Michelle Gatting On Iron Dames, Karting, And Women In Motorsport
It takes a lot to become one of the names associated with the success of women in motorsport. For us, your name being known means that you fly a flag and carry a torch. It means that you are an inspiration to booth young girls and adults in the industry; your success and presence is a reminder of what is possible. Michelle Gatting and the Iron Dames team are moving into that role, alongside names like Susie Wolff and Danica Patrick.
Iron Dames was founded in 2018 by Deborah Mayer, as a project determined to promote women in motorsport. They operate as a part of the wider Iron Lynx team, and Gatting is part of an all-women lineup of drivers who’ve competed in a multitude of racing series - including the Ferrari Challenge Europe Trofeo Pirelli, which Gatting herself made history in by becoming the first female overall champion last year.
I spoke to Michelle about her love of racing, her career so far, and what the position of women in motorsport will look like in the years ahead.
ON FALLING IN LOVE WITH THE SPORT
For almost every professional racing driver, karting is where it all begins. It isn’t just where drivers learn how to drive; it’s also where they develop their love and passion for the sport that they’ll carry with them in the years ahead. For Gatting, she tells me how her entry into the sport began by chance when she was seven years old:
“I tried a rental go-kart on a holiday for fun - there was a track next to our hotel - and I went to try it. I still remember that I specifically picked the red go-kart with number 1, and it had the Ferrari logo on the kart. I told my parents when we got back home that I wanted to try to be in a go-kart again (I was around seven). I got pretty addicted to the sport and the speed. The speed felt really fast, being seven years old and driving in a rental go-kart. That’s how I fell in love with it.”
It’s this love for karting that motivated Gatting to pursue a professional racing career, which she says was always her aim. It’s clear that this love has carried her to the position she’s in now: “You get pretty addicted to the sport, it’s pretty bad, and I couldn’t imagine my life without racing, to be honest.”
As a member of the Iron Dames team who’s raced extensively for them, Gatting is crucial to the mission of the team,as a competitor who’s success promotes women in motorsport.
When I ask about the team, she tells me that Deborah Mayer’s aim was always to go to the 24 Hours of Le Mans, a mission that they achieved within a year of conception - a testament to their motivation and ability as a group. They’ve now raced Le Mans three times, and their entry for 2022 has recently been confirmed. Bad luck has limited them, but Gatting tells me that there were “so many races” in ELMS in 2021 that they could have won, and their ninth-place finish at the 24 Hours of Le Mans doesn’t tell the whole story, either.
What did prove Gatting’s own ability as a racer, as well as the team’s, though, is the Ferrari Challenge, and this shows that they do possess the speed to carry them to the top step. For a team of Iron Dames’ calibre, this is now what they’re constantly fighting for.
“At the end of the day, what people want to see is results. That’s the only way we can prove that we’re good enough, including to ourselves.”
What’s also very obvious is how much she enjoys her position in the Iron Dames team, even throughout the tough first few years. She’s honest about how racing with our results can make it “difficult to keep up the passion and motivation”, but it’s also clear that with such success this year, especially within the Ferrari Challenge, the joy has been enormous.
“This year, honestly, I’ve really enjoyed it, all the emotions came back to me this year when I’ve been racing, and we’ve had some tough seasons from the beginning with Iron Dames, but this year, I think it motivated the whole team and it motivated all of us, and I think we all got the whole enjoyment from racing back this year.”
Every racing driver will lose races sometimes, but for Gatting, that hasn’t stopped her from loving the success the team has achieved recently, and that demonstrates how much she loves racing.
ON IRON DAMES’ MISSION
Being a woman has never been a simple feat, and for drivers, there are constant barriers to success. One of the biggest of these barriers is attitudes: the ‘mindset’ of many, Gatting says, is still “that women don’t belong in the sport, and that we are not good enough, or tough enough, or competitive enough, or strong enough…”
These attitudes hurt, because they impact how we’re treated by others, including “most teams”, she says. It means that we’re the subject of discriminatory comments, sexualisation; we can be locked out of opportunities and have our talent and ability ignored. We need to fight against these attitudes, and the way that Iron Dames is doing this is simply doing what this sport is all about: getting results. For Deborah Mayer, the team founder, “proving women can be competitive was the whole idea from the beginning.”
For Iron Dames, those results are coming, and the fact that they are is a testament to the fact that women do belong, regardless of whether others can see that or not. It’s why an all-women lineup is so valuable. It’s much harder to say that we don’t belong when we’re beating you.
“I know a lot of team owners and team bosses who think that we can be good, but we cannot be competitive enough to win races. I hope that in the future and hopefully next year, Iron Dames can prove that, whatever series we go into, we can win races, and we can win races by being three girls in a car together.
The project of Iron Dames is growing, and in the future, we are going to see women in Hypercars; we might see a woman in Formula 1 in the next five or ten years, and I hope that we can say that Iron Dames was a factor in that.”
It is true that progress is being made. In her own karting days, Gatting estimates that she was one of around five girls in a field of three hundred drivers, but now, initiatives like Rising Stars and W Series are pushing women into the spotlight, and creating opportunities for them to shine. The mission now, according to her, is to progress to the mainstream feeder series. “If a woman can make the step up from Formula 3 to Formula 2 to Formula 1,” she says, “F1 teams might start thinking that they need to give them a real chance.”
It will take a lot. It will take dedication and investment and time and money and a lot of belief from a lot of people: from those that already know we can make it, and maybe from those that still need convincing, too. But Michelle Gatting has faith that it will happen, and that it is happening.
“It will take time before the whole paddock changes their mindset; it might not happen. It’s okay; it’s fine if team bosses and owners say women don’t belong, but when we win races and it’s all over the news, they might change their mindset. It will take time, but it’s happening slowly.”