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At the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Iron Dames bring the power of pink

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What do you want to be when you grow up?

An astronaut chef. A jet pilot. A dancer. A racing driver.

Children’s imaginations run wild, and these dreams can sometimes seem like a distant future, an intangible concept difficult to grasp. But perhaps seeing their dreams featured on one of the most eye-catching liveries in all of international motorsports this year will help these aspirations feel more like reality. Because as the Iron Dames’ 2024 Le Mans project says, “Every Dream Matters.”

Ahead of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the first all-women lineup in endurance racing asked fans on social media “what did you dream of becoming when you were a child.” They later visited an elementary school in Le Mans, France, asking them to draw how they imagined their future, and explained the story of how the Iron Dames are “Women Driven by Dreams.” With the help of AI, the drawings were converted into a livery that symbolizes what the Iron Dames stand for.

“We want to tell the kids that no matter what you are dreaming of becoming, everything in life is possible,” said Michelle Gatting, one of the three women who will pilot the Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo2. “As long as you have a dream, a vision in your head of something you want to achieve, it’s already a big thing.”

Who are the ‘Iron Dames’?

Six years ago, former racing driver Deborah Mayer founded the Iron Dames to show that women can be involved in motorsports in any capacity. As Gatting said, “to prove that women can compete on the same level as men in motorsports.”

It’s about empowering women and easing the barriers to entry women face in the male-dominated world of motorsports, promoting inclusivity and investing in helping develop young talent. But it’s also about being competitive and winning, a project to last for years to come rather than a flash-in-the-pan type moment.

Gatting was one of the first Iron Dames, joining in 2019 before it even had a name.

“The project was basically not born yet,” she said. “It was already in the mind of Deborah, that she had a vision about during the project.” Gatting received an email about testing the car, which was a Ferrari at the time. It’s the kind of offer you don’t say no to.

Gatting’s motorsports journey began as a coincidence. The Dane was on a vacation with her family in the south of France when she hopped into a go kart at seven years old. She went from not knowing much about motorsports to making it her life. “When I was very young, I only dreamed about becoming a Formula One driver, and I was probably a bit more naive,” Gatting said. Over time, she saw that it was more than just F1. “I changed my vision, and for me, it was (that) I wanted to become an endurance driver.

“I wanted to race the 24 Hours of Le Mans.”

Endurance racing is fairly different from the typical racing category, like F1 or IndyCar. Rather than driving over a set distance, endurance racing involves driving as far as possible within a preset time limit. With how strenuous endurance racing is, the World Endurance Championship (WEC) allows teams to split the race into stints, rotating drivers through the cockpit.

The 24 Hours of Le Mans is the premier race of WEC. Part of the triple crown of motorsports, it’s an 8.5-mile (13.6 km) track where 62 cars and 184 drivers across multiple classes drive for 24 hours.

The Iron Dames gave Gatting that chance in 2019, and now, she’s preparing for her sixth 24 Hours of Le Mans. “The project has changed my life, my career, I always wanted to become professional and make a living out of it. But it’s a very few drivers in the world who get that opportunity.” But making it to the top of endurance racing was no easy feat. Gatting sacrificed her teenage years — and doesn’t regret it — but also endured financial troubles. At one point, she had to sit out a season due to having “no money” and “basically, year after year, begging people and sponsors for money to go racing.”

The other two members of the 2024 Le Mans driver lineup are Sarah Bovy and Rahel Frey, who replaced an injured Doriane Pin.

Frey is another OG member of the Iron Dames, along with Manuela Gostner. Brothers Giacomo and Andrea Piccini, the latter of whom is the team principal for the Iron Lynx (the service provider for the Iron Dames), reached out to Frey given her experience level. She started go karting in 1998 and moved to single seaters several years later — and won a German Formula Three race in 2007.

“They asked me to be part of the project because they were looking for a female racer who already has good experience for endurance racing, who can basically join and guide, lead, a female driver crew,” Frey said.

It was through Gatting and Frey that Bovy, the third member of the Iron Dames’ 24 Hours of Le Mans driver lineup for this year, learned about the project. The Belgian driver heard of the two women and saw the creation of the project via social media.

“At the time, I thought, ‘Oh, another great project that I’m never going to be part of,’” Bovy said. “I would say that my first impression was really like, ‘Oh, I wish I could do that, but it’s too late.’”

Still, Bovy, who got her start at racing through karting at a fair, followed them on Facebook and Instagram. She continued with her career, racing in the 24 Hours of Spa and the maiden season of the all-women W Series in 2019. But in 2021, she saw the team may be short a driver, and she sent them an email to see if she could fill in. Spoiler: the answer was yes.

“It’s important to underline that nothing ever came easy. I think for all the Iron Dames, we worked our, sorry to say, ass off to reach this level,” Gatting said. “And I’m just extremely happy that what we’re doing with this project now, we are making it, let’s say not easier, but we are giving young girls an opportunity to join such a project (at) a very early age. If I had that opportunity when I was eight years old, I don’t want to think about where it could have taken me.

“But we are changing the world of motorsport with this project.”

‘Women Driven by Dreams’

You can’t miss the Iron Dames when they’re on track.

No, it’s not because of they’re women. It’s because of the car’s color. Bovy said originally it started as a black or dark blue base with some pink detailing. “When we started getting some stronger results, when we felt we were ready to expose ourselves a little bit more to the industry, our media team came back to us and say like, ‘Listen, girls, next year, we are inverting the color. The car is going to be pink with black details.’”

But it wasn’t just the bright pink car. It was the race suits and shoes, the team fully embracing what has long been considered a feminine color.

“The point is to say that pink is not a stupid color. Pink is not your weak color,” Bovy said. “Pink is the color we grew up with. We are kids from the 90s, and in the 90s, pretty much everything for girls was pink. So why would we need to hate it or say that it’s a weak color? We just don’t agree with that. We say if you like pink, pink can be a very powerful color.”

If someone asked her to race with pink on her suit before she joined the Iron Dames, Gatting would quickly decline. “I don’t want to show people that I am a woman driving,” she says. But now? “I wear it with pride,” she said, later showing the hot pink nail polish on her fingernails.

But the pink does bring an element of pressure. It is a vibrant pink, one that can’t simply blend in with the pack. Bovy said, “We all looked (at) each other, and we were like, ‘Wow, okay, we need to win races with this car because otherwise we’re going to look ridiculous.’”

In 2022, the Iron Dames finished third with 93 points in WEC, competing in the top class of GT racing, the LMGTE Am. The following season, they took another step forward and finished second with 118 points. Both seasons, the Iron Dames also competed in 24 Hours of Le Mans with the same lineup as this year, finishing seventh in 2022 and fourth in 2023.

As time went on and they continued moving up the ladder, the women grew more comfortable with the car’s color, Bovy equating it to “representing your flags or your country.” It’s a source of pride. After all, they’ve won in the pink and in other colors, as Bovy pointed out. Most recently, they’re race winners in the WEC, making history in the series as the all-women crew that won the LMGTE Am season finale in Bahrain last year.

“We don’t really feel that the color is just defining us anymore,” Bovy said. “We just wanted to give more visibility to the project.”

And it is becoming more visible. Lines form for autograph sessions at the track, and the women are noticing how their merchandise is becoming more prevalent in the paddock, especially among male fans.

“They really just support us and they support the fact that the project, it’s really something to be taken serious,” Gatting said. “But also, people respect us for everything we have done and everything we do. Every time we race, we want to prove that we are not just here to drive around and be a part of the competition.

“We are here for one thing, and that is to win.”

Talking about the impact gives Gatting goosebumps and makes her emotional because of what they’ve achieved over the last several years and how they’ve grown. “We are top professional racing drivers. And we are competing with the best male drivers in the world. And people, they don’t look at us in this strange way anymore.”

And it all started with the determination to chase a dream from their childhoods. After all, that’s who the Iron Dames are — “women driven by dreams.” The Iron Dames are bigger than just these three women. While the project is heavily invested in motorsports with other drivers like Doriane Pin and Marta García, the Iron Dames are also involved in equestrian. The entire project, including those in background roles like marketing, now amount to 45 people.

This weekend, Gatting, Frey and Bovy will all strap in for one of motorsports’ biggest moments of the year, bringing children’s dreams to life on-track with the livery while simultaneously living out their own aspirations.

“What started with the idea of promoting women’s motorsport and trying to have more of us in there is basically now something much bigger than that,” Bovy said. “(It) is empowering women all across the world to stand up and to fight for what kind of dream they want to reach.”

(Lead image: Photos courtesy of Iron Dames; Design: Dan Goldfarb/The Athletic)

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