The automotive world has no lack of legends. Think Mario Andretti, Lewis Hamilton, Carroll Shelby—all figures deservedly praised. But, there are many more who aren't so well known yet whose importance can't be understated. This is a look at just a handful who've made the automotive world, the world at large, a better place.

Leena Gade

Thanks to the Audi-produced documentary Truth in 24 II, Leena Gade is best known for being the first female engineer to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Her team won in 2011, 2012, and 2014. But her accomplishments are more numerous. Gade, who was born in England and grew up obsessed with racing, became a race engineer in 2006 with a privateer Le Mans team and moved to Audi a year later. In 2018, she joined the Canadian race engineering firm Multimatic, where she serves as race engineer for Mazda’s IMSA Daytona Prototype International effort, helping turn around the struggling program, and manages Multimatic’s U.K. Vehicle Dynamics Centre. She is also the president of the FIA’s GT Commission and set to be lead engineer for McLaren’s Extreme E program.

leena gade
Leena Gade
Photography by Jon Enoch

This story originally appeared in Volume 9 of Road & Track.


Motorsport has traditionally been a white man’s game, and Gade’s success as a woman of Indian descent is unprecedented. No other woman—engineer or driver—has won the 24 Hours of Le Mans. No other woman has won the FIA World Endurance Championship’s Man of the Year Award, as Gade did back in 2012. The irony of the honor was lost on no one. At first, Gade wanted to be no different from anyone else on a team, to be treated as an equal. But she has undoubtedly become a role model to many, which she’s come to accept over the years.

The lack of female representation in motorsport is a problem that likely won’t be solved in the near term, but thanks to Gade’s success, the tides are turning.

sangyup lee
Sangyup Lee
Photography Reto Sterchi

Sangyup Lee

Hyundai Motor Company embraced design under the auspices of Peter Schreyer and Luc Donckerwolke, both poached from the Volkswagen Group. Now it’s become a design leader thanks to SangYup Lee. The Korean-born Lee joined Hyundai in 2016, and he’s since helped codify a strong, distinctive design language for the luxury brand Genesis and pushed boundaries with the Hyundai marque. One look at either brand’s lineup makes it clear that Lee is a star.

Before joining Hyundai, Lee did the exterior design of the wildly successful fifth-gen Chevrolet Camaro and the Bentley EXP 10 Speed 6 concept. At Hyundai, two recent models in particular show off his range. The Hyundai Ioniq 5, a retro-futuristic crossover EV, takes inspiration from

early hatchbacks, especially those of Giorgetto Giugiaro, who designed the Hyundai Pony. On the other end of the spectrum, the Genesis X concept, an electric grand tourer, could be a direct descendant of Seventies Pininfarina coupes like the Peugeot 504 and Fiat 130. But while both of these new vehicles draw from the past, neither is a pastiche.

“When we talk about the future we believe it will be very different, but this also creates uncertainty and worry,” Lee wrote in a Car Design News op-ed. “What things will change? The world-famous product designer Dieter Rams said, ‘The future is the result of the past,’ so before we create a future, we always look back at what we have achieved.”

As we head into an uncertain automotive future, Lee is the sort of person we want designing it.

The Doctors Terry Trammel and Stephen Olvey

terry trammell
Terry Trammell
Photography by Jenny Risher
stephen olvey
Stephen Olvey
Photography by Mary Beth Koeth

For decades, American open-wheel racing was the source of much motorsport innovation, including in safety. That’s thanks largely to Dr. Stephen Olvey, a neurosurgeon, and Dr. Terry Trammell, an orthopedic surgeon. The biggest names in IndyCar owe their continued careers—and in some cases, their lives—to these two doctors.

Olvey grew up in Indianapolis and began attend- ing the Indy 500 as a kid. The speedway was the first racetrack in the world to have an on-site medical facility, and as a med student at Indiana University, Olvey volunteered his services during the 500. There he met Dr. Thomas Hanna, who ran the center and hired Olvey to be the on-track doctor. That led the USAC, the sanctioning body for American open-wheel racing, to bring on Olvey as a traveling doctor, ensuring that drivers received the same level of care at all tracks. Olvey also standardized post-crash procedures by creating the modern rapid-response safety team.

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Trammell came into the picture in 1982, when, while on call at an Indianapolis hospital, he saved Danny Ongais’s feet after a crash at the Indy 500. He later joined the CART paddock to attend to foot injuries, which were alarmingly prevalent.

Not only did Olvey and Trammell treat drivers, but they also methodically improved safety to prevent injuries. Under their leadership, chassis were lengthened to protect drivers’ feet, concussion protocols were implemented, HANS devices were mandated (before any other race series), and more. It’s impossible to count the number of lives—not just in IndyCar, but in motorsport as a whole—saved by their work. For more, watch Rapid Response, a 2019 documentary based on Olvey’s memoir of the same name.

justin wilson
Justin Wilson
Photography by Johnathan Perry

Justin Wilson

The best you can hope for after a death in motorsport is that some good will come out of it. The 2015 death of popular IndyCar racer Justin Wilson was undeniably tragic. Yet as an organ donor, Wilson was able to save five lives. Organ donation wasn’t talked about much in the motorsport world, but after Wilson’s death, his younger brother, Stefan, partnered with the Indiana Donor Network to start Driven2SaveLives to raise awareness.

While Stefan Wilson is no longer involved, Driven2SaveLives sponsored his Indy 500 entries in 2016 and 2018, as well as Pippa Mann’s in 2019. The family of IndyCar and dirt-track racer Bryan Clauson, who died in a 2016 midget race, also partnered with the program, and NASCAR Cup Series

driver Ryan Newman joined as a spokesperson after his horrific 2020 Daytona 500 crash. Registering as an organ donor might seem simple, but in the case of Justin Wilson, it’s a decision that can reverberate.

Wilson was a hero in his own lifetime. Nicknamed “Badass,” he had IndyCar wins at Detroit, Watkins Glen, and Texas—three of the toughest tracks in the series—plus a Formula 3000 title and a win at the Daytona 24 Hours. Perhaps more important, he campaigned for increased safety after the 2011 death of fellow IndyCar driver Dan Wheldon. Racers have to be selfish to achieve their aims, but it’s clear that Wilson was able to compartmentalize for everyone else’s sake—a badass in more ways than one.

kazunori yamauchi
Kazunori Yamauchi
Photography Courtesy of Sony

Kazunori Yamauchi

A generation of auto enthusiasts has Kazunori Yamauchi to thank. As the driving force behind the Gran Turismo video-game series, Kaz, as most call him, introduced Sony PlayStation owners to a world they might have never known. Gran Turismo was unlike any other mainstream racing game before it, with a high degree of realism and an absurdly long list of cars. It made legends out of the Nissan Skyline GT-R, Toyota Supra, Subaru WRX STI, and Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, and it introduced fans to tracks like the Nürburgring.

Gran Turismo is a reflection of Yamauchi’s genuine enthusiasm. He races in the Nürburgring 24 Hours, where he’s taken two class wins. Yamauchi is a well-known perfectionist, which has caused new iterations of Gran Turismo to be

delayed for months or even years. They’re typically worth the wait. Over its 25 years, the franchise has sold more than 80 million copies, becoming the most successful PlayStation exclusive in the process. Pending further delays, Gran Turismo 7 is set to arrive for PlayStation 4 and 5 in March.

The games have also pushed technical boundaries; the graphics in Gran Turismo 3 are still impressive two decades after its release. Gran Turismo paved the way for Microsoft’s popular Forza series and sims like iRacing and Assetto Corsa. And if you’re looking for more evidence of Gran Turis- mo’s influence, consider that this reporter spent many hours of his childhood with Gran Turismo 2, 3, and 4—and otherwise probably wouldn’t have written the stories you just read.