The Iron Dames programme has developed a lot since its start during the winter of 2018/19.
It has actually reached a point now, where they have potential chances to win this weekend, when the European Le Mans Series 2021 visits the Paul Ricard circuit in France.
The very first outing of the programme was for the Abu Dhabi 12 Hours in December 2018, where Rahel Frey, Manuela Gostner, and Michelle Gatting paired up in the pink and black Ferrari 488. That car was however to GT3 specification, with the rest of the pre-season testing happening in a GTE car, with the team making its debut at Paul Ricard in April 2019. The three female drivers finished on a good second place, and showed all the potential doubters, that these three women actually were able to fight on equal terms with the guys, and even beat several of them.
The following race at Monza did however dampen the moods again, since the team was caught in a collision early in the race, putting them on the back foot for the rest of the race. They did however made a good comeback at the evening race in Barcelona with a fourth position, before they finally returned to the podium at Silverstone. With another fourth-place finish at Spa Francorchamps, they had the chance of potentially finishing third in the Championship.
The final in Portimao did however not really get going, until they were innocently taken out of the race in Turn 5, lap 1, after a massive pileup in the midfield.
They did run at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June 2019, where they finished in an acceptable 9th place, out of the 16 GTE Am cars entered.
So their hopes were higher for the 2020 season, where they really could start using their experience from the previous season. While their first season was run under the Kessel Racing banner, the Iron Lynx organisation – which Iron Dames is a part of – opted to move to AF Corse, with their huge knowledge to run the cars.
The opening to the season went well with a third-place at Paul Ricard, while the Spa Francorchamps round was a disappointing one, getting hit by not one but two 105 seconds Stop & Go penalties due to procedural errors during a Safety Car.
They bounced back very well at the evening race at Paul Ricard, where they were running in a legitimate first, until a Safety car spoiled their chances, just over an hour prior to the chequered flag, and made some of the competition rush past, and the three females racers had to go with third place.
That third place was followed by another third in Monza in Italy, putting the team in a hunt for a potential third place in the final Championship standings. They did eventually lose out by a single point, so they had to go with fourth in the Championship.
They scored another 9th place finish at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but with better laptimes, and effectively further up the field, with a total of 22 GTE Am entrants in the 2020 edition.
It was time for new goals – Gatting, Gostner, and Frey would move into the FIA World Endurance Championship, with new drivers going to replace them in the European Le Mans Series programme.
Two squads were put together during the 2020/21 winter period, with Frey being the common factor in both the ELMS and the FIA WEC team, and with two other drivers in the ELMS car. After a lot of chopping and changing, changes to schedules and date clashes, and not least licensing problems for one of the new drivers, it actually turned out to be the exact same Gatting, Gostner, and Frey pairing continuing in ELMS, while Katherine Legge was drafted into the FIA WEC instead of Gatting.
Their FIA WEC debut was quite a mixed bag of fortunes, with Katherine Legge having a huge shunt after a collision with an LMP2 car during the Tuesday Prologue, ending up with the team swapping the FIA WEC car with the ELMS car for the rest of the week. They never really got up to speed, and ended up finishing 8th out of 9 finishers – but did beat their Iron Lynx teammates.
Iron Dames got off to a good start in the ELMS, with a fourth-place finish at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, and was heading for another top-5 result at the Red Bull Ring. Frey made an amazing overtake towards the end of the race, grabbing the fourth position – but ended up being hit on the very final lap of the race, only a few corners away from the chequered flag, ending up with being not classified.
But other than the race results, there has been good speed by the three female drivers during the qualifying sessions. Michelle Gatting qualified third at the season finale in Portimao 2020, while Rahel Frey did the same at the opening round of 2021. Gatting showed impressive speed at the Red Bull Ring, qualifying second for the team. Other than this, we have Gatting leading the Ferrari Challenge Europe, after four Pole Positions in a row, and plenty of podium finishes. But not only that – if we look towards Manuela Gostner, but there has also been a huge improvement speed-wise, as well as clearing out some of the rookie mistakes, that happened every now and then in the previous seasons.
And now we reach the point, that we were going towards in the first lines of this article.
Iron Lynx Ferrari #83 has an actual chance of winning this weekend. They have raced this circuit three times, and been on the podium every single time, with second and two third places finish respectively.
To make things even more exciting, there is a success ballast system in the GTE category in the European Le Mans Series, with the three best finishers at the previous race, as well as the race prior to that, getting some extra weight in the car. On top of that, the three leading teams in the standings will also have some weight added. But the results this year actually mean that this weight is split between four cars, instead of just a few being very heavy.
A total of four cars will carry extra kilos this time around, while Iron Lynx Ferrari #83 can avoid any such penalty. With the speed that they have shown in both qualifying and race trim this year, they have very good cards on their hands.
But it’s not just all positive for the team, with all Ferrari cars being slowed down a tad, compared to the Aston Martin and Porsche racers in the field. The Italian brand has 6 out of 9 cars in the field, and with two Ferrari wins out of two, there is a good reason for the slight decrease in performance.
But despite that, we probably haven’t had better chances for the Rahel Frey, Manuela Gostner, and Michelle Gatting trio than this weekend, when the 3. Round of the European Le Mans Series 2021 is run near Le Castellet, located between Marseille and Nice.