An international all-women’s race team has come together to take on an historic — some say the most grueling — event in boating: the 24 Heure Motonautiques de Rouen. And helping this global team of champions conquer the River Seine is global boat transport champion Peters & May.
In its 48th year, the 24 Hours of Rouen has had other all-female teams competing, but this year, for the first time it is an international team, including the first North American woman to enter the fray; Canadian Tammy Wolf, who was hand-picked by team manager Albert Hericher along with her teammates Bimba Sjoholm of Sweden, Norway’s Mette Bjerknaes and Marie-Line Henricher of France.
Hundreds of racers come to France each spring from around the world to compete in three classes of “tunnel boat” or ‘Formula” racing, with the speeds and G-forces similar to any other race. However, at Rouen, pilots turn the boat to the right and they do it in the dark.
The ladies will be racing a Moore hull pushed by a Mercury Racing OptiMax in Formula 2 (SST 120). The low-emissions engine was recently recognized with a UIM Environmental Award from the Union Internationale Motonautique, which sanctions the race.”We like the idea of multinational teams,” says Peters & May CEO David Holley. “Here, we have a global team, all women and the first North American woman to compete at Rouen; it’s exciting to be a part of something historic.”
Originally, the race was run for 24 continuous hours but following a deadly accident in 2010, a compromise extended the event over three days, still allowing for the nighttime format in which driver changes occur every two hours, still challenging the endurance of boat, engine and team.
Meet the Team
Marie-Line Henricher (France) is a Rouen veteran, having raced all three classes over 15 years. She was part of the 1997 all-French women’s Rouen team and in 1999 she married her team manager, Albert, at the “24 Hours.” With over 50 career podium finishes, she describes Rouen as, “The hardest, most demanding and magical race–unlike any other event on this earth.”
Mette Bjerknaes (Norway) has packed a lot of racing into a short career; advancing from V-25 in 2008 to Formula 4 and on to a third-place Formula 2 Norwegian Championship finish in 2011. Mette gets valuable coaching from her father, Morten, a former F1 pilot who competed in the “Paris 6 Hours” race in the 1980s and her race manager Pierre Lundin, Rouen winner in 2009. As the only female F2 pilot on her race circuit, she is, “excited to be competing in Rouen with three other speed-loving ladies. It is especially wonderful that we represent four different countries–boat racing girls are found worldwide!”
Tammy Wolf (Canada) has been immersed in racing her entire life–her father working for Mercury Canada and her brother racing tunnel boats. As soon as she was able (1994), she took to the cockpit herself; working her way through Formula V, SST 90 and Formula 3 where she won divisional and regional championships as part of Tunnel Vision Racing with her husband Mark Jakob. “I’ve always wanted to go [to Rouen] just to watch,” she says, “I never expected to be given this incredible opportunity. To attend Rouen is an honor. To compete there is a dream.” The attention women racers receive has good points and bad points like anything else, “When we’re promoting a cause, like breast cancer awareness we often get more attention than the men, but the same is true if we make a mistake; every camera is on us.”
Bimba Sjoholm (Sweden) comes from another racing family as she grew up watching her father and brother race. A 2011 European Champion, she has acquired a number of podium finishes since she began racing in 1995. Racing at Rouen will fulfill “One of my biggest goals in racing,” she says, “I have heard so much about this prestigious race since I was little and I feel incredibly honored to participate in the first international women’s team. Hopefully, we are regarded as role models for others. In powerboat racing the men and women compete on equal terms.” Her training as a glassblower has striking similarities to racing: “it’s all about timing, deciding when something should be done and then acting.”.