Female competitors don’t have it easy in the overwhelmingly male preserve of motorsport. But thanks to the support of watch manufacture Richard Mille, that’s beginning to change.
Swiss watch brand Richard Mille has long been an avid supporter of motorsport. Indeed, Richard Mille himself has not only been passionate about the sport for years, but also takes much of the inspiration for his timepieces from the world of racing-car design and the technologically advanced engineering and solutions that the sport pioneers.
Aside from forging deep links with several motor racing teams over the years, the manufacture has also developed close relationships with drivers – and one special interest has been Richard Mille’s personal support for women competitors, not least through a 20-year sponsorship of the annual, ladies-only Rallye des Princesses through France.
As with almost every other sport around the world, motor racing and rallying have been brought almost to a standstill by the global health emergency in the first half of 2020, but Richard Mille nonetheless identified an ideal opportunity to throw its weight behind one of its founder’s favourite forms of competition. The annual Le Mans 24-hour endurance race for prototypes and sports cars has been a feature in the motorsport calendar for the best part of a century, and though this year’s event has been postponed until September, the organisers decided to leverage the exciting possibilities of new technology and eSports by holding a virtual race during June – the month in which this motorsport classic has traditionally been held.
Due to its new and unusual format, the virtual race attracted not only huge interest but also the participation of top-line teams and drivers – the latter including several Formula 1 pilots whose real-world commitments meant that they’d normally be unable to compete – as well as leading sim racers. And naturally the entries, which were limited to 50 virtual cars, included the Richard Mille Racing Team, which is competing in the real-life, six-race 2020 European Le Mans Series in the LMP2 category with a line-up of female drivers.
For this round-the-clock event in cyberspace, however, its driver squad was increased to four. Team leader was English driver Katherine Legge, who has some 20 years of international-level racing – in multiple categories including endurance events – under her belt and is a member of the Women in Motorsport Commission of the FIA, which is chaired by Richard Mille himself. Sharing the duties at the wheel were her usual partners Tatiana Calderón, a Colombian whose passion for single-seat racing has secured for her a role as test driver for the Alfa Romeo F1 team, and the 19-year-old German pilot Sophia Flörsch, who currently competes in the F3 Championship.
For this virtual race, the team was also joined by Emily Jones, a 26-year-old professional sim racer from Australia, with all four women – who were each taking part from different corners of the world – naturally wearing a Richard Mille RM 07-01 ladies’ watch to help them pace their way through a day and night of driving. And in the event they made it all the way through from the 3pm start, when they began the race in 23rd place, to the finish 24 hours later, when they crossed the line with Flörsch at the wheel in 18th position.
Not only was that a worthwhile result for the women at the wheel, but the experience was also clearly valuable for the entire Richard Mille Racing Team. Because just over one month later in the first European Le Mans Series race of 2020, which was held at Le Castellet in southern France, the squad’s Oreca LMP2 car, driven by Calderón and male driver André Negrão (filling in for Legge who suffered a not-too-serious injury during qualifying) finished in a highly creditable fifth place – an auspicious result for both the season and the real-world Le Mans next month.