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Beyond a woman in motorsport: Leena Gade - an outstanding race engineer

Having recently published an article on the female drivers who have contributed to the history of one of the most legendary races in the world, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, we wanted to pay tribute to one particular woman who has left a lasting impression on the history of this race. Her name is Leena Gade.

Marcel Fässler, André Lotterer, Leena Gade (Vehicle Engineer Audi R18 e-tron quattro #2), Benoît Tréluyer at Le Mans 2014
Credit: AUDI AG

Leena Gade, born in the UK to parents of Indian origin, is a leading figure in motorsport. After studying engineering at the University of Manchester and graduating with a Master of Science in Aerospace Engineering in 1998, Leena started work as a vehicle refinement engineer for Jaguar cars.

However, Leena had other dreams. She and her younger sister, Teena, discovered Formula 1 in the late 1980s, and it piqued their interest - that's when they began imagining themselves as motorsport engineers. During her time at Jaguar, she worked part-time as an engineer in Formula BMW, A1 Grand Prix and GT teams.

"My sister and I really wanted to work as racing engineers. We never gave up. That's what we wanted to do in life. Every time someone said you can't do that or you don't have the experience to do that, we did it," Leena told Auto123.

To get where she is today, Leena has shown patience and discipline. From cleaning cars and tyres to making tea, she has done it all without losing sight of her goal.

“I never saw any task as a chore, it was something I had to do and every time I did it I made sure I learned something. If you think you know it all, I can guarantee you that it will come back to bite you in the face,” said Leena to

“You have to get as much experience as you can, because motorsport is a huge and very competitive thing, with room for people from all walks of life and with different interests.”

Leena Gade (Vehicle engineer Audi R18 e-tron quattro #7) - 24 Hours of Le Mans 2015
Credit: AUDI AG

She first discovered the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2006. At the time, she was with the Chamberlain Synergy Le Mans Prototypeteam. The following year, in 2007, she joined Audi Sport Team Joest, with whom she would go on to make history a few years later. Leena's road to success was built up in several stages. She did some mechanicing, then worked on data engineering. Over time, she became an assistant engineer. Then, in 2010, Leena became Race Engineer for Audi Sport Team Joest.

Leena Gade (Vehicle engineer Audi R18 e-tron quattro #7) - 24 Hours of Le Mans 2015
Credit: AUDI AG

Her role was to monitor and guide the team throughout the race: this included refuelling strategy, tyre pressures, fuel consumption, pressures and temperatures, R18 TDI settings, as well as track and weather conditions.

The 2011 Le Mans 24 Hours, held on 11 and 12 June 2011, is the third round of the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup (ILMC). The race saw a very close duel between Audi and Peugeot and constituted one of the tightest editions in the history of the event. Leena was in charge of the N°2 Audi R18 TDI, driven by André Lotterer, Benoît Tréluyer and Marcel Fässler.

The race was nothing if not eventful, with a host of spectacular accidents, including those involving the N°1 and N°3 Audis. Only one Audi was left on track to fight it out with the Peugeots: the one run by Leena.

Right to the end, the No. 2 Audi and the No. 9 Peugeot battled it out. As the chequered flag approached, the N°2 Audi and the N°9 Peugeot pitted on the same lap: a simple refuelling for Peugeot, a refuelling and tyre change for Audi. As a result, the gap between the two cars shrank from 24 to 7 seconds, giving Peugeot false hope.

In an interview with Motorsport Magazine, Leena said: "On the live feed you could see the Peugeot garage giggling because I think they thought they’d done it, but all of a sudden we changed tyres and left the pits with a gap of five, six or seven seconds on fresh rubber.

“They glanced back on the live feed to the Peugeot garage and you could see their faces – and then the gap started to increase. Then the Peugeot guys started crying.”

André Lotterer started the final lap of the race and the gap to Simon Pagenaud's Peugeot was as slim as ever. When Lotterer crossed the finish line, only 13.4 seconds separated him from Simon Pagenaud. This victory signalled another. That of Leena, whose magnificent running of the race made her the first female race engineer to win the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans race.

Leena, André Lotterer, Benoît Tréluyer and Marcel Fässler, were to repeat the feat the following year, in 2012. That same year, they won the first edition of the FIA World Endurance Championship, to which the 24 Hours race now belongs. She continued to work for Audi until 2016, taking a third and final win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2014 - again with the same trio of drivers.

Today, Leena is Senior Principal of McLaren Racing and Race Engineer for the NEOM McLaren Extreme E team. Her sister, Teena, also works for the team as a Vehicle Dynamics and Performance Engineer. Teena's career is equally impressive, as she has held a variety of positions and worked in different categories. In particular, she has worked for Formula 1 teams such as Scuderia AlphaTauri.

The Gade sisters also devote their time to promoting their profession to future generations, aware of the importance of representation: “Even if they don’t have a parent in STEM,” said Teena to Independent. “Give them a role model, a teacher, someone like that who can provide that, give them that passion so they can go off and do it. That applies whether they’re a minority, white, it needs to be clear for all children.”

Leena's achievements, like those of her sister Teena and all women in motorsport, are not confined to her gender. It goes far beyond that, because she is first and foremost an outstanding racing engineer. In 2012, Leena won both the FIA World Endurance Championship 'Man of the Year' award and the C&R Racing Woman in Technology award.

We say it regularly, but women have always been part of the history of the sport and always will be. The aim is to inspire younger generations and show them that their dream, their aspiration, has merit and is worth pursuing.

Remember: SEE. IT. BE. BE.


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