New all-female team, Grace Autosport, announced Friday at IMS

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Beth Paretta, who has spent a significant amount of time in several motorsports programs, and Katherine Legge, who has had diverse motorsports driving experience in open-wheel and sports car racing, were on hand at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to announce Grace Autosport, which seeks to be the first all-female team in motorsports.

The full news release is below.

More to follow later today following the press conference at IMS.

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Grace Autosport logo (PRNewsFoto/Grace Autosport)

Grace Autosport, the first all-female IndyCar Series racing team, announced their plans today to compete in 100th the running of the Indianapolis 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. From team owner to race engineers to aerodynamicists to the driver to marketing and public relations directors, the women of Grace Autosport will be on the grid for the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” on May 29, 2016.

Grace Autosport will spearhead a one-of-a-kind racing program with a focused educational initiative, which looks to create and inspire future champions and leaders in motorsport. The goal of this pioneering all-female racing team is not only to empower women in motorsport, but to encourage a new generation of women to pursue careers in STEM (science/technology/engineering/math). Grace also hopes its program and platform attracts a new fan base to IndyCar racing and the Indianapolis 500 race, the largest sporting event in the world.

“The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has been the scene for many automotive firsts,” said Grace Team Principal, Beth Paretta of The Paretta Company and former motorsports director for SRT Motorsports/Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. “It makes it so special to have the opportunity to launch our team here. For us, true success will be measured by how many girls and women we can encourage to pursue a STEM career. Having said that, we are here to win and our goal is within 10 years to make sure a woman’s face will grace the BorgWarner trophy.”

Katherine Legge, a two-time Indy 500 competitor, has been named as the inaugural driver. Her firsts as a female racer has spanned single-seater and sports car racing. The native Brit’s diverse racing history includes British Formula Fords, Toyota Atlantics, Champ Car/IndyCar, IMSA sports cars, DTM and Formula E racing.

“I am very proud to be a part of this new and exciting team.  To me it’s more than just racing, it’s the start of something much bigger; a movement within the sport,” said Legge. “This is something I’ve been very passionate about for a very long time. Racing is my life-long passion and the drive to compete in the Indy 500 has been there since the very beginning. Being able to combine my enthusiasm for racing with the goal of empowering young women to pursue STEM subjects is a dream come true.  It will be interesting to see it all unfold from the beginning and I have no doubt we will be successful.”

Additional team members include: Catherine Crawford, aerodynamicist, principal of Crawford Composites and one of the few women around the globe supervising a race team, which she currently does in the IMSA TUDOR United SportsCar Championship; Lauren Elkins, motorsports engineer, track support technician and data analysis manager, who brings multiple years in IndyCar and sports car racing to the team; Jessica Rowe, a junior design engineer with a variety of race experience, both at track and in the design office; and Barbara Burns, a skilled motorsport professional specializing in communications, public relations, event management and media training for young professional athletes and drivers.

“It is wonderful to see an inspirational team with such an impressive depth of experience and knowledge,” said Michele Mouton, President of the FIA Women in Motorsport Commission. “The fact the team is led by women in many of the key roles showcases the fact everyone can have a place in motorsport. Equality is there. Young women should be encouraged to seek the opportunities; this team again demonstrates that gender does not have to be a barrier in relation to success in all areas of racing.”

Grace Autosport will continue to provide updates with regards to team sponsors and personnel in the months to come. For more information, please visit www.graceautosport.com.

Don’t know the Rolex 24? You should. Here’s why.

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Hello, America. It’s time to go racing again.

Yes, Supercross is now three weeks into its season, and the Chili Bowl Nationals is now effectively the Christopher Bell Invitational after the young NASCAR star won his 3rd consecutive Golden Driller last weekend.

But the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway is the first marquee event on the American racing calendar – an event that just happens to have international prestige.

It’s also the start of Daytona Speedweeks, which culminates with NASCAR’s Daytona 500 on Feb. 17. But this is no mere opening act just warming up the crowd for the headliner.

In case you’re new to this event, here are a few reasons why it stands out:

Twice around the clock: Are you the kind of person that appreciates a challenge? Well, challenges don’t get much bigger in motorsports than a 24-hour endurance race where drivers, crews, machines, and strategies must work together flawlessly. For those behind the wheel in the Rolex 24, the obstacles are numerous: Punishing G-forces, extreme mental focus, lack of sleep, and staying on top of hydration and nutrition.

Star power: Speaking of those behind the wheel, the Rolex 24 traditionally draws top drivers from other disciplines such as IndyCar, Formula 1 and NASCAR to join sports car regulars from North America and around the world. As a result, the winners’ list is a Who’s Who of Motorsports.

This year’s field includes a clutch of NTT IndyCar Series drivers, highlighted by 5-time series champion and past Rolex 24 winner Scott Dixon. But pre-race buzz has centered on two particular interlopers: Alex Zanardi, the former CART champion making his first North American start since losing his legs in a 2001 crash, and Fernando Alonso, the two-time F1 champion looking to add another endurance triumph alongside his win with Toyota in last year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Cool cars: If you’re a gearhead, the Rolex 24 is a 200-mile-per-hour candy store. Across the four separate classes of competition, 13 of the world’s premier car manufacturers are represented.

The majority of those manufacturers are found in the Grand Touring classes that feature vehicles based on road-going production models. Chevy and Ford’s eternal rivalry rages on in the factory-backed GT Le Mans, but the class also boasts efforts from BMW, Porsche, and Ferrari. It’s even more diverse in the pro-am GT Daytona, where Porsche is joined by Audi, Lamborghini, Lexus and Mercedes.

As for the exotic, purpose-built Daytona Prototypes, they are powered by engines from Cadillac, Acura, Mazda and Nissan.

Nifty fifty: This year’s Rolex 24 begins the 50th anniversary season for IMSA, the sanctioning body for North American sports car racing. A select group of teams will mark the occasion at the Rolex 24 by running historic IMSA paint schemes on their machines. You may not be familiar with these looks, but it’s worth discovering the history behind them.

Here’s an example. The Starworks Motorsports team (GT Daytona) will carry a scheme based on Audi of America’s 90 Quattro from the 1989 IMSA GTO season. Boasting sports car legends Hurley Haywood and Hans-Joachim Stuck in the driver lineup, the 90 Quattro captured 7 GTO wins that season.

Audi’s performance led one competitor to create a “no passing” sticker with Stuck’s face on it. Stuck’s response: A doll fixed to his car’s rear window that dropped its pants to moon anyone Stuck put behind him.

Status symbol: Last but not least, the Rolex 24 has a unique prize – a trophy you can wear.

Winners get a standard cup, but what they’re really after are the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona watches, which include a special engraving to commemorate their victory. A standard version of this watch retails for tens of thousands of dollars, but you can’t put a price on the ones awarded at the Rolex 24.

This year’s grand marshal, 5-time Rolex 24 winner Scott Pruett, sums it up as “the ultimate reward.”

“To be presented a watch engraved with the word ‘Winner’ after 24 hours of intense racing is a moment that lives with you forever,” he added. “Your Rolex is a constant reminder of the perseverance and hard work that goes into succeeding at the highest level.”