This weekend, history will be made at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
For the first time, an all-female team will compete in the LMP2 class, which is open exclusively to privately owned teams. It represents the culmination of the work of the Women in Motorsport Commission and Richard Mille, president of the Endurance Commission of the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile, the sport’s governing body.
The Women in Motorsport Commission was created in 2009 by the F.I.A. to show that motorsport is accessible to women in all areas and to encourage greater participation. It is run by Michèle Mouton, its president, who led an all-female crew to victory at Le Mans, and 21st over all, in the two-liter prototype class in 1975.
Since 1923, of the 4,298 crews to start Le Mans, only 23 have been entirely female. None have raced at the LMP2 level.
“We at the commission have been working for many years to get teams and manufacturers involved, to have ladies in a top team,” Mouton said in an interview. “This was like a dream, I would say.”
Tatiana Calderón of Colombia, Sophia Flörsch of Germany and Beitske Visser of the Netherlands will drive an Oreca 07-Gibson for the Richard Mille Racing Team run by Signatech, a French auto racing company. Signatech won last year’s LMP2 category.
“We’ve always wanted to set up equal opportunities for the ladies,” Mouton said. “We didn’t want girls trying to reach the top but not having the opportunity to get into a professional team. By experience, I know this is very strong for motivation and very important.”
Katherine Legge of Britain, who has driven in Champ Car, IndyCar and competed in the last seven 24 Hours of Daytona, was slated to lead the team.
In a test of the LMP2 car at the Paul Ricard Circuit in France in July, before the start of the European Le Mans Series, Legge was seriously injured in an accident. Legge said she broke her right ankle, left tibia in two places, left fibula in three and a metatarsal.
Legge, 40, tried to recover in time, but a scan on Sept. 1 ruled her out.
“I’m gutted I won’t be there, but I’m also a little bit relieved in a sick kind of way because there would have been a lot of pressure, and you don’t want to let anybody down,” Legge said in an interview.
“I was fighting really hard to get fit and to not let anybody down, and now I feel like I can breathe a little because I’ve three weeks after Le Mans before the following race at Monza.”
Visser, 25, replaced Legge. Along with Calderón, 27, and Flörsch, 19, they have never driven at Le Mans.
They were all part of a Women Drivers Assessment Program run by the Women in Motorsport Commission, which took place at Navarra, Spain, in 2018.
Fifteen drivers were assessed. They were provided with equal track time and equipment, a Formula Renault 2.0 and a GT4 Porsche Cayman. The results helped with their selection for the team.
“I am really thankful to Richard Mille, the F.I.A. Women in Motorsport Commission and Michèle for believing in me, believing in us,” Visser said.
“But it is not just about us three girls,” she said. “We can prove that we are fighters. It is going to help the general picture of women in motorsport. We are going to race for every single girl and woman in this sport.”
The team is also the realization of a two-and-a-half-year project for Amanda Mille, daughter of Richard and the coordinator for the team.
“We just needed to find the right team and the right ladies to drive, and now we’ve managed to get the best of everything, so we’re very lucky,” she said.
“Since all these ladies have been driving, no one has really believed that they could do something. They have told me stories about engineers in other teams saying to them, ‘Don’t tell me what I should do because you’re just a girl.’ That’s where we still are in 2020. That’s a bit scary.”
Even though she will be absent, Legge is proud of what has been accomplished. “It has taken this long to do something like this,” she said. “Michèle has been pushing really, really hard to make something like this happen.
“It has then taken somebody like Amanda to step up to the plate and go, ‘I am going to put my money where my mouth is, and I am going to support these women.’ She is amazing.”
Legge said Mille had put “a lot of blood, sweat and tears” into the project, as well as “a lot of money and more than that, her reputation.”
A second all-female crew will compete in the LMGTE Am class. Manuela Gostner of Italy, Rahel Frey of Switzerland and Michelle Gatting of Denmark reunite after competing in Le Mans last year, when they finished 39th over all. They became the first women-only team to finish since 1977.
“Doing Le Mans is really something incredible,” Mouton said. “Last year we had one all-female team, this year we have two for the first time since I last raced in 1975. It’s a huge step.”