Who are the all-female Iron Dames motor racing team?
Racing driver Michelle Gatting on the Iron Dames all-female race team
Iron Dames with pink 911 RSR at night on track
Since forming in 2018, the Iron Dames racing team has been tearing up the track in their Porsche racecars, winning races and changing the perception of women in motorsport
The Iron Dames is a hugely successful motorsport team who compete with an all-female line-up. Launched in 2018, the team has been racking up the wins ever since, including being the first all-female team to win a race in the FIA World Endurance Championship as well as the first to finish second in-class in the overall championship.Danish driver Michelle Gatting has been competing for the Iron Dames ever since its first competitive race, the 2018 12 Hours of Dubai. She first got behind the wheel at the age of seven when she drove a go-kart on a family holiday in the south of France. “That’s when I fell in love with racing,” she says. “The rest is history.”Driven by a relentless determination, Michelle has worked tirelessly to become the best driver she can be, competing in the Formula Ford Denmark championship when she was just 18. In 2023, driving the Iron Dames’ Porsche 911 RSR, Michelle and her teammates – Switzerland’s Rahel Frey and Belgium’s Sarah Bovy – secured an astounding fourth place in the GTE-AM class at the world’s greatest endurance race, the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Here she tells us her story and the secrets behind the success of the ground-breaking Iron Dames team.Who are the Iron Dames, Michelle?“Iron Dames is a project founded by Deborah Mayer, an entrepreneur, racing driver and former president of the FIA’s Women in Motorsport Commission. Her dream was always to support women in motorsport, particularly female drivers, to prove that we can compete on the same level as men. Aside from the drivers, she also wanted to shine a light on the rest of the team – the mechanics, the engineers and the organisers behind the scenes, providing opportunities for more women to fill those positions.“I was lucky enough to be the first Iron Dame when they started the team. I’m proud to still be part of the project, which has grown tremendously over the past five years.”
Iron Dames 911 RSR racecar racing at Le Mans
The Iron Dames team made history in 2022, when they became the first all-female line-up to secure a Le Mans Hyperpole place
What have been the biggest highlights for you and the Iron Dames team?“For starters, we won a round of the European Le Mans Series at Portimão, becoming the first female line-up ever to do so. However, we don’t really dwell on that much. At the end of the day, we’re there to win, no matter what. It’s not about our gender. We then got our first World Endurance Championship [WEC] win in Bahrain in the Porsche 911 RSR. After that, we became Vice World Champion, also in a Porsche. So it’s been quite a journey. We started from the bottom and now we’re here – just like in the song. And we just want to keep going because nothing is ever enough.“Winning in Bahrain was a feeling I will never forget. It was the biggest relief. We’d been so close all year and it was just like, finally! The feeling of winning is quite addictive. We want to do more of it.”
Victorious Iron Dames team celebrating on podium with trophy
The Iron Dames on the podium in 2023 in Bahrain after winning the GTE-Am season closer. From left-right: Michelle Gatting, Rahel Frey and Sarah Bovy
Being an Iron Dame is extremely demanding, as is racing a 911 RSR. How do you motivate yourself?“The thing about motorsport is that there are always more lows than highs. That’s why the feeling of winning is even better, even sweeter. There’s a lot of competition at our level, but we don’t want to win easy. We want to be in the toughest endurance championships in the world. Of course there have been lows – like at the 24 Hours of Le Mans this year.
Racing driver in pink suit with helmet, preparing for race
For Michelle Gatting, her racing career started when she drove a go-kart on a family summer holiday. Over two decades later she’s become a formidable competitor on the track
“We went there, we had a great team and a great car [the 911 RSR], and we thought we could win. We almost did! We led the race for almost 12 hours, which is an incredible achievement. But after 23 hours and 20 minutes we had to bring the car in to change the brakes. We saw victory disappearing in front of our eyes and we finished five seconds off the podium [Iron Dames would eventually finish in fourth place in the GTE-Am class]. It was still an amazing result, but it was also the most heart-breaking one we’ve ever had. That’s why everyone was crying when we won the race in Bahrain five months later. All the lows were worth it for that one victory.”You’ve had a year-long break from the European Le Mans Series [ELMS]. Are you excited to be back?“Absolutely. The European Le Man Series [ELMS] was actually how we started when we first launched Iron Dames because the WEC was way too high a step for us back then. ELMS is the championship where we learned all the things that we have now brought into the WEC, so it’s both sweet and nostalgic coming back to it.”
Pink Porsche 911 RSR Iron Dames racecar at Le Mans
Michelle on track in the Porsche 911 RSR. For the 2024 season, the Iron Dames will be switching to the new 911 GT3 R racecar
From the 2024 season, you and your Iron Dames teammates will be driving the 911 GT3 R. What can you tell us about your new car?“We knew that the 911 RSR would be retired this year. The new season will see us driving the 911 GT3 R, which we have zero experience with so far. Of course we’re a bit nervous and excited because we don’t really know what to expect. But, as a team, we have shown that we are very good at adapting to new things. And we know that we have a lot of support from the people around Porsche and we’ll also be working with people we already know.”How does it feel being an all-female racing team competing at one of the highest levels of motorsport?“When the Iron Dames project started five years ago people expected us to fail. But with Deborah [Mayer, Iron Dames founder] it doesn’t work that way. When she has an idea, she goes in 100 per cent. Now, after five years of being around the paddock, the respect we have from the other teams and drivers has grown exponentially. In motorsport, it’s all about respect. That can sometimes be difficult, especially when you’re a female driver. From when I started in karting until now, gaining respect from others is what has taken the longest, for me. But we kept coming back year after year and people were like, wow, this is really a serious project, and they are fighting.“Things never came easy to us on track. We had to put our elbows out and we had to prove that this pink car was also really good. This building of respect was really evident after our Bahrain win. I saw people running out from the other teams and clapping. That’s when I was like, yes, we've made it. We finally got what we’d always been working for. Now everybody knows that the Iron Dames are here to stay. We’re here to win races, we’re here to win championships. And this is a huge achievement for women in motorsport.”
Iron Dames racing team signing autographs at Le Mans
Michelle (right) and teammate Rahel Frey at the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans. One day, Michelle says, she can see the Iron Dames topping the podium at the world’s greatest endurance race
Women of all ages from across the world are watching and engaging with the Iron Dames. What message do you have for them?“It’s so clichéd, but I’d say never give up. The only reason I managed to get into Iron Dames was because I never, ever gave up. I cannot count the number of times that I wanted to quit. But I kept coming back to the tracks because I could not stay away. It’s in my blood, it’s in my heart and I cannot and do not want to do anything else.“My family sacrificed their whole life for me to get to this level of racing – that’s what has kept me going. There will be moments when you’re a young girl where you think, I don’t belong here. Motorsport is still a man’s world. But if you have the mentality of never giving up, then you can make it. That’s why it’s always a joy for me to see more and more young Iron Dames joining our ranks.”What is your dream both as a driver and also for the Iron Dames?“Our aim is to have our name everywhere, in paddocks and organisations, all around the world. That’s why Iron Dames has also started a new project with horse riding, where we have set up an Iron Dames team. It’s the first all-female team in show jumping and equestrian sport, and it all goes back to Deborah’s dream to compete against men on the same field, where we’re not divided. For the Iron Dames racing team, we of course want to keep winning championships after getting a taste of victory in Bahrain.“Myself, I can really picture seeing the three pink race suits on top of the podium at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Winning that race would be the biggest milestone for the Iron Dames. Another dream is changing the mindset of people in motorsport, because there will always be some that still don’t believe that women belong here.“I’m very proud of how much I’ve developed as a person, as well as a driver, thanks to this project. My dream is to continue racing for a few more years. And, after I retire, I hope that I can still be involved with the Iron Dames, because I have a huge passion for this sport. My heart still belongs to go-karts. I did ten years of that, travelling around the world, and I would love to be the one taking care of and mentoring our young Iron Dames in karting. However, the ultimate dream is, one day, to see an Iron Dame in a Formula One car.”
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