FIA Feature - Women and Le Mans

Women & Le Mans Michèle Mouton, President of the FIA's Women & Motor Sport Commission (WMC), today visited the Circuit de la Sarthe, ahead of the 24 Heures du Mans, to commemorate and recognise the achievement of women drivers in one of the...

Women & Le Mans Michèle Mouton, President of the FIA's Women & Motor Sport Commission (WMC), today visited the Circuit de la Sarthe, ahead of the 24 Heures du Mans, to commemorate and recognise the achievement of women drivers in one of the world's greatest endurance races. In total, 50 women have contested Le Mans and there have been 22 all-female crews. This year there is an all-women crew for the first time in 19 years. Natacha Gachnang - a member of the WMC - Rahel Frey and Cyndie Allemann (Matech Competition) are also the first-ever female Swiss team and will contest the event in a Ford GT.

Michèle Mouton, former Class winner at Le Mans and Vice Champion in the 1982 FIA World Rally Championship, said: "Women have competed at Le Mans for a number of years; it has always had a reputation as one of the greatest endurance races in the world. As a rally driver, I found it less difficult as I was used to driving through the night and then on into the following day; from that side it was easier. Our team boss wanted three girls to drive; it was a fantastic proposal, very exciting and a great experience. I don't remember the top speed, maybe close to 300 kph down the straight - when it had no chicane - but the sensation of lightness you feel at this speed is quite amazing. I had never experienced this speed or feeling in a rally car and this is what I remember the most. It is not easy to succeed here, but the experience of being a group of three, trying to finish for your team, is very exciting. I wish Natacha, Cyndie and Rahel big success."

The 24 Heures du Mans was first held in 1923 and the first women, and indeed the first all-women crew, to contest the event were Odette Siko and Marguerite Mareuse in 1930. The French women finished seventh overall in their Bugatti Type 40. Until the race started on Saturday 12 June 2010, they remained the most successful all-female crew at Le Mans. Siko, however, also competed in the event in 1932, with a male co-driver, and claimed the highest-ever position for a woman driver when she completed the event fourth overall in an Alfa Romeo 8C.

1935 was very much the year for women drivers; there were no fewer than 10 and six of them drove three works MGs, finishing 24th, 25th and 26th overall. In total, 26 women competed at Le Mans before the Second World War, all of them French or British.

Little racing took place for most of the 1940s but when the 24 Heures du Mans restarted in 1949, women were again represented that year and in 1950 and 1951. In 1951 the all-women crew of Betty Haig and Yvonne Simon finished 15th overall at an average speed of over 130 kph in their Ferrari 166 MM Coupe. It was then another 20 years until another woman competed at Le Mans; in 1971 when Marie-Claude Beaumont took the first of her six consecutive starts.

In 1974, Marie Laurent, Christine Beckers and Yvette Fontaine won the 2L category in a Chevron B23, and Women & Motorsport Commission President Michèle Mouton, along with Marianne Hoepfner and Christine Dacremont, claimed victory in the 2L prototype class the following year in a Moynet LM75.

Other famous female names to contest the 24 Heures du Mans include the late Lella Lombardi, former Formula One driver with March and the only lady points scorer in the history of Formula One to date. She was also the first woman to win an FIA World Championship event when she won the 1979 Enna 6 Hours, a round of the FIA World Manufacturers Championship (for sports cars). At Le Mans, she retired in 1975 but went on to finish 20th in 1976 with Dacremont, and 11th overall and 2nd in GTP with Christine Beckers in 1977.

South African Desire Wilson competed at Le Mans with Lyn St. James and another WMC member, Cathy Muller, in 1991. Wilson was the outright winner of two FIA World Championship events, winning the 6 Hour races at Monza and Silverstone in 1980. Muller has 36 years of experience in motor sport and after starting her career in karts, has subsequently raced in F3, F3000, the World Sports Car Championship, Indy Lights in the USA as well as Le Mans. St. James is just one of five women to successfully qualify for the Indianapolis 500 and the first woman to win the Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year award. While the trio retired their Spice SE90C Cosworth at Le Mans in 1991, until the race started on Saturday 12 June 2010 they remained the last all-female crew to contest the event.

Natacha Gachnang, Matech Competition driver and a member of the Women & Motor Sport Commission said: "It's a great chance for me and my team to compete in the mythic Ford GT car here at the 24 Heures du Mans. Moreover, with an all women crew! I hope we will live an amazing race and we will do our best for it."

The Women & Motor Sport Commission aims to put in place strategies and policies that will promote education and training, and put into practice actions and events that will strengthen the participation of women in all areas of motor sport. The Commission will work with the FIA's sporting and non-sporting commissions, ASNs and other key international federations on joint sporting projects. The WMC will also take an active role in international forums and conferences devoted to the place of women in sport, and the advances that can be made. The Women & Motor Sport Commission comprises 19 members representing the ASNs, manufacturers, teams, drivers and the Federation Internationale de Motocyclisme.

-source: fia

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About this article
Series Le Mans
Drivers Lyn St. James , Natacha Gachnang , Michèle Mouton , Lella Lombardi , Christine Beckers , Cyndie Allemann , Rahel Frey , Desiré Wilson