As Pride month - an eventful one by all standards - draws to a close, someone on social media posted that if they ever found out that a driver was gay and had experienced discrimination because of it [the poster's] anger would out-do that of the Hulk. The post was punctuated with a gif of the Hulk bashing the floor with Loki. It's a question that has been raised before - why are there no queer drivers in the upper echelons of European motorsport?
A quick note on terminology: in this article, I will use 'queer' and 'LGBT' interchangeably to indicate people of minority sexual and gender identities/expressions because they are familiar and politically correct terms. I am not excluding intersex, asexual/aromantic, or pansexual people - intersex, ace/aro, pan, and agender/genderfluid/non-binary people exist and are valid in their sexual/gender expression - but simply using recognisable 'middle of the road' terms to not overwhelm straight people who have hitherto not been aware or part of intra-community discussions about labelling politics.
Even in this seemingly accepting era of LGBT equality, very few figures within motorsport, particularly in European motorsport, are openly queer. Mike Beuttler remains the only openly gay racer to have raced in F1, and Roberta Cowell the only trans person. There are several out drivers in US-based series - Stephen Rhodes, Justin Mullikin, and Evan Darling being the obvious ones - and a handful across the less visible series of European racing.
Based purely on population demographics, we would expect to see more queer people on track. Scientists tell us that approximately 10% of the population is LGBT, and some estimate that there are more. Thus, on a hypothetical grid of 20 drivers, two will be some description of queer, unless there is a strong selection bias, or an aversive response from the LGBT community.
Selection bias may very well be a factor in why nobody comes out in motorsport. It is hard enough in the ultra-masculine world of motorsport for women to be taken seriously and raise sponsorship. With motorsport exploring new markets in the Middle East and other places where homosexuality is at best frowned upon, and at worst an executable offence, it would be very hard to raise sponsorship with an out gay driver in the line-up. The obvious exception would be sponsors like Proctor & Gamble, who were vocally supportive of marriage equality in the States, and would probably retain their sponsorship of a queer athlete, possibly even using their queerness as a selling point to the public.
Fears about personal security would also be a major factor in a young athlete's decision to either quit racing or stay in the closet as far as the press and public are concerned. As the Orlando massacre vividly demonstrates, even in the supposedly progressive and tolerant West, people are still victims of hate crime and murder on account of their sexualities. Racing in Russia, Bahrain, Azerbaijan, and Abu Dhabi - to name only the fixtures on the F1 calendar with homophobic policies - would be truly terrifying for anyone who was openly queer. The choice may be between coming out, and limiting one's career to series in Scandinavia, the Netherlands, and similarly open-minded countries.
F1 is haemorrhaging fans, and team PR people may ask a driver wanting to come out to delay the announcement until after their retirement for fear of alienating the audience. I have no doubt that most fans, particularly the younger generations, would support an out racer. Some would be very supportive; some wouldn't care either way as long as they got the results on track.
However, there is a small-but-vocal set who unleash a world of hate on anyone who showed signs of non-conformity. Queer woman racers would experience a double dose of rage from the gendertrolls. One of the lesbian women we approached to speak at the Women in Motorsport conference expressed reluctance to come out to the community, unless we could guarantee her a non-judgemental audience. The threat of the trolls - some of whom go to extraordinary lengths to make queer people's lives miserable - is real and very intimidating.
In a quest to find the queer members of the European motorsport fraternity, we have come across several people who are no longer racing, largely because they felt that the sport would not be a welcoming and supportive environment for them. Sexuality is still the topic of rumours and whispering in paddocks, and has been for decades. This is deeply unhealthy behaviour in the quest for diversity, and likely stifles it. When the press write about it - always in hypothetical and non-specific terms to avoid implicating anyone in particular - the language used is mildly pejorative. Words like 'admitted' are used for coming out, as though being queer is something that requires an admission of guilt rather than a simple acknowledgement of truth.
Add this level of public and seemingly acceptable micro-aggression to the contractual embargoes on junior staff members talking to the press - even about innocuous things (yes, this is why we feature so few engineers as Women of the Week; their teams don't give permission for them to talk to us), let alone 'controversial' topics like sexuality - and it's easy to see why European motorsport is seen by outsiders as a homophobic work environment. Without visible people to demonstrate otherwise, the prospect of being 'the only gay in the village' causes talented queer youth to seek careers in other areas.
Of course, LGBT people in motorsport are out to their families and friends, and maybe even their work colleagues. They are not 'living a lie' to the people who love them, and whom they trust. But people who exist outside those circles are not privy to information about their personal lives, and given the factors at play this is completely understandable.
Is it any wonder, then, that the queer drivers who do persevere into the top series in European motorsport find a pretty girl to take to events with them to quell the press and public's suspicions? They have clearly decided to put their careers before their personal lives, and live in the closet at least until they retire from F1 or high-visibility series. While it would be fantastic for queer kids aspiring to motorsport careers to have role models who show the acceptance of diversity in the sport, their unwillingness to be 'out and proud' in the public eye is not unreasonable.
No doubt, in time things will change. LGBT equality is a hot topic in most spheres, with the UN recommending that it should be decriminalised worldwide, and more countries passing marriage equality bills. There are groups on social media, for example the Gay Racers Twitter account, who are supportive of the queer motorsport community, and provide rallying points for up-coming talent looking for affirmation.
Perhaps what needs to happen is for the older, more conservative generation to retire and pass the reins to more tolerant people. Perhaps seeking sponsors who have LGBT-friendly diversity policies would provide them with the financial backing to be themselves in public. Until drivers can answer interviewers' personal questions with 'I'm not really into the ladies,' or 'Actually, I'm asexual, so chasing crumpet isn't really my vibe,' or a similar acknowledgement of minority sexuality without fear of recrimination from their bosses, sponsors, the public, or the governments of homophobic countries in which they race, they will continue to live in rainbow-coloured closets, at least as far as the public is concerned.
REVIEW OF THE PAST QUARTER
The syllabi for the e-courses are just about finished. It's been an intense quarter, reading-wise, because of the amount of research that goes into making courses that are both helpful and informative. Since the courses exist to fund Sisterhood activities - scholarships, sponsorships, and other woman-forward initiatives - we want to provide value for money, rather than simply regurgitating content available for free elsewhere on the internet. In addition to the Phase 1 courses, we have experts working on some courses for Phase 2 to service needs that have been expressed to us since we started work on the current batch.
We have found an alternative supplier to Zazzle. While we have nothing against the print-on-demand option that Zazzle offer, they are quite pricey and inflexible. For example, anything with our logo is against their image policy. Our new supplier is based in Austin, TX, so is unaffected by Brexit and the current fall-out woes affecting the pound and British economy. She's also a lovely person, and we're very glad to have her on board.
We are in discussions with an existing karting outreach program that is based in the UK, and gender-neutral (although by aiming for 50% involvement from girls, they are essentially a woman-forward organisation, given the current demographics). Their business model is scalable, so once their project is fully established it should be relatively easy to expand into other countries, provided there are enthusiastic people on the ground to run them.
This is where the majority of our time has been spent over the past few months. There is currently no conference for women in motorsport, and therefore no forum for publicising and discussing relevant research, no international networking opportunities for women in the industry, etc. The conference was initially scheduled for Oxford, UK, in August. However, due to several must-have speakers being unavailable and Brexit-related company formation issues, we are looking at Barcelona sometime between January and April (we are still waiting to hear back from speakers regarding availability during those times, so have yet to set a firm date).
We have doubled our number of Twitter followers in the last quarter, and added about 40% to our Facebook followers. We are still far from reaching critical mass, but have a nice demographic spread on the gender front. There is definite room for improvement in our outreach to people of colour and LGBTQIA+ people. We hope that these demographic matrices improve with time.
PROJECTIONS FOR THE COMING QUARTER
Long-Term Response to Brexit
It seems that Nicola Sturgeon is the only politician in the UK who had a 'what if' plan for Britain leaving the EU. For fear of alienating people who voted 'leave', we will comment no further on who did/said what and the rationality of their arguments. Suffice to say, we are interested in doing what is best for Motorsport Sisterhood as an organisation, what is best for the community at large, and what is best for the sport.
We will incorporate a company in Scotland (to keep the EU connection while maintaining English as a linguistic medium...and because they're the only people with a solid post-Brexit plan) and a foundation/trust in Isle of Man (for the security of an offshore banking facility) while establishing a physical base in Motorsport Valley (for proximity to the centre of the industry). To do our bit in helping the UK government with its employment and housing crises - currently blamed on immigrants, although we think a lack of forethought is more likely the cause - we will
1) offer consultancy services to businesses because we're all experienced at dealing with recessions induced by government decisions (I'm Zimbabwean; we've had an ongoing and unremedied recession since 1998, and have practical strategies on how to survive. Flor, our admin expert, is Argentinian and has lived in Spain long enough to have survived their recession),
2) start a business incubator to support young and small businesses that provide services to motorsport as an industry and create much-needed jobs, and provide the tools to take businesses online to decentralise earning bases, making them less susceptible to the fluctuations of a single country's economy, and
3) start affordable housing schemes near team headquarters, probably through crowd-funding, although this will probably take longer than three months due to building and planning regulations.
These are still on the agenda, although administrative difficulties have thus far kept us from establishing a physical base in the UK. This is predicted for the coming quarter. We hope to have the first one during Formula E's testing, when everyone converges on Donington Park.
Mum of the Month
Before the quarter is out, we will have started a youtube-based video interview series called Mum of the Month. Mainstream news outlets often interview racers' dads for their responses, but we rarely hear from mums. The interview series will feature drivers/riders interviewing their mums.
Quarterly Art and Literary Magazine
While discussing how to get woman-identified fans more involved in the sport, this idea was put forward. There is a long and distinguished tradition of fiction and art from fans of various narratives/brands, starting with classical art, and moving through to modern tribute re-mixes. We want to have our first issue out by November with the theme 'Utopian Alternative Universe' (whatever 'utopian' means to contributing creatives, and are hoping they explore themes around worldview and regulation changes in their work), so will begin submissions in July/August.
While we're not making progress at quite the desired rate yet, we are making progress. We are committed to doing the best we can to expand the fan base, and therefore the number of enthusiastic employees available to motorsport teams in the future. We are also keen to help existing racers and motorsport teams to survive both the global recession and more intense localised recessions through business consultancy services.
Following Nielsen and Taittinger's showing last weekend, we have a guest post from Rachel Harris-Gardiner, historian and curator of the speedqueens blog (check it out! It's a great resource, and she works really hard on it). She is fantastically knowledgeable about the history of women in motorsport, which is why we asked her to write a review of past runnings of the Great French Race.
The 2016 running of the Le Mans 24 Hours marked the first time for three years that more than one female driver has made the start. For those unacquainted with the long and venerable history of the race, it could look as if their presence was a new development, but this is far from the truth.
For the first seven years of its existence, Le Mans was a boys-only club, but that all changed in 1930, when Frenchwomen Odette Siko and Marguerite Mareuse entered, in Marguerite’s own Bugatti T40. Neither was a particularly experienced racing motorists, but they got to the end of a tough race in seventh place, second in class, behind the more famous Bentley team and the Talbot works cars.
The intrepid pair returned the following year in the same car, and were initially classified ninth. They were disqualified shortly after the race, due to apparently refuelling too early. Odette Siko avenged this disappointment in grand style in 1932, when she shared an Alfa Romeo 6C with Jean Sabipa, and finished an undisputed fourth. This remains the best-ever finish for a female driver at the Le Mans 24 Hours.
Social and technological changes following the Great War, and the experimental years of the 1920s, meant that it had become almost fashionable for women, of a certain class and position, to take an interest in matters mechanical. Motoring and flying were modish pursuits for daring girls who had the money and support to participate. Sometimes this support came from families or husbands, or even a lover or employer.
Odette and Marguerite opened the floodgates for a whole string of women drivers at the Sarthe classic in the 1930s. Most of the great British and French racing ladies of the time made the trip to compete, temporarily abandoning Brooklands and Montlhéry. Dorothy Champney and Kay Petre, representing the UK, drove a Riley Ulster 9 in 1934, and finished in thirteenth. Anne-Cécile Rose-Itier, the diminutive French Grand Prix driver, drove a variety of cars, including a Fiat, and MG, and in 1937, a German Adler Trumpf “Rennlimousine”, the first prototype GT car of its kind. She did not finish.
1935 was truly the year of the lady driver. Ten women made the start, including four all-female teams. Three of these teams were driving MG Midgets, supplied by the MG factory and managed by George Eyston. The Anglo-Australian group of six drivers became known as the “Dancing Daughters”, perhaps after a radio programme of the time. Joan Richmond and Eveline Gordon-Simpson were 24th, Doreen Evans and Barbara Skinner 25th, and Colleen Eaton and Margaret Allan, 26th.
In 1937 and 1938, women came close to the top ten again. Suzanne Largeot was twelfth in 1937, driving a Simca-Fiat with Just-Emile Vernet. The following year, Anne-Cécile Rose-Itier was also twelfth, in an MG. Her co-driver was Claude Bonneau.
Motorsport ground to a halt for WWII in 1939. The 24 Hours was revived in 1949, with a different set of faces and some new cars, as well as some pre-war models. Some of the leading 1930s drivers, such as Jean-Pierre Wimille, were killed in action and thus absent. The female contingent was less likely to have suffered this fate, but still, times had moved on, and most of the grandes dames, like Kay Petre and Elsie Wisdom, had moved on to rallying or retirement. The only female driver that year was Viviane Elder, a French film actress who entered in her own Simca Huit, driving alongside René Camerano. They did not finish.
The 1950s were a lean period for women drivers at Le Mans. Only a handful managed to have their entries accepted before 1956, after which they were actually banned from competing. Annie Bousquet, an Austrian-born French driver, was killed in a nasty accident at that year’s 12 Hours of Reims, after losing control of her Porsche 550 on a bend. The negative publicity and public shock of this caused the French motorsport authorities to prohibit women from entering major races until 1971. Irish rally driver, Rosemary Smith, was among those whose entry was turned down.
The lifting of the ban on female participation in 1971 led to another boom in lady racers at Le Mans. Spurred on by the momentum of feminism’s second wave, and a general increase in motorsporting opportunities, they made their return.
The first of these was Marie-Claude Beaumont, a skilled French all-rounder who usually drove with Henri Greder. She raced in the 24 Hours six times, between 1971 and 1976. Her best result came in 1973, when she was twelfth overall, with a class win, driving a Chevrolet Corvette for Greder’s team.
By 1975, numbers had recovered almost to 1930s levels: two all-female teams were present. The Porsche Carrera of Anny-Charlotte Verney, Corinne Tarnaud and Yvette Fontaine was twelfth, and the Moynet-Simca of Michele Mouton, Christine Dacremont and Marianne Hoepfner won the two-litre class. Marie-Claude Beaumont and Formula One driver Lella Lombardi did not finish, in their Alpine-Renault.
Anny-Charlotte Verney was born in La Sarthe itself, and is perhaps the queen of Le Mans. She raced there ten times, between 1974 and 1983. In 1981, she became the first woman driver of the modern era to breach the 24 Hours’ top ten, finishing sixth in a Porsche 935, with Ralph Kent-Cooke and Bob Garretson.
One of the other more interesting entries of this period came in 1976, when Leila Lombardi and Christine Dacremont drove a bright-pink Lancia Stratos for “Team Aseptogyl”, an all-female rally and racing stable sponsored by a brand of toothpaste.
Desiré Wilson, another woman with Formula One experience, came close to Anny-Charlotte Verney’s record in 1983, when she finished seventh in a Porsche 956, with Axel Planckenhorn and Jürgen Lassig. Sadly, this was the last time for many years that a woman would be really competitive at the French classic.
The 1980s and early 1990s saw some of the most spectacular, fast and brutal sports prototypes ever built. Group C made sportscar racing almost as popular as Formula One, with cars from Porsche, Mazda, Nissan and Jaguar capable of reaching more than 240mph. Sadly, women were largely excluded from driving these monster machines, as the huge budgets and even higher power outputs of the teams meant that only seasoned professionals, or extremely wealthy privateers, got to drive them.
A notable exception to this trend was the Spice team for 1991. An all-female driving squad of Indycar star Lyn St. James, French Formula 3 racewinner Cathy Muller and Desiré Wilson was assembled to drive a pink Spice SE90C Ford. Unfortunately, the car gave up early in the race. The Spice team did not repeat the experiment, although Japanese driver Tomiko Yoshikawa was a member of their squad in 1992.
The GT class was the most fertile hunting ground for female racers at Le Mans in the 1990s. Swiss former equestrian athlete and aircraft pilot, Lilian Bryner, entered the race four times, in different Porsche 911 models. Her ninth place in 1994, with her partner Enzo Calderari and Renato Mastropietro, was an early highlight of her career. She would go on to win the Spa 24 Hours in 2004.
Germany’s Claudia Hürtgen, a future VLN champion, would also try her luck in a series of Porsches, with a best finish of thirteenth, in 1997.
No women competed at Le Mans in 2000, but in 2001, female racers got into prototypes for the first time in many years. Claudia Hürtgen drove a fast but fragile Lola-Nissan LMP2, and Milka Duno, of Venezuela, a Reynard-Judd.
The foremost lady Le Mans driver of the 2000s was Vanina Ickx. Her father is Jacky Ickx, who is also known as “Mr Le Mans”, due to his seven wins, and Vanina, who only started racing as a student, can probably lay claim to the “Miss Le Mans” title.
In the course of her seven attempts, between 2001 and 2011, she drove a diverse range of cars, from a Porsche 996 to a Lola Aston Martin prototype. This last car, which she drove in 2011, with Bas Leinders and Maxime Martin, gave her her best result, a seventh overall. In 2005, driving a Dallara prototype for the British Rollcentre team, she ran as high as second, but did not finish.
Vanina’s main female rival at this time was Liz Halliday, a British-based American driver who had the distinction of competing professionally in both motorsport and equestrianism. Liz was an extremely capable driver in the likes of a FIA GT Lister Storm, but could not crack the 24 Hours, finishing once out of three attempts.
In 2010, the first all-girl team for almost twenty years graced the hallowed Sarthe tarmac. Cyndie Allemann, Rahel Frey and Natacha Gachnang piloted a smart Ford GT for the Matech team. Sadly, a fire meant that their race ended quite early on.
Natacha Gachnang went on to race a Morgan LMP2 in 2013, and was eleventh overall. She had the makings of a decent endurance driver, had her career not been seriously affected by injuries.
After 2010, the number of female entrants decreased again. This is a slightly perplexing development, as women racers have become more present, in single-seater racing particularly, in the past ten years. One notable exception was Keiko Ihara, an experienced Japanese driver who started her motorsport career as a grid girl. She was fourteenth in 2014, driving a Morgan-Judd LMP2 with Pierre Ragues and Ricky Taylor.
Danish driver Christina Nielsen finally made the start in 2016, after making the reserve list in 2015. She finished in 35th place, driving a Ferrari 458 and scoring a few class points, with Mikkel Mac and Johnny Laursen. The other woman driver, Inès Taittinger, drove a Nissan-engined Morgan for Pegasus Racing, with Rémy Striebig and Léo Roussel. They retired very late on and were not classified. Inès Taittinger is French, and has raced prototypes right from the beginning of her career, in the French VdeV championship.
The future for the ladies of Le Mans is an interesting question. It is likely that Christina Nielsen, a professional sportscar racer, who was a runner-up in the 2015 IMSA championship, will return in future, and probably Inès Taittinger too. There is a considerable number of aspiring female pro hopefuls coming through the single-seater ranks, in the UK, Europe and also Southeast Asia, and some of these may well find themselves carving out a place in the endurance arena, having hit their heads on the Formula One glass ceiling. This is no dishonour; many male drivers have come into sportscar racing in this way, and excelled.
One day soon, we may see Odette Siko’s ancient and venerable record falling at last.
Allow us to introduce you to Diane Seum. This New Jersey native has been involved in motorsport since 1977 - possibly our longest-running Woman of the Week to date. She has volunteered as a flagger (a marshal to those of us on the European side of the Atlantic) since a friend took her to a race in Long Island and got her hooked on that as a way of spending her weekends. Diane has been flag chief since 1984, and came up with a new way of blue flagging drivers - using the blue flag in one hand with an orange glove on the other to indicate the number of cars running behind the car being lapped. She has flagged for many series across the US, Canada, and Europe, including F1 (she's still trying to get heat back into her body after the recent Canadian GP). She was there at the Belgian GP when Eric Comas crashed, and helped Ayrton Senna calm down after seeing the dramatic crash.
Bridget Schuil: What is your first memory of motorsport?
Diane Seum: Sitting watching the Indy car races as a kid with my two older brothers! The one used to tell me about Le Mans as well. When he was in the Navy, they were travelling down a road that looked very familiar to him. He asked the bus driver and they were travelling down the Moulsane straight!
BS How did you first get into flagging?
DS A musician friend of mine asked if I wanted to go to a race at age 19. He took me to Bridgehampton, on the end of Long Island, NY. I met a lot of people and had a great time. Then, later, he took me to Lime Rock Park, in Conneticut. I found I was really enjoying it. So, I found my own way back the next year! That friend and I are still friends, may years later! Many of the people I met that first weekend, are still my friends today as well.
BS What are some of your favourite memories from flagging?
DS Traveling to Europe to do the F1 race at Spa two years in a row. It was in a beautiful area, and the people were wonderful! We even got a fast lap of the course the first morning!
BS What do you love most about what you do?
DS It all comes back to the people. The racing is great, and I enjoy being part of it, but the people are the best. They have helped me and I have helped them and we have been through a lot together.
BS What is the biggest challenge facing women marshals?
DS Just getting started, I imagine. I didn't have much trouble until I became Flag Chief for Northern New Jersey Region Sports Car Club of America. I found a few guys who didn't think a woman could be, or should be flag chief. The good news is, they were few, and the people were generally very supportive.
BS What is your favourite part of the race weekend?
DS It is split. Just before the race, everyone is on point and ready. It is good. After the race, we can get things together and head to the after party, or to dinner. Then, we talk about the day or weekend. It is good.
BS If other women want to get into flagging/marshalling, how would you recommend they get involved?
DS Look up your local racing region in the US, or talk to someone at a track you may be interested. Ask questions of anyone you can!
BS What do you love most about motorsport in general?
DS It still comes back to the people. I had been working the Canadian GP for many years. I had to take a few years off over an injury (not incurred at a track!) I just got back from my first F1 race in a few years, and it was as if I had never left. The people were welcoming and just wonderful! The racing was, of course, great! Although very tiring, I had a great weekend.
McLaren F1 team and their sponsor Chandon have teamed up to find out what female fans think about F1. Great. Finally someone has taken the initiative to find out what fangirls/fanwomen/fanwarriors think! If you haven't found the survey yet, it's here.
Not to sound condescending, but the man who wrote the survey obviously has no mental concept of women as multi-dimensional beings who are distinct from one another. For example, one of the questions is 'More women are watching F1 than ever before, what do you think helps this?' and the options in the drop-down menu are 'successful British drivers,' 'more women involved in the sport,' 'brand associations,' and 'driver personalities/celebrity status.' As though 1) those are the only four reasons to getting into a sport, and 2) all women know what all other women think, like we're cylons who periodically download into some kind of central database with which we're all networked.
There is no option under 'who introduced you to F1' for anyone to select 'family'. In case they haven't noticed, fandoms are largely inherited. My grandfather was a rally driver; I developed a fondness for sports involving engines. Watch any interview with a racing driver - man or woman - and they usually attribute their involvement to a parent with taking them to the track.
I hesitate to use the word 'discourse' outside of an academic feminist setting, but the writer of the survey has obviously never heard of it. If he had, he'd be more familiar with words we use to describe ourselves - for example, the more inclusive 'women' over 'females' - and would know that we have narratives of our own that run parallel to what happens in public.
He also seems ignorant of where women fans hang out on t'internet. I won't divulge where the lady-fans congregate, because they tend to be closed communities. Fan warriors share enthusiasm in P2P networks, and very reluctant to publicise their involvement in open fora.
He does ask (in an unlimited comment box - yay!) what women would like to see more of. From comments in the aforementioned community-specific fora, he probably got a range of answers as diverse as the women who follow the sport. They range from 'less Bernie' to 'more technical coverage'.
So let's throw the questions open. If you don't want to divulge your name, date of birth, and email address for McLaren's/Chandon's corporate records, take it to twitter. Let @McLarenF1 and @ChandonWorlds know what you think about F1. Hashtag it so the rest of us can follow. Possible tags to use: #WhyIWatchF1, #WomenWatchF1Because, #WhyWomenWatchF1. Let them know we're a diverse group of multi-dimensional beings with varied opinions!