Two all-female crews will take on the 24 hours of Le Mans this weekend, making it the first time since the mid-1970's that more than one female crew has featured on the starting line.
Six women from the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), in Motorsport Commission-supported drivers, will be competing with the Richard Mile Racing Team and Iron Lynx in the Iron Dames project.
The Richard Mile Racing Team will field the first all-female LMP2 crew in the history of Le Mans. Tatiana Calderón, Sophia Flörsch and Beitske Visser will be in control of the #50 Oreca 07, Gibson-powered race car run by reigning FIA WEC LMP2 Champions, Philippe Sinault’s Signatech team.
The team, headed by Britain’s Katherine Legge, has been competing in this year’s European Le Mans Series in preparation for the main event. Legge has been temporarily forced onto the sidelines after a testing accident at Le Castellet.
“I’m really disappointed I won’t be able to drive this year, but I feel we made the right decision together as a team and with the doctors,” she started. “I am walking now – which I will never take for granted again – albeit slowly and still with pain.
“I am cleared to drive, but repeated stints over 24 hours might do more harm than good to my recovery and put unnecessary stress on the team. They have been cheering me on through my recovery, just as I will be cheering them on for the big race! I can’t wait to get back in the car.”
Visser has instead joined up with Calderón and Flörsch in their debut in Le Mans having already claimed two top six finishes in this year’s ELMS races. She said: “I’m very excited and grateful for this incredible opportunity.
“To do Le Mans is a dream for every driver and to be able to do it representing Richard Mille and the FIA Women in Motorsport Commission is a huge honour.
“We have been preparing in ELMS, but Le Mans will be the first time the three of us will race together, and it will be very intense, a huge challenge: three rookie drivers in a very condensed schedule without the usual previous test.
“I think we are all starting to understand how the endurance races work, how you need to approach them as a team while sharing a car. The only sad part is we won’t get the full Le Mans experience without the fans being there, but I hope they can cheer us from home. We are ready for the challenge.”
The Iron Dames, formed by Deborah Mayer, who is a strong advocate for women in motorsport, will be run by Iron Lynx. Rahel Frey, Michelle Gatting and Manuela Gostne will drive the #85 Ferrari 488 GTE Evo. The trio are proven podium finishers and became the first all-female crew to compete in the Circuit de la Sarthe and finished ninth in their category.
“There should be no doubt that we definitely arrive at Le Mans with much more experience as a team and drivers,” said Gatting.
“This helps us to focus on the race as we all have an idea of what we are up against. We had a strong start to the ELMS season with two podiums so far and we are aiming for podiums again in Monza and Portimão. Regarding the result for Le Mans, I think we should aim for a top 10, the field is big with 22 cars and a lot of strong competitors.”
Michèle Mouton, president of the FIA Women in Motorsport commission and winner of the Prototype 2L category at the 1975 Le Mans, spoke of her excitement about this years event.
“Le Mans is very special and to have two female crews on the start line is incredible. It is a real step forward and evidence that our top women drivers have their place within professional teams.
“Tatiana, Sophia and Beitske are on a steep learning curve in endurance racing, but they have had some really positive races so far this season and their motivation to improve lap by lap is high.
“In their second season in GTE, Michelle, Rahel and Manuela have shown they are capable of podium finishes and I know they will be pushing even harder now they have the experience of a Le Mans race behind them.
“There is no underestimating how tough the challenge will be, but all six drivers are well prepared and have great teams behind them; we wish them all a safe and successful race.”
Author: Jake Wilkin