LONDON (Reuters) - Sarah Bovy had some doubts when she and her team mates were told they would be racing in pink suits and a pink-liveried car this season, but success on the track with the Iron Dames swiftly dispelled any misgivings.
The 33-year-old Belgian driver wrote her name in motorsport history at the Monza Six Hours last month as the first woman to secure a pole position in an FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) race.
The team were second in class, becoming the first female team on a WEC podium, and at last weekend's 24 Hours of Spa delivered again in winning the Gold Cup category by a three lap margin in a Ferrari 488 GT3 EVO.
That was the first time in the 98-year history of the Belgian event that a female GT3 crew had taken a class win, and the team of Bovy, Denmark's Michelle Gatting, Swiss racer Rahel Frey and France's Doriane Pin are also leading the GT World Challenge in their class.
"We were like 'if we go full pink we need to deliver'," Bovy told Reuters, recalling those pre-season discussions about the livery.
"Otherwise we will just be seen as the girls who tried to attract attention by having a colourful car and playing the full female lineup cards too often.
"I think the team decided to go for it because they knew we had the potential to achieve some great results... Now, with everything we achieved this season already, I’m super-happy we went with that colour. We own it."
The Iron Dames compete in the GTE Am class as part of a project founded in 2019 by French entrepreneur and racer Deborah Mayer, who also heads the governing FIA's Women in Motorsport commission.
The project's aim is to support and provide inspiration to women active in motorsport. The Iron Dames team managers in various championships are female, as are many of the mechanics and marketing.
Bovy hoped success would have a positive impact -- not just in showing that women can compete alongside men but also encouraging more female involvement in all areas.
"What I hope is that it will also encourage other women and potential sponsors to see it is actually possible," she said.
The evidence from around the racetrack and on social media showed more and more interest from young girls wanting to engage with the sport.
"I often say that none of us started to do motorsport because we wanted to have a cause for women in motorsport. We are racing because we are racers, we love it," said Bovy.
"But when you are part of a project like Iron Dames you realise quite quickly that everything you are doing, every result you are bringing is important for something that is bigger than you.
"Where does it stop? How much can we do? I really don’t have an answer to that but we will keep fighting for results and keep sharing with our followers."
A podium in the GTE Am category at the 24 hours of Le Mans remains a target, with the Iron Dames fighting back to seventh this year, and 40th overall, after an early puncture.
"We have a lot of races coming, we still have quite a few opportunities to fight for nice positions and definitely the expectation will be even higher now that we have showed that we can win races," said Bovy.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ken Ferris)