24 Hours of Le Mans – Women making their talent known
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24 Hours of Le Mans – Women making their talent known

The recent 6 Hours of Monza (8-10 July), fourth round of the 2022 FIA World Endurance Championship season, will go down in endurance racing history as a double premiere for women in the LMGTE classes. In honor of the achievement, here are 10 stories about female competitors at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

In LMGTE Am at Monza, Sarah Bovy (read interview), Rahel Frey and Michelle Gatting clinched both the first pole position and first podium finish (third) for an all-female driver line-up in the FIA WEC. Similarly, Corvette Racing's win in LMGTE Pro was the American team's first in the championship and first for its manager, Laura Wontrop Klauser, who succeeded Doug Fehan last year (read interview).

To these accomplishments add Sophia Floersch's best result for a female driver in the European Le Mans Series with second place at the Le Castellet opening round in April. A new era for women in endurance racing has dawned ahead of the 100th anniversary of the 24 Hours next year.

Anny-Charlotte Verney | The record

A local female holds the participation record at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. In 10 consecutive starts between 1974 and 1983, Anny-Charlotte Verney made it to the checkered flag eight times, with as best result sixth place shared with American drivers Bob Garretson and Ralph Kent-Cooke in 1981. She set the record at the wheel of various Porsche 911s (Carrera RSR, 934 and 935) and one in a Rondeau prototype in 1983 with Vic Elford and Joël Gouhier (retirement).

 

Odette Siko | 90 years later…

This year marked the 90th running of the 24 Hours as well as the 90th anniversary of the best classification overall for a female driver in the history of the race. In 1932, for her third and penultimate participation, Odette Siko finished fourth at the wheel of her own Alfa Romeo 8C, along with Louis Charavel. Two years earlier, she had joined forces with Marguerite Mareuse to form the first all-female driver line-up at Le Mans, finishing seventh with a Bugatti Type 40.

Morgan's journey

In 1938, British constructor Morgan's first appearance in the 24 Hours came to fruition thanks to Marjorie Fawcett who finished 13th along with Geoffrey White. The following year, she once again fielded her Morgan 4-4, that time with an all-male crew that included White and Cuthbert Marc Anthony (15th).

Michèle Mouton | Rookie participation culminates in a win

Entered in the 1975 24 Hours with a Moynet prototype powered by a Simca-ROC 4-cylinder in-line 2-litre engine, Michèle Mouton finished 21st overall and won her class with an all-female trio including Christine Dacremont and Marianne Hoepfner. After becoming the first and only female to date to win in the World Rally Championship, Mouton returned to Le Mans in 2010 as the president of Women in Motorsport, a commission created by Jean Todt dedicated to facilitating women's participation in auto racing. Todt had just been elected to the first of his three terms as president of the FIA. That same year, an all-female driver line-up comprised of Cyndie Allemann, Rahel Frey and Natacha Gachnang took the start in the 24 Hours with a Ford GT (retirement).

1975 | Eight women at the start

In addition to the class win secured by Christine Dacrement/Marianne Hoepfner/Michèle Mouton mentioned above, two other female crews took the start in the 43rd running of Le Mans. The best overall result was achieved by Yvette Fontaine/Corinne Tarnaud/Anny-Charlotte Verney, 11th with a Porsche 911 Carrera RS. Despite their retirement with a 2-liter Renault-Alpine A441 prototype, French driver Marie-Claude Beaumont and Italian driver Lella Lombardi pioneered the French constructor's future offensive at the race, culminating in Jean-Pierre Jaussaud and Didier Pironi's win in 1978.

Lyn St. James | The 24 Hours to Indianapolis

American driver Lyn St. James counts two participations in the 24 Hours to her credit with a Spice-Ford prototype. First teamed up with Ray Bellm and Gordon Spice in 1989, three years later she joined an all-female crew with French driver Cathy Muller and South African driver Desiré Wilson, but both participations ended in retirements. On 24 May 1992, St. James made history by becoming the first woman to compete in the Indianapolis 500 and the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the two oldest circuit races in the history of auto racing in terms of runnings. In seven starts in the Indy 500 until 2000, she earned her best result, 11th place, in 1992.

Leena Gade | Head engineer

The 2011 24 Hours is recognized as a stand-out thanks to the intensity of the fight for the lead on Sunday between the Peugeot 908 of Sébastien Bourdais/Pedro Lamy/Simon Pagenaud and the Audi R18 TDI of winners Marcel Fässler/André Lotterer/Benoît Tréluyer. At the same time, Leena Gade became the first woman to win Le Mans as head engineer, and two more victories would follow for the British engineer and the trio of drivers, in 2012 and 2014.

From the Porsche Cup to the 24 Hours

Lilou Wadoux's win at the Porsche Sprint Cup Challenge France on Saturday before the 2021 24 Hours earned her a spot three months later in the Rookie Test organized at the 8 Hours of Bahrain, closing round of the FIA WEC. An official driver with Richard Mille Racing Team for 2022 season, Wadoux competed in her first 24 Hours with one of the most famous driver line-ups of the 90th running of Le Mans thanks to Sébastien Ogier. She finished ninth in LMP2 (13th overall) with the eight-time world rally champion and Charles Milesi.

Women racing drivers in the 2020s

Eight women have taken the start in the 24 Hours since 2019: Sarah Bovy, Tatiana Calderon, Sophia Floersch, Rahel Frey, Michelle Gatting, Manuela Gostner, Beitske Visser and Lilou Wadoux, making it into the top 10 several times in their respective classes: ninth in LMGTE Am in 2019 (Frey/Gatting/Gostner), ninth in LMP2 (Calderon/Floersch/Visser) and LMGTE Am (Frey/Gatting/Gostner) in 2020 and ninth in 2021 (Bovy/Frey/Gatting). This year, in addition to the ninth place scored in LMP2 by Wadoux, Floersch finished fifth in LMP2 Pro/Am along with Jack Aitken and John Falb. Twenty-fifth overall, the young German driver was delayed in the very first lap by a gearbox sensor problem that eventually cost her six laps.

Female starters…

Three women have waved the French flag to give the start at the 24 Hours of Le Mans: Hélène Blanc (local regional prefect) in 1991, Joan Hall (Australia's Minister of Tourism) in 1999 and HSH Princess Charlene of Monaco in 2019.

 

PHOTOS (Copyright - ACO ARCHIVES): LE MANS (SARTHE, FRANCE), 24 HOURS OF LE MANS. From top to bottom: Michelle Gatting, Rahel Frey and Sarah Bovy (from left to right) at the 2022 Drivers' Parade; the Porsche 935 K3 with which Anny-Charlotte Vernay finished sixth in 1981; Odette Siko at the finish of the 1932 24 Hours; Marjorie Fawcett and teammate Geoffrey White in 1938; Leena Gade and the Audi team in 2011; Lilou Wadoux at the wheel of Richard Mille Racing Team's ORECA in 2022; Sophia Floersch at the 2022 Drivers' Parade flanked by teammates Jack Aitken (at left) and John Falb; HSH Princess Charlene of Monaco giving the start at the 2019 24 Hours.