GEAR Racing plans to expand its female driver initiative into Europe as well as NHRA drag racing later this year, with its IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship program only the first step into motorsport, according to team owner Mark Ruggieri.
The upstart organization, which stands for Girl Empowerment Around Racing, is debuting in this weekend’s Roar Before the Rolex 24 with the all-female lineup of Katherine Legge, Christina Nielsen, Rahel Frey and Tatiana Calderon in a Grasser Racing Team-run Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo.
With plans for a full-season GT Daytona class program in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship for Legge and Nielsen, Ruggieri revealed that other programs are in the works that will come online later this year.
It includes female-driven efforts in the European Le Mans Series, ADAC GT Masters, as well as NHRA.
GEAR Racing is part of the GEAR project, a national program developed for the empowerment of women through interactive assemblies focused on topics of STEM and life empowerment, according to its global brand director Kara Kenney.
The team’s website lists Legge, Nielsen, Calderon, Frey and Bia Figueiredo as ambassadors to the program, with more apparently to come.
“We have some other drivers that we have signed up in some other series that we will do announcements for 2020,” Ruggieri told Sportscar365.
“GEAR was a program we were actually working on before learning about this opportunity with Lamborghini.”
Ruggieri explained that the initiative is the brainchild of sports marketing veteran Kenney, who joined the company in October.
“When she came in, she brought this GEAR program with her,” Ruggieri said. “She’s got a lot of experience on the NHRA side and actually worked with Chris Ward at Lamborghini in 2012.
“We were going to launch it in 2020, probably late spring, more on the NHRA side with some other drivers. So we’ve incorporated it into sports car racing. We had to accelerated the program.
“It’s in many disciplines.
“We have some plans for GT Masters as well as ELMS and maybe a few programs in conjunction with the FIA’s Women in Motorsport program as well.
“We should have the majority of the 2020 announcements out by Feb 1.”
New York-based Ruggieri said he has a series of companies in the financial sector that are currently funding the initiative although he’s “wrapping up” deals on a first round of corporate sponsors, which will be on the car for the Rolex 24.
GEAR’s parent company, MPH Inc., was purchased by Ruggieri in 2018 from then-Mazda Motorsports director John Doonan, who Ruggieri said gave him “guidance and mentorship” in motorsports marketing.
Ruggieri said the purchase did not include any assets other than the name and website URL.
The GTD program then came together in a matter of weeks.
“Seven weeks ago, Katherine called me and that was when Caterpillar officially said they were going to pull out,” Ruggieri said. “I said what can we help out with?
“Typically we help with sponsorship, driver representation. We’re a marketing agency.
“She said I think that Christina Nielsen knows of a program that might be a good fit. We could use some help from the financial side.
“It turned out to be the Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini program
“We took a look at it and it didn’t take us much time to make a decision on it.
“It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while. I thought maybe 2021 would be the year to run a full program. But it was an opportunity we couldn’t resist.”
Legge: GEAR Program “Not a Gimmick”
As was the case with her and Nielsen’s previous program with Heinricher Racing, Legge believes the all-female effort is not a gimmick if done properly.
“There are initiatives going on in other parts of the world, but you can do it here and in other places,” she told Sportscar365.
“There’s always a positive attitude to something that’s going to be more ground-breaking and different, and it gets a lot of attention for Lamborghini, the series, the team and the sponsors.
“I was always uber selfish and focused on me, and now there are enough good female drivers around that it can be done properly and it’s not a gimmick.
“I didn’t want to do anything like the all-girl route unless we did it properly and we did it properly. We’re being taken seriously which has been my goal since I was nine years old.”