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IMSA on Right Track with Expanding Presence of Women in Paddock

WeatherTech Championship Female Drivers Are Pleased with the Growth but Know There’s More Work to Be Done


By Mark Robinson


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – It wasn’t difficult to spot the Iron Dames car in January’s Rolex 24 At Daytona. The bright pink Lamborghini was an emblematic billboard flashing by at close to 200 mph, carrying the message of a racing program that reaches far beyond where the team finishes at the checkered flag.


The Iron Lynx program features an all-female driver lineup that has achieved success in Europe and is competing for the first time this year in the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup races. And they’re not alone. Katherine Legge and Sheena Monk are full-season co-drivers of the Gradient Racing Acura in the 2023 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. Ashton Harrison is part of the Racers Edge Motorsports with WTR Acura lineup for the endurance events and a few other select races this season.


Toss in two-time defending IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge class champion Taylor Hagler and VP Racing SportsCar Challenge driver Courtney Crone, the newest IMSA Diverse Driver Development Scholarship recipient, and the progress in creating and embracing opportunities for women in the IMSA paddock is clear. As the United States celebrates Women’s History Month in March and the world prepares to commemorate International Women’s Day on Wednesday, it’s a time when sports car racing can be proud while also realizing there’s still work to be done.


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Legge has been a constant in IMSA for a decade. She has four IMSA wins and, with Monk, Mario Farnbacher and Marc Miller, guided the No. 66 Gradient Racing Acura NSX GT3 to an impressive fourth-place finish in the GT Daytona (GTD) class at this year’s Rolex 24. The 42-year-old Brit has witnessed the expanding presence of women in IMSA – not just as drivers but also as engineers, mechanics and team leaders – and sees it benefitting the sport.


“I think it’s snowballed and it’s grown exponentially,” she said. “And the more momentum that it picks up, the less it will be a gimmick and the more it will be the norm. While the driver representation may go up and down – and this year it’s great – I think overall when you look at female participation in IMSA, that’s growing. And that’s almost more important.


“I think that will continue to snowball because the more that are involved, the more that will be drawn in and see it as a possibility to be involved and the more that will be interested.”


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That, Rahel Frey says, is precisely why the Iron Dames project exists. Part of the Iron Lynx race team, Iron Dames was developed to provide opportunities for females in racing and to serve as an inspiration for young women attracted to the sport. Frey was co-driver of the No. 83 Lamborghini Huracán GT3 EVO2 in the Rolex 24 along with Sarah Bovy, Michelle Gatting and Doriane Pin.


Frey is also the Iron Dames project manager and said she was delighted to receive multiple messages of support and resumes from American women following that WeatherTech Championship debut.


“We just want to provide the best information to young females in order to make their life a little bit easier to enter the world of motorsport,” Frey explained. “We strongly believe it’s worth to keep pushing for it. … Because in the end it’s up to us, it’s part of our responsibility to pass our experience to the younger generation. We have to help them. We only can be strong together.”


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Harrison may well be part of that next generation. After honing her skills in the IMSA-sanctioned Lamborghini Super Trofeo North America series, she made her WeatherTech Championship debut last year in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring. At Daytona in January, her No. 93 Racers Edge Acura ran near the front most of the race until a mechanical issue near the end relegated the car to a sixth-place GTD finish. Still, the 28-year-old was pleased to see the growing number of female competitors in the race.


“That was so exciting,” Harrison said. “It’s a good time to be in IMSA, to have this strong group of women that are fast, that are competitive. We’re out there dicing it up with all the other drivers.”


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Monk rose through the ranks in Lamborghini Super Trofeo and the Michelin Pilot Challenge before getting her chance with Legge at Gradient this season.


“At the end of the day,” Legge emphasized, “we teamed up because we’re the best people for the job, not because we’re women.”


Like their female predecessors in racing, all of the women involved see themselves laying the groundwork for those who follow in their footsteps … or tire tracks.


“I’m definitely seeing an uptick in the number of women that are involved in different kinds of roles,” Monk said. “I think the opportunities are there but you have to be so committed. I don’t care if you’re a driver or anybody else that’s making a race weekend happen. You have to just be very dedicated to the sport.”