GEAR Racing’s Ferrari 488 GTE entry in this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans has been moved to GTE-Pro according to team owner Mark Ruggieri, who has reaffirmed the all-female squad’s effort in the French endurance classic.
The American entity, which was confirmed initially in GTE-Am with nominated driver Christina Nielsen, will now compete in the all-pro class largely due to issues sourcing a Bronze-rated driver.
Ruggieri explained the coronavirus pandemic affected their ability to secure a driver out of a limited pool of available Bronze-rated female pilots.
“We’ve upgraded the entry from GTE-Am to GTE-Pro,” Ruggieri told Sportscar365. “Prior to the travel ban, we had some prospects including the Bronze driver that’s required in GTE-Am.
“Because they are Bronze drivers, they have businesses and other things to tend to in their lives. The ones I was speaking with didn’t have the time to prepare, even for the original Le Mans schedule.
“Now things have gotten so difficult for a Bronze driver to prepare for such a big event like the 24 Hours of Le Mans that it just didn’t seem feasible to have a Bronze driver to do the testing and do the ACO-approved simulator and make sure they were [prepared] enough to be competitive.
“We put in the request a short while back and the ACO was kind enough to consider the circumstances. They approved it.”
Ruggieri said they have yet to confirm the two other drivers alongside Nielsen, although expect to do so in the coming weeks.
Nielsen’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship co-driver Katherine Legge is already confirmed in the all-female Richard Mille Racing Oreca 07 Gibson with Tatiana Calderon, who was also part of the team’s lineup for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
Rahel Frey, the fourth driver in the Grasser Racing Team-run Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo at Daytona, is part of Iron Lynx’s effort in GTE-Am at Le Mans, meanwhile.
“I think it’s going to be a better situation for getting the driver lineup finalized,” Ruggieri said of the move to GTE-Pro. “I was able to get conversations going again with some of the top female drivers that are available.
“Tati [Caldeon] and Kat are obviously in LMP2 but there’s some great talent out there.
“This situation highlights the importance of the need for programs around women in motorsports. We are trying to source the most competitive set of drivers and the pool of drivers is not big.”
The change, which has yet to be announced by the ACO, will likely result in an eight-car field in GTE-Pro for the Sept. 19-20 race, following the withdrawal of Corvette Racing and the two U.S.-based factory Porsches.
GEAR Yet to Finalize Operations Partner
Ruggieri said they are still in discussions with multiple teams to handle race operations for the event.
GRT serves as GEAR’s operational partner in the WeatherTech Championship but appears unlikely to do so at Le Mans.
“I hit the pause button back around the travel ban when we were right before Sebring,” Ruggieri said. “Being in New York this thing escalated quickly, so I was able to kind of see how fast we caught up to some of the European hot zones
“We we got everybody back on the project and we’re just getting back in. It’s been maybe since last Tuesday that we felt comfortable starting to make some more commitments and make some firm notes on our calendar.
“I hope to have the things worked out in the next couple of weeks and we’ll see where we go from there.”