Iron Dames Make History
It sometimes surprises non-motorsport fans to hear about women racers finding success in a sport that many don’t realize is not segregated. While basketball, soccer, athletics, and almost every other sporting organization keep men and women separate due to their physical differences, it is not officially the case with car racing. Unofficially, however, the controversial issues are not so clear-cut, and women remain a wholly underrepresented demographic. That is precisely why the Iron Dames racing team exists.
In their own words, the Iron Dames are here “to inspire the next generation of women to join the world of motorsport.” This mission statement is similar to the all-female single-seater championship W Series, but the Iron Dames project is going about its goals very differently. While W Series does discriminate by gender, the Iron Dames racing team goes head-on against male competition.
Founded in 2019 by Deborah Mayer off the back of the pre-existing Iron Lynx team, Iron Dames compete in multiple mixed-gender championships but solely with an all-female driver line-up. Although some rival teams involve women, the core identity of the Iron Dames entry is exclusively female, as they seek to show their abilities and influence other women to pursue a career in motorsport.
Today, the ever-growing Iron Lynx/Iron Dames project competes in six championships: World Endurance Championship (WEC), 24hrs of Le Mans, the European Le Mans Series, Ferrari Challenge, GT World Challenge, and Italian Formula 4. In each closed cockpit series, at least one female entry takes the wheel of a Ferrari 488 GTE EVO, GT3 EVO, or the Ferrari Challenge-only 488 CH EVO. Although Italian F4 is a spec series meaning Iron Dames must run a Tatuus F4-T014, something tells us they would also use a Ferrari there if they were allowed.
Their mission to create headlines and be visible has recently taken strides forward. The Dames had already raced in the prestigious 24hrs of Le Mans race and the wider FIA WEC championship but under the Iron Lynx moniker something they changed for 2022. The striking neon pink and black livery is eye-catching and gives the Iron Dames project a distinct theme of its own, apart from the umbrella team. Rahel Frey, Sarah Bovy, and Michelle Gatting are the trio of drivers who race in the easily identifiable car, a car they created history in twice on the same weekend.
The Frey, Bovy, Gatting combination first raced together at Monza in 2021, sharing the #85 Iron Lynx car, and completed a slightly underwhelming championship in the lower half of the GTE Am WEC field. Fast-forward 12 months, these three racers have gelled together to become a formidable force now competing as the Iron Dames team. At the same circuit where they first raced together, they made history by becoming the first all-female WEC team to take a class pole position.
One day later, the Dames drove a faultless race to finish second place to become the first all-female podium finishers in the championship. And while you might question how a faultless drive could result in a dropped place from their P1 starting position, it wasn’t from any on-track failings. Instead, an unfortunately timed final pit stop late in the race saw the circuit change from a Full Course Yellow to Green Flag conditions just as Rahel Frey was in the pit lane. Sadly for Frey, the switch gifted the win to Dempsey-Proton Racing, despite the Iron Dames leading for five hours of the six-hour race.
Monza has hosted many iconic moments in history, but perhaps none with broader societal implications than the three women who ascended to the podium to collect a trophy for their valiant efforts. For the Iron Dames team to have reached their first podium by losing a win through unfortunate timing rather than sneaking on the rostrum due to others’ bad luck shows that this was no fluke. It might not have been the win, but taking such an important step can only galvanize them.
As with W Series, the funny thing about the Iron Dames is that they will make themselves redundant if they are successful in their mission. If they do inspire more women to race, or for other teams to broaden their driver pool to include all genders, Iron Dames will become the unusual ones for only having women racers rather than a mixed-gender line-up like their peers. For a sport that has historically been dominated by men for so long, this may seem like a pipedream or wishful thinking. Yet, as history always shows us, change can and will happen.
The Iron Dames project bucked the trend when it began and has now set a new benchmark for women in motorsports to reach the Monza podium. There’s no telling how far they will go as they aren’t following in the tire tracks of anyone they are, by definition, always going to be leaders in their race. The finish line may be more a marathon than a sprint, but fortunately for the Iron Dames, they have practiced endurance racing since their inception, and after Monza, they now know how to succeed.
Originally published at Fortloc.