Women in IMSA: The overall scope of positive impact

October 1, 2019

Women in IMSA: The overall scope of positive impact

October 1, 2019

Michelin celebrates all of the women making a positive impact in the IMSA paddock. Today we’ll take a look at the overall scope, and later this week we will look at the specific roles they play.

The phrase “women in racing” has evolved over the years. But within IMSA’s paddock, it’s fair to say “women in racing” helps to define the series and its product.

Simply put, without the women in IMSA, there might not be an IMSA.

The origin story traces back to IMSA’s 1969 founding by John and Peggy Bishop. The architects of the sports car series had a vision that extended years into the future, as the sanctioning body now celebrates its 50-year anniversary.

Today, women in a host of roles across the paddock all make key contributions to the series.

Drivers are always picked out as the obvious examples, but that merely scratches the surface. Although for good measure in 2019, there’s an all-female car in the field that was organized by a female team principal.

Engineering the cars? There’s a woman there too, and a multiple-time Le Mans winner at that.

How about running a program? Of course there is one of those, and the program manager happens to run the most successful DPi brand in the championship since the platform’s introduction.

IMSA Radio’s Shea Adam interviews Corvette Racing driver Jan Magnussen on the grid at Road America. Photo: Michelin North America

In pit lane, one of the most reliable sources of information is a female pit reporter.

From IMSA registration through to the checkered flag, at nearly every role along the way, women are making positive and key impacts to the series, the teams, the cars and the paddock at large.

The key for them is that they’re not thought of as women in these roles. They are performing these roles first, and they just happen to be women.

SUCCESS STANDS OUT

As 19 automotive brands are official IMSA OEM partners, the level of competition is high. When you do succeed, it stands out.

Klauser has overseen the successful Cadillac Racing DPi program. Photo: Michelin North America

For Laura Klauser, Cadillac Racing program manager, success defines the Cadillac DPi-V.R program. This car has won the most races since the DPi platform introduction in 2017, and several championships in the process. Fostering a competitive, yet successful, environment among the six Cadillacs on the grid is part of what her job entails.

“There’s so many things you have to know,” she says. “You have to know the car inside and out. You have to know the teams and how they function. And you have to know the series and what the rules are. You’re always scraping for more information.

“But, on the flip side, I’m learning every single day. I’m relatively young, but every day I get stronger with the information I gather.”

Mazda Team Joest’s Gade with Michelin technicians at the Rolex 24 At Daytona. Photo: Michelin North America

Leena Gade knows a thing or two about winning as well. The first female lead engineer to win at Le Mans, Gade captured three victories there with Audi Sport in 2011, 2012 and 2014.

She’s returned to the sports car paddock with Mazda Team Joest this season. When her No. 77 Mazda RT24-P won at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, driver Tristan Nunez was effusive in his praise of Gade from both engineering and strategic standpoints.

Nunez and Jarvis have relied on Gade’s engineering prowess to win race and set qualifying records. Photo: Michelin North America

“(This first win) is something I’ve been looking forward to my whole career. We ran a good strategy today and there was some aggressive racing, but we tried to not too any damage and keep the car clean,” Nunez said.

“Leena Gade was on the radio running our strategy and engineering the car, and she did an amazing job. It’s an honor to work with her.”

WE’RE ALL RACERS, FIRST

Racers have an edge that separate them from the rest of the pack. You don’t get into racing if you don’t have a competitive nature or want to continue to develop and prove yourself against some of the best competitors in the world.

If you’ve already launched a successful biotechnology company, why not push yourself to do more after catching the racing bug? That’s Jackie Heinricher’s story, and after progressing from track days through to Ferrari Challenge, Lamborghini Super Trofeo and rally competition, she looked even further ahead for 2019. Having cultivated a partnership with Caterpillar, which has its own women’s initiative, Heinricher worked to create an all-female driving team and eventually partnered with Meyer Shank Racing.

From left to right, Heinricher, Nielsen, Legge, de Silvestro and Figueiredo. Photo: Michelin North America

“We’re not a spectacle. We’re doing what everyone else is doing here,” she says.

Ultimately Heinricher Racing has fielded a competitive all-female lineup this year as they lay the groundwork for long-term success. Driver Katherine Legge has been the one full-season constant, with co-drivers including two-time IMSA GT Daytona champion Christina Nielsen, Bia Figueiredo, Simona de Silvestro and Alice Powell depending on schedule availability.

Nielsen (left) and Legge (center) have generally been the full-season drivers in No. 57 Heinricher Racing with Meyer Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3 Evo. Photo: Michelin North America

“Especially girls can see it, and then they don’t have the same barriers we had when we were little girls,” Legge says.

Legge and Nielsen also say the car doesn’t know the difference who’s driving, and they’re correct in that.

In addition to her on-track duties, Nielsen has launched the Accelerating Change program this year, which are track days aimed to increase female participation.

SO WHO ARE THEY?

In the next part of our look at the women in IMSA, we’ll explore some of the varied roles women play within the paddock and their key contributions to their respective outlets.

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