Danish driver Michelle Gatting believes a podium finish for the all-female Iron Dames team in the historic Le Mans 24 race in June would "open doors for a new generation" of women pilots, she told AFP.
The 28-year-old -- who became the first woman driver to be crowned Ferrari Challenge champion last year -- teams up with Rahel Frey and Sarah Bovy to race in the car category in what is the only all-female combination in the June 11-12 race.
They will be part of the four-car Italian team Iron Lynx and will bid to improve on their ninth place in the LMGTE AM class in last year's edition.
Iron Dames was created and is led by French former racing driver Deborah Mayer -- who was named head president of FIA's Women in Motorsport Commission in February -- with the aim of supporting women in motorsport.
Active since 2019, they have been the first all-female team in history to compete in many endurance races.
Gatting says despite winning the Ferrari Challenge they still needed to change the mindset of the male-dominated world of motorsport.
This mindset is "that women don't belong in the sport, and that we are not good enough, or tough enough, or competitive enough, or strong enough", which hurts.
Given Gatting's title last year plus three successive finishes for their car in Le Mans -- filling ninth spot in their class on every occasion and a best overall final placing of 34th in 2020 -- it seems it will take an earthquake to shift the male attitude.
"For sure if we end up on our class podium which is the best case scenario it would be mind changing for people, as it is the biggest endurance race in the world," Gatting told AFP in a Zoom interview.
She is quick though to downplay expectations in case she is seen as over-confident.
"We are not coming to the race saying 'yeah we will be on the podium' as everything has to be in our favor," she said.
"However, if we succeed in changing mindsets we will be a generation opening doors for a new generation."
Gatting -- who was drawn to being a driver ever since she jumped in a go-kart with a Ferrari logo when on holiday aged seven -- says it is a responsibility she welcomes.
"It is not frustrating (to miss out on the benefits) as this is the whole aim behind the project," she said.
"It is to inspire young girls and that one day there will be a female competing in Formula One."
The last woman to race in Formula One was Italian Lella Lombardi in 1976.
"We take it (the responsibility) on our shoulders and of course we wish we were 10 years younger, but the opportunities we are being given now are absolutely amazing," Gatting said.
"I am happy if I, together with the rest of the Iron Dames project, open doors to the future."
It says a lot about how far they have travelled that last year's ninth-place category finish left her and Frey "so disappointed" as "everything went wrong" when they harbored hopes of a podium finish.
Gatting says they are as competitive within the Iron Dames team as they are with their rivals.
"Honestly speaking Rahel and I got off to a tough beginning," Gatting said.
"We are very dominant personalities and both wanted to be in the lead and both wanted to be the fastest in the car... we wanted the same things.
"I think for sure we are not always agreeing but we have found our way to work together and have the same mindset to win races.
"I came from sprint racing and was not sharing cars so it was difficult at the beginning but we found a way to be a good team and have a lot of fun."
Gatting says it has been a "tough journey for all of them" and there have been moments of thinking of giving up.
"It makes coming to where I am today more enjoyable and to enjoy every moment as driving cars is what we love the most," she said.
"This is a dream coming true for Sarah, Rahel and myself in driving all over the world.
"It has not been easy for any of us and makes this even better.
"It provides much more motivation as we can prove we are here for a reason."
© 2022 AFP