Monday, 30 August 2010

Female Drivers in IMSA Sportscar Racing

Linda Ludemann

The IMSA (International Motor Sport Association) sportscar series began as a championship proper in 1971. It was based in the United States, but attracted an increasingly international field during its twenty-seven year history.

Originally open to GT and touring cars, it first admitted sports prototypes in 1981. These cars came to dominate, with manufacturers such as Porsche and Jaguar vying for the title. It was disbanded in 1998, although it has existed as a sanctioning body for sportscar racing in the States since 2001. It has recently re-emerged as a race organising body.

The series, at different times, ran the Daytona 24 Hours and Sebring 12 Hours, as well as other major sportscar events.

Many female drivers took part over the years, particularly in the middle period during the 1980s. Some, such as Lyn St. James and Janet Guthrie, combined IMSA competition with open-wheel racing, and a few, such as Patty Moise and Kat Teasdale, also drove in NASCAR competition. Below are short profiles of some of the other female entrants.

Ashley Freiberg - began her senior racing career in 2008, after several successful seasons in karting. Initially, she progressed through the Skip Barber racing school ranks, and in 2009, she was the first female winner of a Skip Barber National Series race, in New Jersey. Initially specialising in single-seaters, she did her first Formula Star Mazda races in 2009, before winning another National Series race in a Formula Mazda, and then winning the Skip Barber Summer Series outright. 2011 was a quieter year, but she added to her win tally with another Summer Series race win. In 2012, she competed in Formula Star Mazda full-time, and was eleventh in the championship. Her best finish was sixth, at Baltimore. After this, she switched to sportscar racing, and contested the IMSA GT Challenge, in a Porsche 997. In her first season, she won once, at Watkins Glen, a first for a female driver, and was second twice, at the Glen and Monterey. She was ninth in the championship, after missing the last round. In 2014, she made history again by winning the Continental Sportscar Challenge race at Daytona, supporting the 24 Hours, in a BMW M3 Coupe. Despite this, her plans for 2014 were still open, due to funding issues. She did secure enough sponsorship to race again, and was took part in another four Challenge races. Her best finish was seventh, at Laguna Seca. In 2015, she was a BMW North America Scholarship driver, and raced an M3 in the Continental Sportscar Challenge, winning one race at Road Atlanta. In 2016, she competed in the Daytona 24 Hours and Sebring 12 Hours for Turner Motorsport, in a BMW M6. She was second in class at Sebring, and 23rd overall. She is also making a name for herself in cyclocross. 

Alice Graves - raced in IMSA in 1983 and 1984. Her car was a Porsche 914/6, which she shared with Richard Graves. In 1983, they entered the Road America, Pocono and Daytona Finale rounds, with a best finish of 17th at Pocono. In 1984, she raced at Mid-Ohio, Road America and Pocono. Their best finish was 25th at Mid-Ohio. The Porsche was not overly competitive, compared to newer 962s and Aston Martins. Details of Alice’s other activities are not forthcoming.

Deborah Gregg - raced sportscars in the States in the 1980s, and ran Brumos Motorsport after the premature death of her husband, Peter Gregg, in 1980. She initially competed in Trans Am, and by 1988 was one of the front-runners. Her first IMSA event, in 1982, was the Daytona Finale. She drove a Porsche 924 with Elliot Forbes-Robinson. The following year, she drove the Porsche in the Sebring 12 Hours, with Bonnie Henn and Kathy Rude. They were 35th. In 1984, she drove the 924 at Daytona. After a successful season in a Tiga in 1986 and a ninth place at Daytona in 1987, she teamed up with Lyn St. James. Their best result together was eighth at Sebring in 1988, driving a Mercury Merkur XR4Ti.

Bonnie Henn - raced Ferraris and Porsches in IMSA between 1979 and 1985, usually as part of her father, Preston Henn's, team. Her team-mates included Kathy Rude, Janet Guthrie and Desiré Wilson during this time. She finished seventeenth at the 1979 Sebring 12 Hours, driving a Ferrari 365 GTB/4 with Lyn St James and Janet Guthrie. In 1982, she and Janet Guthrie teamed up with Desiré Wilson for the Sebring race again, in a Ferrari 512BB/LM, but they did not finish. With various team-mates, usually female, Bonnie entered the Daytona 24 Hours, too. 1982 was her last year of competition. She died suddenly in 2005, at the age of 50.

Linda Ludemann - raced in IMSA between 1987 and 1990, alongside Scott Schubot. She competed in the Lights class. Initially, they drove a Tiga GT285, with a best finish of eighth at Watkins Glen. They were also 16th at Daytona. The car was changed for a Spice SE88P in 1988, which was less reliable, and gave them a highest position of 15th, at San Antonio and Lime Rock. Reliability improved in 1989, and Linda became the first woman to win the Lights class, after victories at West Palm Beach, San Antonio, Topeka and Sears Point. They were also top-ten finishers three times, with a high point of sixth. Linda only did a part-season in 1990, still in the Spice, but proved she was still competitive with an eighth at Miami and a class win at Topeka. She did not compete in 1991.

Bobbee Nylander – competed in IMSA events between 1977 and 1982. The biggest race of her career was probably the 1977 Sebring 12 Hours, in which she drove a Porsche 911 with Gary Nylander and Michael Hammond. They were thirteenth, and third in the GTU class. Her best individual result was ninth, in the 1978 Sears Point IMSA race. Bobbee always drove a Porsche 911, and was a regular in the Riverside 6 Hours between 1979 and 1982.

Vicki Smith - raced sportscars up to international level in the early 1980s. In 1981, she had finished the Daytona 24 Hours and Sebring 12 Hours in an AMC AMX. Her team-mates were Bob Lee, Tom Alan Marx and Sam Miller. In 1982, she was 25th at Daytona, driving a Porsche 911 and 22nd at Sebring. The Klaus Haus team, consisting of Vicki, Klaus Bitterauf and Scott Flanders, contested several more IMSA events that year, with a best finish of 17th, at Charlotte. Driving an Audi 80 for a different team, Vicki was 16th with Edgar Doren and Peter Aschenbrenner. During the 1983 season, she switched between the Klaus Haus Porsche and a Pontiac Firebird. Her best finish was another 16th, at Miami, in the Firebird. She continued in 1984, driving different cars, but was not as successful. She is now involved in classic motorcycle events.

Margie Smith-Haas - active in motorsport between 1978 and 1995. Mostly, she raced a Porsche 924 GTR as part of a team with Paul, her husband. Her first big race was the Road America IMSA round in 1979, but she really came into the spotlight in 1983, when she shared a Toyota Celica with Gene Hackman, for the Riverside Six Hours. They were 16th, fifth in class. After that, she joined the World Sportscar Championship, driving a series of Porsches in Europe and the USA. Her time there was plagued with mechanical difficulties, and she collected many DNFs. Her two attempts at Le Mans, in 1984 and 1985, driving a Porsche and a BMW respectively, also ended in retirement. A consolation was her sixth in class at Daytona in 1984, driving a Porsche 911 RSR. In 1988, she joined the American City Racing League, and won the title in 1994.

Kristin Treager - intended to compete in the IMSA GT3 Cup in 2014, driving a Porsche 997 GT3. She first entered the championship in 2013, taking part in the Road Atlanta and Road America meetings. Her results were three third places, and one seventh. She had a chance of the title until the final round, when she was hit by another driver and wrote off her car. In 2013, she also raced Porsches in the Porsche Club of America’s Cup Car Challenge, winning the GTC4 class. Previously, she has won other club championships, in Porsches, production stock cars and Bandolero racing. She also appears on motoring –related TV programmes in the USA. In 2014, she did not race, having lost her main sponsor due to the large costs incurred after her crash. She concentrated on driver tuition and TV work after 2015.

(Image source unknown)

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