How women are moving the WEC forward on and off the track

Twelve years on from the inaugural FIA World Endurance Championship race back in 2012, so much has changed. The prototypes and GT cars look and sound different and there are more major brands throwing resources at it than ever before.

But you could argue that one of the most impactful changes concerns the personalities in the paddock. At the end of the 2023 season, when the Iron Dames Porsche won the last ever GTE race with an all-female crewed 911 RSR 19, there was, quite rightly, plenty of buzz about the significance of the result. It wasn’t just the first time that an all-female crewed car had won a WEC race, it was the first time the feat was achieved in a WEC circuit race too.

Iron Dames Bahrain winners Sarah Bovy, Michelle Gatting, Rahel Frey were backed up by an all-female crew, too. Motorsport Images


Reflecting on that result as I toured the paddock in Qatar at the outset of what is recognized as Women’s History Month in the United States, it got me thinking in a wider sense about the level of female representation in the WEC, because it stretches far beyond the drivers listed on the entry. There are women in race control, on marshal posts, in the press room and in the garages, working at every level. This wasn’t always the case.

Crucially, this is a change that has occurred naturally. It hasn’t happened via regulation, or in response to protests or outside pressure. Instead, this has happened because the paddock is a meritocracy and everyone in it has earned their place. It’s a significantly more diverse place of work than it was 12 years ago and it continues to evolve by the season.

Yes, the grid is the healthiest it’s ever been, with awesome machinery and a calendar full of world-class circuits. But the WEC — which, like most motorsport championships worldwide, is male-dominated behind the scenes — has matured on a human level, and that’s something that should be celebrated.

So with that in mind, it feels like the right time to tell some of the incredible background stories from a selection of the prominent women in the paddock.

But before I do, I’ll say this: This is a topic that for better or worse hasn’t been easy to write about in 2024. In fact, this story has been written, scrapped, and written again, then pulled apart and written a third time. In the world we now live in, many see it as a sensitive topic. It wouldn’t be difficult to stray into fanning the flames of a culture war that none of us need in motorsport or come across as patronizing. Finding the correct tone to do this justice is vital.

Of the five women I spoke to while gathering content for the story, there were differences in opinion and a level of skepticism in places. But to me, this is a subject that deserves to be written about, because genuinely, the World Endurance Championship is a better place to be because of its diverse cast of characters. These stories are worth telling not simply because they are from women, but because their routes to the WEC are fascinating.

So, as a very real example, let’s take a look at General Motors’ effort, with three cars across both 2024 classes and two operations representing Cadillac (Chip Ganassi Racing) and Corvette (TF Sport). Within this group, there are 10 key women, working across a variety of roles and they all have a story to tell.

Among them, Laura Wontrop Klauser (pictured in light blue at top of page), the GM sports car racing program manager who grew up on a farm in Maryland, is perhaps the most recognizable face to the WEC’s fan base. She leads the way, having worked her way up GM’s corporate ladder.

“I’m a mechanical engineer by education and when I was in college I had the really cool opportunity to be part of my team’s Formula SAE team, which is what got me interested in motorsports,” she tells RACER. “Before that, I just knew I wanted to work as an engineer and work with cars. Growing up in Maryland, I knew that my life was going to take me to Michigan, so I chased it. And Formula SAE was something I fell in love with, building a car and competing. I loved the process of building the car and being a part of the competition, getting instant feedback. It’s the highlight of my college time.”

Laura Wontrop Klauser has worked her way up the GM Racing ladder, overseeing multiple programs. GM Racing photo

After her studies concluded, she got the call from GM in 2008 to become an engineer, where she spent eight years on the production side, working on the Corvette C7 among other things before finding her way into the motorsports division.

“It was a small group when I came into it. It was just the program management positions available. And since I became a part of it my love for it has grown.

“I’ve always been fascinated by how things work,” she explains. “Everyone in America needs a car unless you live in a place like New York with good public transport. So it’s a symbol of freedom to own a car and your own destiny.”

After joining the motorsport division, Wontrop Klauser started on the Cadillac ATS V.R GT3 World Challenge program before moving into endurance racing with the Cadillac DPi effort. Now, as we move into this new GTP/Hypercar era, she’s pushing to take GM to new heights in sports car racing, winning IMSA titles, targeting WEC titles and looking to score Cadillac its first overall win at the Le Mans 24 Hours.

“I started growing the program. I added the Camaro GT4 program and then in 2021 added Corvette to my role, and from there we began working on LMDh, the GT3 program. There has been huge growth.

“I’ve been lucky in my position. I sit in an area of authority with the budget, working with teams. I’ve loved everyone that I’ve worked with. The respect is given and received.”

Bianca Janas has moved from feeding the race crews to feeding the race cars. Richard Prince/Cadillac photo.

Meanwhile, in Cadillac’s garage, Bianca Janas holds the position of fueler. Remarkably, she joins the WEC having served as a truckie for Ferrari’s Formula 1 team and a caterer at race events.

“I actually started in motorsport doing catering in DTM, and I did that for a decade before moving to do catering in WEC and Formula E for a few years,” she relates. “But I wanted more than that, so I found a job doing the tires last year and I obtained a truck license, which led me to pursue driving trucks in Formula 1. That gave me lots of opportunities.

“I did the European F1 races, but I was there for setup and packup, so I missed the race days, which I didn’t like. I always liked the logistics, though, and being part of a team is so different.

“That’s when I found a way to the Cadillac program. I’m new to the team but I have plenty of responsibilities. I am a garage technician as well as a refueller and do a little bit of everything. I enjoy the high level of performance and pressure.”

Janas works alongside Elise Moury, who is the No. 2 car’s strategy engineer and brings a wealth of motorsport experience to the program. Her route to the WEC began in GT racing, working with Team WRT in Blancpain GT, before moving to single-seaters, where she spent the bulk of my time in GP2 with Russian Time and Prema.

“But after a while,” she tells RACER, “I had a crazy idea with my husband to start a race team. We started that journey in 2018 with a team in Formula Renault. That’s stopped now, as I’ve moved into working at the Nurburgring around the 24 Hours, working as a data engineer, performance engineer, and team manager.

“But now my job has changed and I do the strategy for Cadillac, through previous experience working with Earl Bamber (who drives for Cadillac in the WEC). It’s been quite a journey, as initially when I was young I wanted to be a chemist, but I was really good at mechanical engineering and I had a teacher who motivated me to pursue an internship, which I did with Sebastien Loeb Racing in the ELMS. It’s an illness — once you’re in you can’t escape.”

If the racing bug is an illness, Cadillac race strategist Elise Moury is happy to be sick. Richard Prince/Cadillac photo.

As a strategist, her work now sees her prepare for each race ahead of travelling and working up reports after each session.

“A lot of my work is analysis before a race weekend — on pace, tire degradation, fuel consumption — before validating it when we get on track. It requires a lot of communication with key members of the team.

“During the race, it’s more exciting, as I’m working under pressure and I need to be prepared for any situation so we can react quickly. It’s all about experience and working out what we can do to improve.”

Corvette Racing’s GT3 program, meanwhile, is headed by Christie Bagne, who also brings an engineering background to the role. But her story in motorsport doesn’t start in the classroom, but instead, at local car meets in her hometown of Detroit.

“This is a long story… You may need to chop all this down!” Bagne laughs. “I grew up in Detroit. Lots of car people… Woodward Avenue… All the teenagers around me were interested in cars. And I loved the parking lot car scene — cars and coffee, that sort of thing.

“I had an old 3 Series that I modified and took to a track day for the first time when I was young, and to me, that was the coolest thing. And then I went to college and my bachelor’s degree was actually in neuroscience. But everyone was in pre-med and I was like, ‘Where are my car friends?’”

Christie Bagne’s days in SCCA racing and car clubs led her to a new phase of a career in motorsports with Chevy. Sean Rice photo

So she started a car club, with meets taking place at local parks, before a Chevy dealer offered to allow the club to meet on its premises every Tuesday in Ann Arbor.

“We had like 40 people coming to those nights,” she continued. “It was such a good place to network while I was doing my degree. I met so many engineers from Ford, Toyota and GM and lots of people working at oil change shops.”

That evolved again when Bagne had a request to run a track day via a club member who had moved from Utah to Michigan.

“That,” she says, “is when it really escalated. I wanted to get better as a driver; I wanted to make my car better. I got a Subaru WRX and took part in 21 track days in two years. I had to house-sit like crazy to fund this adventure! I wasn’t working on cars growing up, then all of a sudden I was changing brakes on weekends and modifying my car. That was how I learned about performance cars.”

After completing her degree, she realized that auto engineering was her calling. “I went back to study at Kettering University, which used to be General Motors Institute, in Flint, Michigan, and did a mechanical engineering degree there.”

This led her on a path to GM in 2018, and getting her SCCA license at Waterford Hills Competition School and ultimately to head of the GT3 program, via the production side of the business.

“I knew I wasn’t going to get to a professional level as a driver, but I loved it, visiting lots of great circuits,” Bagne relates. “I moved to GM Motorsports in 2021 — it wasn’t easy as there are so few motorsport jobs. I knew I liked the low-volume, high-tech spaces, so I ended up working on the autonomous side for a little while, then GM’s automated highway driving systems, before I was hired to work for Laura (Wontrop Klauser) as an assistant during the Cadillac DPi program, the GT4 and C8.R program.

“I got to see the transition at GM from having more of a program manager based on a marketing structure to having an in-house engineering team in motorsports. It made me passionate about customer racing, the team dynamic, winning and losing. It got me to where I am now with GT3 — it was a natural evolution for me to take over that program.”

Elsewhere, the lead mechanic on TF Sport’s No. 82 Z06 GT3.R is Sophie Bull, who worked her way up to the WEC after a stint in the British Touring Car Championship paddock. This step has allowed her to achieve her dream of touring the world with motorsports.

“I studied at a college for two years and was given a chance to do a road car apprenticeship with a motorsport team,” she says. “It was really hands-on, and it was a challenge, and when that finished I went freelance, working for various teams before landing on my feet at a top team in the BTCC.

“There I did five years, started as a number two mechanic for three years and then moved to number one. But while I did that I did flyaway freelance work and that made me want to do the WEC. TF Sport is based near where I live, and I had people tell me to speak with Tom (Ferrier, team owner).

“So at the start of 2022, I emailed Tom — I told him I really wanted to work for him, but let him know I had signed with a team for the season already. I bugged him again halfway through the year so he knew I was still there, and when the BTCC season finished, emailed again about 2023 and he offered me a trial in December which led to my job within the team which I hold today.

“Ultimately, had TF not given me the chance I’d have stayed in touring cars, but I only wanted to work in WEC if I could work for a team like Tom’s. It’s a very different experience, prepping a car for races longer than six hours after working on cars that need to last just 20 minutes. You have to be a lot fitter and it’s a lot more physical with pit stops.

“But the new Corvette is a great car to work on. It’s well-produced and has come out of the box fast. It just needs TF-ing! Some finishing touches.

Sophie Bull is looking forward to helping in the TF-ing of the Corvette Z06 LMGT3.R she oversees as lead mechanic. JEP/Motorsport Images

“I love it. You couldn’t do it if you didn’t,” Bull says. “It was a big step but I’m thrilled to be doing it. And the team environment is fantastic. People see me for the job I do, they don’t see me as a woman.”

Having had these conversations, what is most encouraging is that the culture which surrounds GM’s sports car programs is overwhelmingly positive and progressive. Laura Wontrop Klauser is hugely proud of the way GM goes racing in sports cars, but she doesn’t necessarily think of her division as a leader in this area. That in itself is a telling sign that the sport is moving in the right direction organically.

“I have learned a lot, and I’ve been a woman longer than I’ve been in motorsport,” she notes. “Awareness in this area needs to be raised because we often seek out people that remind us of ourselves. But gender doesn’t have to be a barrier when you’re hiring people.

“Sometimes you have to remind people to pull their eyes up and think about all the reasons why any candidate can bring something positive to an organization. You have to think: “Am I judging someone too harshly because they don’t fit a mold, or am I not judging someone enough because they do fit a mould that I am expecting?

“We have always operated the way that I feel is right. But it’s not just me — it’s not the me show. We move as a team at GM and we do what makes sense to us. What’s interesting to me is that so many people have pointed out that the way we go racing is different.

“We are doing what we think makes sense and It’s been an absolute privilege.”

Story originally appeared on Racer