All-female crew ready to kick-start ELMS campaign with pre-season preparation at the 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual

The all-female FIA Women in Motorsport Commission-supported Richard Mille Racing Team crew is now poised to reignite its assault on the European Le Mans Series, with the action looking set to kick-off at Le Castellet, France, in July. First, however, the team heads to the famous Circuit de la Sarthe as it joins a star-studded entry for world-class entertainment at the 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual (13-14 June).

Katherine Legge, Tatiana Calderón and Sophia Flörsch are the first-ever all-female line-up in the LMP2 category of the European Le Mans Series and the trio of professional racers are firmly focused on starting this season understanding the specifics of endurance racing, with a longer term goal of fighting for podiums.

“Of course I’m really happy to be part of the Richard Mille Racing Team this season, it’s a great opportunity for all of us to do ELMS and the 24 Hours of Le Mans,” said Sophia. “LMP2 is incredible to get in your lifetime and I get it at 19, so I’m really thankful to be able to do it. I think the biggest thanks needs to go to the FIA Women in Motorsport Commission and Michèle Mouton, who has been fighting hard for this over the past years and months; she is the one who made it possible for us. And of course Richard Mille is such a great partner and we all really appreciate being part of this team.”

With the start of the ELMS season delayed, as well as their debut at the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans, the team’s biggest pre-season challenge and preparation for the ELMS campaign is now in the simulated world on board the computer-generated Oreca 07-Gibson run by Philippe Sinault’s Signatech team in the 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual. “Of course we want to perform like we do in real life, but this is something completely different and we are working hard and trying our best,” added the German. “But there are some sim racers and guys who have been spending so much more time than us in the simulator, before the virus, so it’s really hard to be fighting against them. But, in 24 hours a lot can happen. We are a great team, our team spirit is there also with the engineers and mechanics and we’re going to try our best this weekend, and for the whole season.”

In accordance with the 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual regulations, an esports racer will join Katherine, Tatiana and Sophia. Emily Jones, reputed to be one of the fastest female sim racers in Oceania, fills the fourth seat for the biggest esports endurance race ever seen.

“Emily is our secret weapon,” acknowledges Legge. “She’s widely respected as one of the best sim racers in the world so we were extremely grateful she decided to come on board to help us and show us how it’s done. I came in late as I had no equipment, so I’ve been frantically trying to set everything up whilst the others are doing all the set-up work. It really has been a team effort. They have helped tremendously and we have all learnt together.”

Calderón is not a total newcomer to sim racing but the Colombian, who has previously contested some e-sprint races, sees the opportunity of competing in her first 24-hour race as great training for their return to actual racing. “Of course we want to be as close to the front as possible, but our main goal is to take this as a preparation for when we go back racing for real,” she said. “I’m excited, but it’s obviously very different and the risk factor is not there, but it’s great training to have some pressure. You have to be super focused as you don’t get information through the feelings from the car, you are racing great people and this is always good practice. It’s a good tool and very needed especially through these times; it will never be the same as driving the real thing but a perfect preparation to see our strengths and weaknesses for when we go back to the real world.”

The differences between real and simulated racing stretch across many aspect of the sport, providing unique challenges. “It’s the same concept, but literally everything about it has a different feel,” commented Katherine, who has previously only used simulators for development work and learning tracks. “There is not the same adrenalin for sure, but in a way it’s more mentally draining because it’s so new to me and also because to fixate on a screen for that long gives you a tunnel vision world that we are not used to.”

Adapting technique is another challenge to overcome. “Sim and real racing definitely have many differences, braking is probably the most different one,” commented Tatiana. “The feeling of slowing down and judging the speed is pretty different, also the racing lines are not always the same, you can be much more aggressive in the sim as there is no risk, you don’t really damage the car if you abuse a kerb or something like that.” And, the sense of reality to the real conditions at the 24 Hours of Le Mans is providing more great training for the all-female crew’s debut at the historic race in September. “The accuracy of the changing conditions is incredible so we have been practicing long stints, different tyre compounds, night stints, lots of things to prepare like if it was reality, so it’s good practice to understand the references and to work with the Richard Mille Racing Team in all aspects.”

Esports racer Emily Jones has been obsessed with motor sport since she was a child and, like most drivers, started her career in karting before being introduced to sim racing at the age of 14. The Australian is now relishing the prospect of teaming up with three top female racers. “It's honestly surreal,” she said. “Watching these drivers on TV racing and then all of sudden being introduced to them and ending up in a WhatsApp group chatting about the race; it was pretty crazy!

“I've looked up to Katherine, Tatiana and Sophia for a while, they're super inspiring and to be teamed up with them is an awesome experience. Seeing how professional race drivers go about their preparation for races is eye-opening, and it's awesome to be part of the team. It can sometimes be a bit lonely in sim racing, so it's nice to work with other female drivers for the first time.”

Emily, who competes in Gran Turismo and other iRacing, has played a large part in establishing baselines and giving the other drivers some data to compare against. “I’ve been working really closely with the race, performance and data engineers at Signatech so I’ve been part of the bulk of the set-up development,” concluded the Australian, who has also valued the opportunity to work with the team’s professional race engineers.

While attention is currently on this weekend’s virtual race, the focus remains on the three-strong female crew’s participation in the 2020 ELMS and September’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, where it will be the first time since 1991 that an all-female crew will participate in the French race in a prototype class. “I can’t wait to jump back in the car, it’s such an amazing opportunity to represent a brand like Richard Mille and to be involved in a project that values and wants to showcase women in motor sport,” concluded Tatiana. “I personally can’t wait to join the team and work with my team-mates on the real track as soon as possible; we have great tools to be able to show how competitive we can be.”

“Our team is one of the best in the paddock,” summed up Katherine. “We have so many amazing people and the organisation is incredible, I can’t wait to get back to real racing. For sure this helps us know the track and keeps us sharp with race craft, procedures etc but there’s nothing quite like the adrenalin you get from getting strapped into a real racing machine!”

In conclusion, Sophia said: “It’s important we prove that women are fighters as well, that we show good racers that we also go for moves which are going to end up tight but prove we are fighters. We can be role models and maybe open up some eyes from the complete motor sport community. That’s the goal from all of us drivers, but also from Richard Mille, Michèle Mouton and the whole Women in Motorsport team. I appreciate a lot to be part of this and I’ll try and do my best to make everyone happy and prove to the world that women can be as quick as men, and also as hard as men.”


-With information from FIA-