The masterplan to carry over female success from GT to rally

After achieving a class win in the World Endurance Championship, Iron Dames is turning its attention to rallying

Iron Lynx & Dames rally testing

When a neon pink Porsche 911 RSR-19 rounded the final turn of Bahrain International Circuit on November 4, 2023, history was made.

After eight hours of non-stop lapping for the #85 car, Michelle Gatting crossed the finish line to win a round of the World Endurance Championship’s GTE Am class.

Sarah Bovy, one of her team-mates in the pink Porsche, climbed the pitlane fence and pumped her arms in celebration as Gatting passed underneath for the last time, the tension of chasing that first WEC win for three years finally releasing all at once.

Along with Rahel Frey, the trio had finally become the first all-female crew to win a world championship event in endurance racing. Before Bahrain, they’d been on pole position four times previously and Bovy had added a fifth – but the stars had finally aligned after several near-misses.


The Iron Dames Porsche leads the pack in Bahrain

“What helped us is that it was a green [flag] race without any safety cars,” explained Gatting afterwards. “We all got to show our potential.

“What Sarah has been doing in all the races so far is that she’s been very fast at the start of the race, with some great starts, but it’s all been destroyed by safety cars. Today, we were crossing our fingers hoping not to have a safety car, so we could have a clean race and show the potential that we have. That made the difference today.”

Iron Dames is already making a noticeable difference to the motorsport landscape. Gatting won the Ferrari Challenge Europe title in an Iron Dames car in 2021 and a year later, the team did it again with Doriane Pin at the wheel.

Now Pin, who’s also raced with Iron Dames in WEC and other forms of GT racing, has moved up to F1 Academy, the all-female support series to Formula 1. And in that series, Pin has been dominant; she won both races at last week’s season opener in Saudi Arabia, albeit with the second of those taken away for a chequered-flag mix-up.


Victory at last: Gatting, Bovy and Frey celebrate the first WEC win by an all-female crew

It’s now year six of the Iron Dames project. And it’s expanding. Having made huge strides in sports cars and having helped launch single-seater careers for Pin and Maya Weug, the Ferrari Driver Academy member who raced a Dames-run car in Italian F4, its attention is now turning to rallying.

This week marks the first proper test of the Iron Dames rally crew. Sarah Rumeau and Julie Amblard are taking on both the French Tarmac and French Gravel championships this year at the wheel of a Sarrazin Motorsport-prepared Ford Fiesta Rally2. A bright pink, Iron Dames-clad, Ford Fiesta Rally2.

“Iron Dames is doing something unique,” Rumeau told DirtFish. “They find talented women in motorsport, and they put all the necessary efforts to help them climb every step to reach the highest levels of competition and enable them to show all of their abilities. And they have proven how great this works in circuit racing. Our target is to follow the same path now in rally.”


Sarah Rumeau and Julie Amblard are tackling Tarmac and gravel rallies in Fiesta

Amazingly, Rumeau’s journey to become a rally driver hasn’t been going for as long as Iron Dames; she only set foot in a rally car for the first time four years ago. She went from handball player to driver thanks to Rally Jeunes, the French federation-backed talent search that discovered Sébastien Loeb, Sébastien Ogier, Adrien Fourmaux and more; in Rumeau’s case, she made it to the semi-finals stage.

“My target is to compete at the highest level,” said Rumeau. “Michèle Mouton proved it was possible and now Iron Dames is also showing it in circuit. So I am convinced we are all able to do it in motorsport. This is why we are in this project.”

That said, putting big results on the board, especially in such an incredibly competitive championship as the French Tarmac series is, would be asking too much. Last month was Rumeau’s first-ever event in a Rally2 car; she took on Rally Côte Fleurie as a warm-up event for Le Touquet, the French Tarmac season opener, which takes place this weekend.

She has plenty of asphalt mileage in Rally4 cars and even electric cars, having scored a podium in the ADAC Opel e-Rally Cup last year.
“The speed in the corners is what left me most impressed,” said Rumeau of the step up to Rally2. “The brakes differ a lot. They are way more efficient so we initially had a lot of margin on the braking points.”


Runeau switched from handball to rallying

Within her team, she has a clear benchmark to aim for: Jean-Baptiste Franceschi, a two-time French Gravel champion and ERC3 champion, is driving an Iron Lynx Fiesta too. He’s already accustomed to the speeds involved.

But for Rumeau, this step up to the top level will be like stepping into a whole other world. And as the Iron Dames sportscar venture demonstrated, it’s likely to be years of hard work, not months or days, that will be needed to succeed.

“We need to gain experience with this car, both Julie and I,” Rumeau highlighted. “We are already working a lot to reduce the gap with our teammates and we’re on the right track. We need to be consistent and from mid-season, we will set up more precise targets. We are always looking for the best possible result.

“We have built this wonderful three-year project with the team, so it’s up to us to validate the different steps to evolve and perform.”

Iron Dames’ rally adventure begins here. The hope is there will be a Bahrain-like payoff somewhere down the line. Not on Le Touquet, probably not this year. But someday. Good things come to those who wait, as Bovy, Gatting and Frey would likely point out.