Le Mans 24H: Richard Mille Racing & Iron Dames ready for "The Big One"
It's go time for Richard Mille Racing and Iron Dames at Le Mans. Here is our preview of the biggest endurance race on the planet, with six women continuing to lead the way for gender equality in motorsport.
The time has come: after a long wait, it's finally race week for the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans. Unusually held in August, the biggest endurance racing event on the planet will return for its 89th edition.
After the 2020 pandemic-restricted edition, the 24H of the Le Mans can finally host a limited number of race fans around the iconic 13.626 km-long Circuit de la Sarthe. For the first time in almost a century, the race will be at the peak of summertime, with the drivers that will have to face a new challenge due the unusual weather conditions. In a battle of 62 teams - with 5 hypercars most likely fighting for the overall victory – two of the most important female-forward projects are again going to strive for a place in history: the first all-female teams in a prototype class, Richard Mille Racing, returns to Le Mans for its second season in the LMP2 category, while the Iron Dames trio will be aiming to improve their best finish of ninth at their third participation with the GTE-AM Ferrari 488 GTE run by Iron Lynx.
Coming off their remarkable 2020 Le Mans debut, Sophia Floersch, Beitske Visser and Tatiana Calderon approach the biggest race of the year with some more endurance experience under their belt: at the wheel of the LMP2 Oreca 07 car they have been making steady progress in the 2021 World Endurance Championship – that saw the luxury watchmaker-sponsored team scoring a triple top-ten result out of the three rounds contested so far in Spa Francorchamps, Portimao and Monza.
Young German Sophia Floersch, one of the most popular names in worldwide motorsport and among female athletes, started her journey in sportscars last year after making her way through single-seater championships up to the FIA Formula 3, in support of F1.
Having competed in the 2020 European Le Mans Series, Floersch moved to the world's top endurance championship WEC with Richard Mille Racing – also combining a program in the now GT3-based DTM.
Equally popular and with a stellar CV is Colombian Tatiana Calderon: having reached the most elite racing series worldwide, Tatiana is Development Driver at Alfa Romeo F1 Team, as well as driver in the Japanese Super Formula. Calderon has also ventured in endurance racing for the first time in 2020, as she entered the 24H of Daytona before switching to the European Le Mans Series as part of the Richard Mille Racing project. Calderon will return to Le Mans even more confident, having finished ninth in their first ever attempt as three rookies.
To complete the trio will be once again Beitske Visser, also at her second 24H appearance after subbing in for Katherine Legge in 2020. The Dutch driver had in her background some GT experience thanks to her BMW partnership, but she had never completed a 24 hour race and had been focusing on mostly single-seaters since her Formula return in W Series in 2019.
Visser challenged Jamie Chadwick for the inaugural W Series title and ultimately finished runner-up in the championship standings. The Dutchwoman is again combining a double-program with W Series and WEC in 2021.
But the Richard Mille Racing squad won't be the only fully-female team to take the start on Saturday at 3pm, as per tradition: at their third appearance at La Sarthe will be the Iron Dames in the GTE-AM category.
With a 9th place finish in class in both their previous participations, the Iron Dames will have a slightly revisited line-up compared to 2019 and 2020: alongside Rahel Frey and Michelle Gatting will be Belgian racer Sarah Bovy, who turns her childhood dream into reality.
Manuela Gostner - who races with Frey and Gatting in ELMS – is set to enter the Michelin Le Mans Cup race alongside young French driver Doriane Pin, a new entry within the Iron Dames. The project launched by Deborah Mayer will target a further step up at this year's edition, with Iron Lynx quickly becoming one of the benchmark teams in GT racing. Swiss top racer Rahel Frey and superb talent Michelle Gatting will thus welcome Sarah Bovy within the team after making her WEC debut last time out in Monza, where she impressed with a strong qualifying and stint. "To think that I was not even part of the program some months ago, I would say that the evolution has already been quite good and I'm so grateful for the trust they have in me" – told us Bovy after the 6H of Monza. "A lot of drivers when they start their careers in go karts they're dreaming about Formula 1. I was already dreaming about Le Mans." – she emphasized.
In 2020, the Iron Dames were pratonists of an interesting Youtube documentary named "Iron Dames - Racing Beyond Limits". In a six-episode journey, racing fans had the opportunity to follow step by step the Iron Dames trio, with one particular episode dedicated to the 2020 Le Mans 24H weekend.
Entering their third year at the top of endurance and with the continuous support of a powerhouse team like Iron Lynx, Rahel Frey, Michelle Gatting and Sarah Bovy are surely one of the teams to watch in the GTE-AM class, as they try to clinch the most important result of their careers. Today it will be time to go back on track, for the first free practice session on Wednesday afternoon, followed by qualifying in the evening and the second free practice later in the night. Tomorrow's program will see the third free practice session and the 30-minute Hyperpole, with the final free practice before the green flag for the biggest race of the year. "The Big One", as the drivers often call it.
On Friday it will be the usual calm before the storm, while Saturday afternoon, when the big Rolex clock will strike 15:00 CEST, the 62 teams will start the most challenging race on the planet – both on a human and mechanical level – with one single aim: to write their name on the book of the motorsport legends.