Don Panoz, female racing drivers and the 24 Hours of Le Mans

Don Panoz, female racing drivers and the 24 Hours of Le Mans

Pioneer of the endurance revival, Don Panoz has been rewarded for his work in favour of women in motorsport. Panoz

Don Panoz received the Women in the Winner’s Circle Leadership Award at the 2015 Petit Le Mans, at his own Road Atlanta circuit. Panoz founded the race in 1998, and then the American Le Mans Series a year later, on the basis of the rules established for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. This heralded the start of a process that led to the creation of the Le Mans-labelled series and the World Endurance Championship. In 1999, he also launched the Women’s Global GT Series. Today, Panoz’s own team includes British driver Katherine Legge at the wheel of the coupe version of the DeltaWing, the first tenant of Le Mans Garage 56 set aside for a ground-breaking prototype running outside the official classification.

On the subject of Le Mans, 2011 was a particularly rewarding year for women at the 24 Hours. This was the year that engineer Leena Gade made the history books as the “First Lady” of the 24 Hours with the first of her three victories (followed by 2012 and 2014) as lead mechanic for winning trio Marcel Fässler, André Lotterer and Benoît Tréluyer. Meanwhile, Vanina Ickx recorded her best result at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, taking seventh place overall in a Lola–Aston Martin coupe, and Ford GT driver Andrea Robertson joined her husband David in clinching third spot on the LM GTE Am class podium. Two years later, Swiss driver Natacha Gachnang drove a Morgan-Judd to a fifth-place finish in the LM P2 class for Morand Racing. Previously Gachnang had been a member of the last all-female line-up at the 24 Hours of Le Mans with Rahey Frey and Cyndie Allemann in 2010.

The founder of the Women in the Winner’s Circle Leadership Award, Lyn St. James has herself raced twice at Le Mans, firstly in 1989, and then in 1991 when she formed part of an all-female team alongside Frenchwoman Cathy Muller and South African Désiré Wilson. She also participated in the 12 Hours of Sebring on no fewer than eight occasions, finishing fifth overall in 1983 and scooping a class win in 1990. She is one of just a handful of women who have competed in the world’s two oldest circuit races: the Indianapolis 500 and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Jean-Philippe Doret / ACO
Translated from French by David Goward

Photo: BRASELTON (GEORGIA, UNITED STATES), ROAD ATLANTA, PETIT LE MANS, FRIDAY 2 OCTOBER 2015. Don Panoz receives his award from former American driver Lyn St. James. The award was created by St. James in honour of legendary driver/actor Paul Newman, runner-up at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1979.