As many as 59 women have competed at the 24 Hours of Le Mans since its first running in 1923. This year, only one is set to take the start: Christina Nielsen.
On Saturday 22 June 1930, Marguerite Mareuse and Odette Siko became the first women to participate in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. In the cockpit of a car or an airplane, this era marked the beginning of increased momentum for the women's movement. In 1935, there were 10 at the start, including three all-female driver line-ups. But after the movement lost steam post-war, it wasn't until the 1971 running of the 24 Hours that Marie-Claude Beaumont would take the wheel of her Corvette 7-liter beast. The 29-year-old woman opened the door for others, including Yvette Fontaine, the first to win in her class (2-liter prototypes), in 1974. This year, for the second time in a row, Christina Nielsen is the only woman among 179 men to compete at Le Mans.
Interview the champion, not the woman!C. Nielsen
But the Danish driver is not doing so strictly to represent women. Christina Nielsen: "I'm used to competing against men. I understand my being a woman draws attention from the media and makes me popular with certain fans. That's wonderful if by seeing me other girls believe they can compete in motorsport. But first and foremost, I'm a racing car driver. I want to compete on equal terms with the guys and, more importantly, I want to beat them. So, interview the champion, not the woman!"
In fact, Nielsen is a two-time champion. In 2016 and 2017, the 26-year-old won the American endurance championship called the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in the GT Daytona class. Recognition in a career that started out in karting and was encouraged by her father, Lars-Erik, a driver at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the 2000s. "I particulary remember the 2006 edition when his car was having problems just as he was GT2 class leader not far from the finish. I was in tears."
I had so much to learn [when I debuted at the 2016 24 Hours].C. Nielsen
Ten years later, in 2016, it was her turn to debut at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, with her dad by her side. "At times, he wanted to give me a bit too much advice," she says with a smile. "I needed to make it my own. I had so much to learn. There were all these LMPs overtaking us at really insane speeds."
Now a seasoned driver, this year Christina Nielsen is aiming for a podium finish in the LMGTE Am class. Sharing the wheel of the Ebimotors team's #80 Porsche 911 RSR with Fabio Babini and Erik Maris, fans will be able to spot the Danish flag painted on the side of her helmet.
MAIN PHOTO: Christina Nielsen.