The 24 Hours of Le Mans, the world’s oldest and most revered endurance sports car race, was originally planned for this June. Then the Covid-19 pandemic meant that it had to be delayed until September 19 and 20. But racing enthusiasts will still get a taste of what’s to come with the Virtual 24 Hours of Le Mans this weekend on Saturday, June 13 when the drivers will race each other on simulators ahead of the big event this fall.
Not keen to let the moment slip under the radar, Richard Mille announced yesterday, ahead of the event, that it will be sponsoring an all-female driving team at Le Mans. Katherine Legge, Tatiana Calderón, Emily Jones and Sophia Flörsch will be behind the wheel of Richard Mille’s LMP2 Oreca prototype this weekend—a bright red livery identical to the one that will compete in the live race in September. Each driver will have their hand, strapped with a Richard Mille RM 07-01, at the simulator.
“We managed to create this amazing racing team with the best drivers, best technical people and best support of FIA women’s motorsports,” said Amanda Mille, clientele marketing director and daughter of watchmaker Richard Mille, at a press conference on the announcement. “We are really pleased about it, because we really believe in it. Of course, we’re starting with a virtual race, but I know that the girls will show exactly what they are able to do on the racetrack in Castellet in July.” The 4 Hours of Le Castellet race will be the first live race on a track of the season, taking place on July 19 in France.
While there are many female race car drivers today, the opportunities to drive have remained slim due to lack of sponsorship in the notoriously male-dominated and pricey sport. “We have always been close to sports, and we’ve been behind ladies in other kinds of sports and we know it is not that easy for them also, but someone needed to open the door to motorsports and we are really pleased that we are able to do it— and with the best ones,” said Amanda Mille. “We really want these girls to end up on the podium of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.”
At the press conference, it was evident the drivers were already feeling the heat. “It’s true that we have had to fight a lot but it’s also true that we’ve never had the equipment to be able to go out and perform,” said team captain Katherine Legge. “Now for the first time we do, and there is an immense amount of pressure with that because now we have all of the tools and equipment to succeed, but I really do believe in my team and co-drivers and I think we’re going to have a fantastic season.” She added that Covid-19 had gotten this career highlight off to a strange start and that she had never done a virtual race before, but that racing in Le Mans had been a longtime goal.
Calderon seconded that notion: “For any driver to do Le Mans is a dream, so we will do it virtually this weekend, but I can’t wait, obviously, for the real thing.”
Both Legge, 39, and Calderón, 27, are experienced drivers and have competed in the Daytona race together, but for 19-year-old Flörsch the race will be an even more monumental highlight to a burgeoning career.
“In 2018, we had the Women in Motorsports test in Spain and I never expected one and a half years later we would have this opportunity,” said Flörsch.
The event was organized by FIA (the Women in Motorsports Commission), which had 15 female drivers compete as part of an evaluation of their potential for the Richard Mille team. “We are working very hard to promote women in motorsports from the grassroots level to the uppermost category,” said Michele Mouton, former race car driver and president of the FIA. “Our common goal [with Richard Mille] was to bring women to the podium at Le Mans, so we started to work together.”
You can tune in to see the women rev up for the season (and hopefully, a major podium win at Le Mans in September) on ESPN on Saturday, June 13th from 8:30 A.M. to 12:00 P.M. EST and at 3:00 P.M. to 5:00 P.M. EST. And if you can rise early enough, you can catch the end of the race on Sunday from 3:00 A.M. to 9:15 A.M. EST.