15 May 2015
IndyCar: All-female team aims to grace 100th Indy 500
Veteran motorsports executive Beth Paretta has announced the formation of a new all-female race team intending to race in the 2016 Indianapolis 500.
An announcement at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Friday morning has confirmed that veteran motorsports executive Beth Paretta and British racing driver Katherine Legge are teaming up to create Grace Autosport, an all-female team intending to compete in the landmark 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 in 2016.
"The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has been the scene for many automotive firsts," said Paretta, who will be the team principal of the new team. "It makes it so special to have the opportunity to launch our team here.
Paretta was motorsports director for Dodge and its SRT brand when it clinched the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup championship with Penske Racing and Brad Keselowski. She stressed that while next year's Indy 500 is the immediate target for the fledgling team, it also has hopes of putting into action a long-term plan enabling it to be a factor in the Verizon IndyCar Series going forward.
"We are here to win and our goal is within 10 years to make sure a woman's face will grace the Borg-Warner trophy," she insisted. "The race has been around for 100 years - it is time."
The initiative aims to get more woman involved in motorsports at every level including technology and engineering. Already in place are aerodynamicist Catherine Crawford fresh from the Nissan DeltaWing project, race engineer and data analysis manager Lauren Elkins, junior design engineer Jessica Rowe and PR and marketing communications specialist Barbara Burns, all of whom have considerable experience in their fields and underlining the fact that the team is no mere training ground but is intended to be competitive from the get-go.
Legge has the most high-profile role of the team in the racing hot seat, but she's familiar with that sort of attention although she admitted that it was a new experience to be putting her gender into the spotlight in this way.
"None of us are used to pointing out the fact that we are women,” Legge told USA Today. "For us to go out and point out to the world that we're women and that it's a positive thing to get women together and show we can be successful, it's kind of alien to all of us.
"We're not being feminists," Legge added during a press conference at IMS. "We realize we need support from men. We're being equal opportunity in a positive way ... There's never been a team of all women. I think it's going to be very successful."
The 34-year-old first came to attention with outings in Formula Three, Formula Renault and Formula Ford before moving to America and a season in the Toyota Atlantic Championship with Polestar Racing in 2005 in which she won three races, the first woman to do so in a major North American open wheel race. She subsequently became the first woman to test a F1 car since Sarah Fisher in 2002, and is currently a member of the FIA Women in Motorsports Ambassadors group.
"It is wonderful to see an inspirational team with such an impressive depth of experience and knowledge,” Michele Mouton, the president of the FIA Women in Motorsport Commission, said of the Grace Autosport initiative on Friday. "The fact the team is led by women in many of the key roles showcases the fact everyone can have a place in motorsport. Equality is there, young women should be encouraged to seek the opportunities."
Legge subsequently moved on to full-time seasons in the Champ Car World Series in 2006 (with PKV Racing) and 2007 (with Dale Coyne Racing) but she lost out in the musical chairs which followed the reunification of the US open wheel scene that produced the current IndyCar Series, and instead moved back to Europe for three seasons in the DTM Series.
Convinced that her time in the US had been curtailed prematurely, Legge returned to the States and succeeded in picking up a partial season with Dragon Racing alongside Sebastien Bourdais in 2012 that included her first appearance in the Indianapolis 500, making her one of a select group of only nine women to have started the ionic race. A second outing in the greatest spectacle in motorsport followed in 2013 with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, but she lost out on a return to the race this week when Dale Coyne opted to go instead with James Davison in the #19 car, leaving Legge looking forward to next year's race.
"I am very proud to be a part of this new and exciting team. To me it's more than just racing, it's the start of something much bigger; a movement within the sport," said Legge in a statement released by the new team.
"This is something I've been very passionate about for a very long time," she continued. "Racing is my life-long passion and the drive to compete in the Indy 500 has been there since the very beginning. Being able to combine my enthusiasm for racing with the goal of empowering young women to pursue STEM [science/technology/engineering/mathematics] subjects is a dream come true.
"It will be interesting to see it all unfold from the beginning and I have no doubt we will be successful," she added.
Grace Autosport said that it will continue to provide updates with regards to team sponsors and personnel in the months to come.
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