Le Mans 24 Hours 2019: Organisers deny placing limit on female competitors

Driver Katherine Legge
The all-female Meyer Shank Racing car, featuring British driver Katherine Legge, would have competed in the LMP2 category at Le Mans

Organisers of the Le Mans 24 Hours race are limiting the number of women allowed to participate, according to Michele Mouton, the most senior woman in motorsport's governing body.

The claim was made after an US-backed all-female team, led by British driver Katherine Legge, saw their entry for the race rejected.

Mouton alleges organisers Automobile Club de l'Ouest (ACO) refused to consider more than one all-female crew.

The ACO denies the allegation.

FIA Women's Commission President Mouton, the runner-up in the 1982 World Rally Championship, told BBC Sport: "It was the answer I got - 'we can have only one'.

"It's really a unique race, it was difficult to give the possibility to more than one female crew this year. It's the only reason. It was not another reason.

"It was a pity, just a pity and we are working to get two next year. We are working very closely with the ACO and they are supporting the work of the commission and what we are doing."

Legge's team, co-owned by Meyer Shank Racing (MSR) and Jackie Heinricher - a former US Air Force Medic and businesswoman - was one of two all-female entries for the 2019 Le Mans 24 Hours race, which gets under way on Saturday at 14:00 BST.

The other was Kessle Racing, who were granted automatic entry after winning the GT class in the 2018 Le Mans Cup series.

Heinricher told the BBC she was shocked when she heard they had been rejected.

"You could call it sexism, you could say it's discriminatory, you could say many things - but the fact is that we're not privy to the room [where the decision was made].

"I don't support their decision.... one must question why, out of 60 teams - particularly with the package we are bringing, way above and beyond many of the the other 60 packages in this event - why this decision was determined at our expense."

ACO sporting director Vincent Beaumesnil has denied putting quotas on female drivers, saying: "It is simply a question of there not being enough places for everyone who wants to take part.

"For practical and logistical, but above all for safety reasons, there has to be a limit to the number of cars allowed to compete."

Initially, there were 75 entries for 60 places on the Le Mans grid, although the ACO later increased that to 62.

That increase was not enough for the MSR-Heinricher team, who were placed ninth out of 10 on the reserve list.

The ACO says it selects teams based on factors including their history in endurance competition and their loyalty to the discipline.

Having competed at Le Mans in 2016, Meyer Shank Racing had history in the competition, and Heinricher felt her team more than met this criteria.

"We came to this with the top women drivers in the world, one of the top cars with one of the top teams running the car, and a Fortune 50 global corporation [Caterpillar] supporting this effort.

"I don't know what else we could've bought to the table frankly."

Heinricher has been vocal in her aim to promote the advancement of women in racing. According to the FIA, gender diversity in motorsport - across the workforce - stands at just 5%.

"We are enormously proud to have the three female drivers competing with us at the 24 Hours of Le Mans this year," Beaumesnil said.

"We very much hope that the MSR/Heinricher team from the USA will be able to take part another year; they would be warmly welcomed."

Heinricher, however, has refused to be drawn on whether the team would attempt to enter the race next year, saying: "We're taking the high road at this point and just moving on and doing what we do best."

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