Driver Katherine Legge has teamed with veteran motorsports executive Beth Paretta to form a race team that will attempt to build its organization around women and compete in next year's 100th running of the Indianapolis 500.
The team announced Friday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway will be called Grace Autosport and it will encourage women to pursue careers in science, technology engineering and math in auto racing.
''I definitely champion this platform,'' said Legge, who was selected as ambassador for the FIA's Women in Motorsport Commission in 2008. ''Prior to that, I was pretty much all about Katherine Legge, my career. They opened my eyes to women everywhere and how being a role model could help these other girls learn from my experience.''
Legge has a long career as a driver, has two career Indy 500 starts and currently competes in sports cars. She is one of only nine women to have started the Indianapolis 500, most recently in 2013 when she finished 33rd for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.
Legge was the first woman to win a major North American open wheel race when she won three Toyota Atlantic Champ Car-developmental events in 2005. She currently drives for Delta Wing in the Tudor Championship, and is a part-time participant in Formula E.
For Legge, the Grace Autosport project is interesting because she's a strong supporter of STEM initiatives and believes the effort can dip below the Indianapolis 500 to the feeder systems and reach more women.
''I am really passionate about the STEM aspect because we don't have enough girls in engineering, mechanics, over the wall - it's really only females as drivers,'' Legge said. ''We really need to help women look at motorsports as a career option.''
Paretta, who will be the team principal, is the former motorsports director for SRT Motorsports/Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. She understands filling a team with only women will be a challenge, particularly a competitive over-the-wall pit crew.
''It really is about the educational effort, and although we are talking about the Indy 500, it's about the longer-term plan,'' Paretta said. ''We are going to be actively recruiting top talent, and sure this is motorsports, but we want to attract women to STEM in general. There's a critical need for engineers at the automakers, for example. The racing is exciting and can captivate girls, but the thing we will be able to do with this team is demonstrate that racing is a team sport, there are other roles that exist and those roles are integreal on getting the car to the grid.''
The team has already hired four women, including aerodynamicist Catherine Crawford, who has been an engineer on several sports car and open wheel teams, Lauren Elkins, an engineer/data analysis manager, and junior design engineer Jessica Rowe.
''It is wonderful to see an inspirational team with such an impressive depth of experience and knowledge,'' said Michele Mouton, president of the FIA commission said. ''The fact the team is led by women in many of the key roles showcases the fact everyone can have a place in motorsport.''