Living, Racing Proof: More Women Drivers Showing What Can Be Done

By Jeff Olson

IMSA Wire Service

Katherine Legge sees it at every race. Young girls, eyes wide with wonder, see a woman in a racing suit and suddenly realize anything is possible.

“It moves you,” she said. “They look at you like they truly believe that they can be anything they want to be in life. If you can see it as a kid, then it’s not even a question. When so many women are doing it, it takes away the question.”

Next week at Sebring International Raceway, two teams comprised solely of female drivers will compete in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Cadillac, a first for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

Legge will join Sheena Monk and Tati Calderon in the No. 66 Gradient Racing Acura NSX GT3 in the Grand Touring Daytona (GTD) class, while Sarah Bovy, Rahel Frey and Michelle Gatting will co-drive the No. 83 Iron Dames Lamborghini Huracán GT3 EVO2.

It won’t be the first landmark for women in motorsports, by any means, just the latest step in the continuing advancement of opportunity and success.

“It will continue to snowball as long as it’s treated in the right way and not in a gimmicky way,” Legge said. “Our program and Iron Dames are done in a serious and professional way. We are professional sports teams that just happen to be female. It’s showcasing female power. It’s not done as anything else. We’ve picked the best drivers we can pick. It’s a showcase rather than a publicity stunt.”

A successful showcase at that. In November, Bovy, Frey and Gatting teamed to win the GTE Am class in the 8 Hours of Bahrain. Their victory in the No. 85 Iron Dames Porsche 911 RSR-19 was the first by an all-female team in FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) history.

After the race, Deborah Mayer, who founded Iron Dames in 2018 to help women compete in the highest levels of sports car racing, lauded the monumental victory.

“They are proving that dreams have no barriers if you give yourself the means to make them come true,” she said. “May this day inspire other women around the world to never give up on what they believe in.”

More Doors Are Opening for Better Opportunities

Equal opportunity. It’s an advantage racing has over most other professional athletic competitions. Women can compete – and win – against men, and the opportunities will only increase with time. Lilou Wadoux, now a Ferrari factory driver at age 22, became the first woman to win a WEC race at Spa last April in the GTE Am class. She’ll drive for the same Richard Mille AF Corse team next week at Sebring, but in a Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2).

Legge also points to Doriane Pin, a 20-year-old from France and another Iron Dames driver who’s currently competing in the F1 Academy, an all-female junior series that opens its season this weekend at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, starting appropriately today on International Women’s Day.

“It’s snowballing now,” Legge said, noting programs like Michèle Mouton’s FIA Women in Motorsport Commission. “They have for sure opened the doors for the younger generation of drivers like Doriane to come through. We’re just seeing the fruits of that, which started five or more years ago. I think that it will happen, but it takes time.”

Legge knows all about the journey. After five years of junior formula in the United Kingdom, she found her way to the Champ Car World Series in 2006. Since then, she’s established a diverse and lengthy resume that includes sports cars, Indy cars, sedans and NASCAR.

She didn’t have organized programs to assist her desire to move up the ranks. She famously waited outside Kevin Kalkhoven’s office until the late Champ Car team owner met with her. He did and offered her a chance that changed her career path. Now, 20 years later, the support system for young female racers is better defined and more effective.

“I often joke to my dad that I wish I was starting out now, because the opportunities that are available now are tremendous,” she said. “It encourages a lot of them to give it a go in the first place. We’re seeing the trickle-down effect of that now.

“It takes time. You can’t just put any girl into a race car and expect her to be fast. It takes them learning through go-karts and junior formula and having success at those levels and moving up to the top ranks of motorsports, whether that’s IMSA or NASCAR or IndyCar. It doesn’t happen overnight. It takes years of honing your craft to be at that level.”

Now those opportunities exist. So, too, does the hope that comes with opportunity. She sees it on the faces of the girls who look at her the way she looked at Mouton, the 1982 World Rally Championship runner-up who inspired Legge to pursue racing.

“Back then, you could count on one hand how many girls there were in karting who looked like they had the promise and the guts and everything else that it takes to get there, but now there are hundreds of young girls who see it as a viable possibility,” Legge said. “The chances that any of those girls will be really good is much higher, just probability-wise.”

She pauses for a moment to recall one of her big breaks, a cold-call introduction to Lyn St. James, the 1992 Indianapolis 500 rookie of the year who won the GTO class at Sebring in 1990 with co-drivers Robby Gordon and Calvin Fish. The call turned into a test session, which turned into yet another step in Legge’s groundbreaking racing career.

“I think Lyn saw something in me that she saw in herself all those years ago – that tenacity and never-give-up attitude,” Legge said. “I was like, ‘Put me in, Coach.’”

Over the years, one opportunity for one driver has become many opportunities for many drivers. And plenty of eyes are watching, waiting to get in the game.