hour race.

Iron Dames Lamborghini Huracan GT3, Michelle Gatting, Sarah Bovy, Doriane Pin, 1812km of Qatar, FIA WEC 2024
Photo credits: Javier Jimenez / DPPI

The FIA World Endurance Championship kicked-off a new era for sports car racing: 19 hypercars and 18 GT3 cars entered the season opener of one of the world's top racing championships, with a record-breaking number of manufacturers aiming to capitalize on the new endurance racing golden era. Among the world-renowned manufacturers competing are Alpine, Aston Martin, BMW, Cadillac, Corvette, Ferrari, Ford, Isotta Fraschini, Lamborghini, Lexus, McLaren, Peugeot, Porsche, and Toyota - highlighting the expansion of the world's premier endurance racing series.

For the first time in the series' history, WEC held its curtain raiser at the Lusail International Circuit in Qatar, in a special event named the Qatar 1812 Km - a 10 hour race that opened an expanded calendar. Teams had the chance to get up to speed with the Qatari circuit, new to most of the drivers, at the season's Prologue: new cars and line ups got back in the rhythm ahead of the big 1-2 March event.

In addition to the exponential growth of the Hypercar category, there was high interest for the brand new LMGT3 class which took over the LMGTE - whose final race saw Iron Dames emerging victorious from last year's 8 Hours of Bahrain.

Sarah Bovy - also winner of the final GTE pole position in Bahrain - Rahel Frey and Michelle Gatting had made history by becoming the first ever all-female crew to win at the highest level in endurance racing, but the change to GT3 wasn't the only variation for the team as it enters the 2024 season.

The line up now features bronze-rated Sarah Bovy - the indisputed protagonist of the last two year's WEC qualifyings - now gold-rated Michelle Gatting and Doriane Pin, who moved from the LMP2 category to GT3, as she tackles a double program in single seaters and sportscar racing. Rahel Frey remains behind the wheel in ELMS and IMSA, and was nevertheless present in Qatar as supervisor and supporting her teammates.

After driving the Ferrari 488 GTE until 2022 and, last year, the Porsche 911 RSR GTE, Iron Dames had the big task of debuting the Lamborghini Huracan EVO2 GT3 in FIA WEC, as the brand made its first start in both the LMGT3 and Hypercar classes.

The first round of the season was therefore a matter of laying a solid foundation for the car's first year in the series - and that's what Iron Dames successfully did at the end of a proving 1812km of Qatar.

The three Iron Dames worked on the car set up in practice and, as per team's working programme, they progressively made their way up the order across the sessions, closing in on the top 10 on pace. While there was still room for improvement, the all female-crew went into the first qualifying of the year with high hopes of making it through the Q2.

The new qualifying format in fact features a 15 minute Q1 and a new Q2 session, where the top-10 in each class progress to the Hyperpole - similarly to the Le Mans format.

Bronze drivers took to the track in the GT3 class - and the #85 Lamborghini was in the expert hands of Belgian ace Sarah Bovy, who had claimed 3 pole positions in 2023.

Bovy clocked a 1:55.993 which put the Huracan in seventh place - and therefore advanced to Hyperpole. The #81 TF Sport Corvette of Van Rompuy would score pole position with a stunning gap of over 8 tenths over the #92 Manthey Porsche and the #54 AF Corse Ferrari.

Bovy improved on her previous benchmark and stopped the clock on 1:55.340, moving up to sixth and on the third row of the grid for the season opener on Saturday.

Sarah Bovy, Michelle Gatting, Doriane Pin, Iron Dames, Qatar, FIA WEC 2024
Photo credits: Iron Lynx

The 335-lap or 10 hour race got underway at 11am under the eyes of the motorsport world.

From sixth on the grid, Bovy held position at the start as Tom Van Rompuy's TF Sport Corvette led the GT3 pack on the first lap of the 2024 season.

While Sarah was off to a good start, a contact with the #46 Team WRT BMW on the first lap caused bodywork damage to the Lamborghini rear bumper. Stewards deemed the contact a racing incident and the Iron Dame continued to battle with the front-runners.

Despite the damaged car, Sarah in fact followed Thomas Flohr closely throughout the opening stages. In the first hour of racing, Aliaksandr Malykhin took the lead of the race in the LMGT3 class and pulled away from the D'Station Racing Aston Martin. A big train of cars - including third-placed Van Rompuy - all the way down to eighth, fought for positions: Bovy fell to seventh, having lost a place to Zacharie Robichon, but remained close behind.

The scarred rear bumper started to hold Bovy up; 20 laps into the race, she had to defend from Ahmad Al Harthy. Sarah held on masterfully and went a few laps longer when the GT3 class started to pit. She took the way of the pitlane on lap 26 and handed over to Michelle Gatting from third in class in between the pit cycle.

After the first round of stops, Gatting was down to P12, as the pink Lamborghini lost around 25 seconds for a bumper change. Gatting made up a couple of positions over the next laps and made her way back into the top 10 on lap 38. Once she cleared traffic, the Dane lapped on competitive times, closing in on Clement Mateu in the D'Station Aston Martin. At the 90 minute mark, Gatting was one of the fastest cars in class and she eventually overtook the #777 Aston Martin on lap 48.

The full rear wing and rear bumper from the #51 Ferrari hypercar flew off, triggering the first full course yellow. The race was soon back underway and, having moved up to sixth as a few cars pitted just before the caution, Gatting kept the TF Sport Corvette at bay. Michelle, though, started to struggle and dropped down to 11th during the third hour. Masson overtook Gatting with all four wheels outside the white line and was placed under investigation.

Gatting pitted on lap 77 and Doriane Pin took over the #85 Huracan. Pin had a very solid stint and consistent pace, recovering up to seventh before her next pit stop, when she remained behind the wheel, rejoining ninth in class. Doriane set the new fastest lap for the car and she would improve again with a 1:55.613 one hour into the stint.

Pin continued to run as consistently as possible, around 20 seconds behind the Heart of Racing Aston Martin driven by Daniel Mancinelli. At the 4 hour mark, the Manthey Pure Rxcing Porsche had opened an almost 30 second gap to the two AF Corse Ferraris of Rigon and Rovera. Most of the GT3 cars were running in pairs of brand, suggesting that BoP likely had been playing a significant role in the season opener.

With positions settled, Pin would bring in the #85 Lamborghini on lap 127 handing it over to Sarah Bovy, as the bronze driver started her second stint of the race. Daniel Mancinelli passed Malykhin and took the lead of the race - and the second Porsche, the #91 Manthey, was forced to pit with a technical issue thus dropping down the order. Bovy climbed to eighth and improved the car's fastest lap by one tenth over Pin, as she tried to reduce the gap to the #777 Aston Martin - but would receive a drive through penalty for full course yellow procedures. The Belgian served the penalty but retained eighth.

As the race reached the 200 laps, Alex Riberas - now behind the wheel of the #27 Heart of Racing Aston - was leading in class, having passed Thomas Flohr's #54 AF Corse Ferrari who had cycled up to first before his seventh pit stop.

With over half an hour of missing minimum driving time, Sarah stayed at the helm of the Lamborghini for her final stint of the day. With some fast laps at the beginning of the stint and the trio's best lap up until that point - barely 3 tenths from the sister car's top lap by platinum-rated Franck Perera - Sarah held position and continued to extend the gap to ninth-placed TF Sport Corvette. When Bovy reached the three hour driving time, Iron Dames pitted and Michelle Gatting was back on board.

Iron Dames Lamborghini Huracan GT3, Michelle Gatting, Sarah Bovy, Doriane Pin, 1812km of Qatar, FIA WEC 2024
Photo credits: Javier Jimenez / DPPI

Gatting kept the gap stable to around 30 seconds to the #82 Corvette, as the night fell over the Lusail International Circuit. Michelle improved her personal best by over half a second, although Bovy's 1:55.555 initially remained the team's fastest.

Michelle final stint was more consistent as temperatures dropped and the car's behaviour improved; with 1 hour and 45 minutes to go, the Dane clocked a 1:55.467 which was the team's new benchmark.

Around ten minutes later, Gatting pitted and Doriane Pin got in the car in the final driver change. Ahead, the Porsche Manthey Pure Rxcing had retaken the class lead, in a dominant performance in the closing hours of the race that saw the 911 GT3 R opening an over 20 second margin ahead of the final round of pit stops.

Pin continued to chase the team's fastest lap and she did so as the race entered its final hour: the Frenchwoman clocked a 1:55.406, half a tenth faster than Gatting. All the Iron Dames lineup were in fact separated by 1 and half tenth of a second, highlighting the extraordinary consistency of the line up.

With little chances to catch the cars ahead and with a safe margin to the cars behind, Doriane managed traffic and delivered another solid performance, ultimately crossing the finish line in eighth place after 295 laps around the 5.380 km Qatari racetrack.

Manthey PureRxcing took the first win in the new LMGT3 class with Klaus Bachler, Alex Malykhin and Joel Sturm, who preceded the #27 Heart of Racing Aston Martin and the #777 D'Station Aston Martin. Team WRT BMW and AF Corse Ferrari rounded out the top five.

With eighth place, Iron Dames secured a top ten to open the FIA WEC season, in the Lamborghini Huracan GT3's first race in the series. Doriane Pin, Michelle Gatting and Sarah Bovy were the top finishing Lamborghini, as the sister car finished 12th, four laps behind.

"That is it for the first round of the FIA WEC 2024 with eighth", commented Sarah Bovy at the end of a convincing performance. "I think we did a good, consistent race. We are aiming for more and we will keep pushing and working hard to do better in the next race. We still scored some good points at the start of the championship."

The four points scored in Qatar were in fact an important reward in such a big and competitive field.

"We can be happy with eighth today", echoed Gatting. "There is a bit of work to do, but I think everybody did very well. I’m very pleased with the performance from Sarah, Doriane and the whole team. Hopefully at Imola it will go a bit more in our direction and we should be able to do a good result there."

Pin, who is one week away from her F1 Academy debut in Jeddah, maximised the car's potential and confirmed that the team is indeed heading in the correct direction:

"I think we can be happy with eighth and especially the progression we made during the week with the team", she said. "Together with my team-mates, I think we are heading in the right direction. We are still missing something to reach the top five, but we look ahead and we will keep working and pushing for Imola."

Before the 6H of Imola, though,  Bovy, Gatting, and Rahel Frey will head stateside for the 12 Hours of Sebring, second round of the IMSA WeatherTech SportCar Championship, on March 16th.



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