Richard Mille (All-Female) Racing Team And The (Virtual) 24 Hours Of Le Mans
COVID-19 has touched every corner of modern life, with professional sports suffering just as much as every other live event. The 24 Hours of Le Mans, the world’s oldest endurance race, has done something unprecedented to replace the eagerly awaited event that usually takes place in the central French town in mid-June: it staged a 24-hour virtual race using simulators and the original drivers over the weekend of June 13-14, 2020.
The virtual race, a few hours of which was televised in Europe on Eurosport, mimicked real racing conditions, including car damage and technical issues, driver and car changes, and pit stops. The race included some of the world’s best drivers – including household Formula 1 names like Max Verstappen, Juan Pablo Montoya, Fernando Alonso, and Rubens Barrichello – who shared the wheel with some of the world’s top esports sim racers.
Each team lineup included at least two professional race car drivers and a maximum of two sim drivers. Thirty LMP (Le Mans Prototype) and 20 GTE cars took their starting places on the virtual grid on Saturday afternoon, June 13.
However, something else was even more impressive to me about this event: the introduction of Richard Mille’s all-female team racing team.
Richard Mille – the man – has been the FIA Endurance Commission president since 2018 and is a well-known racing enthusiast. So this is not a pet project the brand has taken on solely for marketing purposes. Motor racing is a passion for Mille (and, by extension, his firm).
Richard Mille Racing Team: an all-female motor racing team
The day before the virtual Le Mans race, Calderón, the first woman to drive in the Formula 2 championship series, explained during a Zoom press conference on June 12 that she had already had a connection with Richard Mille through her experience as a test driver with the Formula 1 Alfa Romeo Racing team.
“It’s great to finally have the tools we’ve been fighting for all these years,” Calderón enthused during the virtual event.
Team captain Katherine Legge is the most experienced driver in the team and boasts one of the most diverse resumes in motor sports: she has driven in IndyCar, DTM, Formula E, and NASCAR, among other series. She has driven the 24 Hours of Daytona endurance race every year since 2014, coming in second in her class in 2018.
“This is probably the first time for something like this to happen at this level,” the British national remarked at the Zoom press conference. “We’ve had to fight a lot.”
“This project is bigger than us individually,” she emphasized. “I realized the best thing I could do to leave a legacy is to try to be a good example and help other female drivers – we’re just drivers trying to do our best, [but] we have to be responsible.”
Both Calderón and Legge are members of the Women in Motorsport Commission of the FIA.
Sophia Flörsch is only 19 years old, has already won the Laureus World Sports Award for Comeback of the Year, and drives in Formula 3. “This virtual race is good preparation, considering the circumstances,” she remarked.
“Our strength is that we get along, help each other, and like each other,” the composed German continued. “We want to prove that female drivers are exactly as good – we are used to having pressure and having people look at us.”
For this unprecedented virtual version of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Richard Mille Racing Team is rounded out by Emily Jones, a 26-year-old professional sim racer from Melbourne.
So how did the virtual Le Mans go?
The four-woman team, each member in their own respective locations, strapped on their RM 07-01 watches and got to work. After hour one had passed, the Richard Mille Racing Team was in 23rd position (overall).
The team fought valiantly, placing 19th overall in the end, with Jones even scoring one of the fastest top 65 laps in the 24th hour in the LMP category. The winner of the first Virtual 24 Hours of Le Mans, by the way, was Rebellion Williams Esports.
This is just the beginning of what will be a more comprehensive program to launch the team, which is set to compete in seven real races of the European Le Mans Series leading up to the 24 Hours of Le Mans, currently scheduled to take place on September 19-20, 2020.
Over the weekend of July 17-19, the team will take the real track for first time at the 4 Hours of Le Castellet.
For a five-minute overview of the highlights of the Virtual 24 Hours of Le Mans, watch the YouTube video below.
For more on the Richard Mille Racing Team, please visit www.richardmille.com/page/richard-mille-racing-team.