Meet the women determined to steer the independent watchmaker to victory at ’24 Hours of Le Mans’ and more broadly, the 2020 European Le Mans series.
Earlier this year, in response to the ongoing Coronavirus crisis, organisers behind Le Mans — international motorsport’s oldest and most renowned endurance race — broke with tradition in order to stage a fully virtual 24-hour competition — made possible with the aid of simulators and backing by some of the biggest names in Formula 1.
Usually held every year in the eponymous French town located in Sarthe, this year several hours of the race were streamed on European television, pitting household drivers like Max Verstappen and Fernando Alonso against one another on a virtual circuit simulating the real racing conditions, pit stops and driver changeovers enthusiasts have come to expect at Le Mans.
Over 100 professional drivers competed in the event: Spread over an array of 30 Le Mans Prototypes (LMP) and grand tour endurance (GTE) vehicles. In particular, the Richard Mille racing team struck one of the event’s most decisive impressions: Debuting, for the first time, an all-female lineup.
Intriguingly, the brand’s new Le Mans roster — made up of Katherine Legge, Tatiana Calderón, and Sophia Flörsch — is the brainchild of none other than Richard Mille himself. In addition to fulfilling the role of chairman of the eponymous independent watchmaker, Mille has been a longstanding supporter of international endurance racing. His contributions to the sport were formally recognised in 2018 — when he became president of the FIA Endurance Commission.
According to Mille, the idea for a trio of talented female drivers to represent the brand has been in the pipeline since 2019; and was received by FIA officials (including Michèle Mouton, head of the association’s ‘Women in Motorsport’ commission) with immediate support. “Through this team we want to showcase the talent and expertise of many women [race car] drivers,” says Mille “who still find it hard to get an opportunity to sit behind a steering wheel” — owing to the lack of sponsorship and opportunities for them in the traditionally male-dominated sport. These days, Mille said, “all sports are mixed, so why not motorsports?”
With the crucial on-road Le Mans race still set to go ahead next month (19 September), it’s high time we took another look at the women who will be behind the wheel — steering Richard Mille’s cutting-edge LMP car to victory.
Following a rigorous selection process conducted with the aid of the FIA’s ‘Women in Motorsport’ commission, British national Katherine Legge was appointed to serve as captain of the Richard Mille racing team. All up, Legge has spent over two decades operating at the top echelon of motorsports — having driven in NASCAR, DTM, Formula E and a range of other competitive series. In particular, she has built a reputation as a formidable endurance racer in the US, where she has competed in the 24 Hours of Daytona event annually since 2014.
On the subject of being tapped to lead Richard Mille’s drivers for Les Mans, Legge is aware of the significance of the moment. “The project is bigger than any of us individually,” says Legge. “This is probably the first time that something like this [has happened] at this level.”
Currently the highest ranking female driver in the single-seater class, it’s no secret that Calderón’s ultimate goal is to qualify for competitive status in Formula 1. The Colombian national has a history with the Richard Mille name through her experiences as a test driver for the F1 Alfa Romeo racing team. Pegged by many racing fans as one to watch, she bears the distinction of being the first women ever to race in the Formula 2 championship series.
Known for her powerful but highly controlled driving style, Calderón is excited to put the Richard Mille LMP platform through its paces — an advanced ORECA 07 chassis fitted with a 600hp engine and technical support elements by Signatech. “It’s great to finally have the tools which we’ve been fighting for all these years,” she says.
Flörsch rounds out the Richard Mille racing trio — best known to motorsports enthusiasts for driving in Formula 3, and as the title holder of the Laureus World Sports Award. The 19-year-old German national won the latter off the back of an astonishing comeback following her participation in the 2019 Macau Grand Prix — in which she was involved in a near-fatal collision, suffering a subsequent spinal fracture.
On her experience in the recently concluded virtual Le Mans, Flörsch is positive. “The race [was] good preparation, considering the circumstances,” she says.
For all of the latest news and program updates for Le Mans 2020, visit the official website here.