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DRIVING CHANGE: Women in Motorsport set to ‘explode’ in next 10 years

Women like Katherine Legge, ex-Formula E racer are convinced that female participation in motorsport is at a tipping point. “I think it’s going to explode in the next 10 years or so and I think we will see females in Formula 1 and all the top ranks of racing”.

“Over the time I’ve been in racing, it’s changed massively – back when I moved to the States in 2005, there was Danica [Patrick], and myself and Susie racing professionally and now there’s a lot more,” Legge told Autosport.

“I wish I was 20 years younger, honestly, because the opportunities now for women in racing are thousands of times more than when I first started”.

women in motorsport in 2022

In 2019 we saw the inaugural W Series championship, a sector of motorsport solely for female drivers. Despite Covid, the W Series ran a second season in 2021, both of which were won by Brit and Williams Formula One Racing Development Driver, Jamie Chadwick. Having a designated women’s series is a huge step for motorsport, and no doubt triggered the emergence of the first Extreme E season in 2021, of which comprises a team of one male and one female driver.

There’s momentum driving increased participation and now is the time to accelerate the level and profile of female involvement in motorsport. With a track record dominated by men, things are about to change. Will we see more dedicated women’s leagues and drivers who make it to the top drive positive change for women in motorsport? Let’s explore what’s happened to date and the exciting road ahead.

The growth of women in sport

More than ever, female international sports stars are being acknowledged for their achievements. The USA has led the charge, with soccer stars like Megan Rapinoe, the Williams sisters, who have dominated tennis for two decades, and the extraordinary gymnast Simone Biles. These athletes have positively promoted the value of women in sport, and tackled a number of controversial issues around gender discrimination. They have driven change; gaining support from within sporting organisations, the media and sponsors. They have helped the sporting world to recognise the potential of having higher levels of female participation in sport.

Broadly speaking, Australia is one of the world’s leading countries when it comes to the growth of women’s sport. We have produced international sporting stars like Sam Kerr, who plies her trade for soccer superpower Chelsea FC, and the recently retired tennis start Ash Barty, who dominated this year’s Australian Open. Our cricket team recently won every game at the Women’s Cricket World Cup. These sports have provided opportunities for our female athletes to become leading role models for young women to consider sports careers. Increasing coverage of women’s sport means more exposure to their stunning skills and positive personalities.

team of women in motorsport

As motorsport fans, this surge in the level of growth, coverage and participation by women in other sports gives us reason to consider ways to grow auto sports in a similar way.

Women in motorsport

The history of women in motorsport is a fascinating one. Going all the way back to the invention of the automobile, and then in the late 1950s as racing was taking off, Maria Teresa de Filippis competed in no less than five Formula 1 Grand Prixs. Despite being excluded from the French Grand Prix, de Filippis felt she had not experienced much prejudice in motorsport because of her gender, albeit some surprise at her success.

Michèle Mouton, who is considered by some to be the greatest competitive female driver of all time, now presides over the Women in Motorsport Commission. This was created to promote and grow the participation of women in motorsport. Mouton believes “there are already a number of highly successful women working in our sport, but we also need to invest in the future and encourage the younger generation to view it as a world of equal opportunities”. Indeed, equal opportunities for women in motorsport would lead to great success, if her second place finish in the 1982 World Rally Championship is anything to go by.

In more recent times, there are few more high-profile women in motorsport than Danica Patrick. For the best part of a decade and a half, she went wheel to wheel with her rivals in the IndyCar and NASCAR Series, making history at the Japan 300 in 2008 by becoming the first female race car driver to claim an IndyCar victory. Patrick’s long list of achievements also include a podium finish at the Indianapolis 500 in 2009 as well as claiming pole position for the iconic Daytona 500 in 2014. A true inspiration for all budding female drivers.

women in motorsport 2022 danica patrick

While there remains a relatively low level of women in motorsport, current influential female and male drivers, like Lewis Hamilton, are also championing the cause for change.

Hamilton, as the owner of the X44 Extreme E team has put both climate action and gender diversity in motorsport high on the agenda. Extreme E is one of the only series in which you have one male driver and one female driver per team, of which Hamilton is a vocal proponent. He has also outlined the importance of the new racing series in terms of spreading awareness of climate issues.

The Extreme E series is opening up opportunities for drivers like New Zealander Emma Gilmour, who became the first female driver signed up by McLaren, a top racing team and now manufacturer, founded by Kiwi Bruce McLaren almost 60 years ago.

women in motorsport 2022

Girls on Track in Australia

On the home front, we are seeing positive changes, which will assist the growth of women in motorsport in Australia.

For example, the FIA Girls on Track program is supported by Motorsport Australia. Schoolgirls ages 8-18 are able to participate in ‘Girls on Track’ events for free, that allow them to get involved in the fandom of motorsport. In addition, these events allow girls to get involved in some of the mechanics of the sport, by doing things like pitstop challenges, and even driving simulators. As one girl put it, “you don’t need to be a boy to have fun on tracks … and that no matter what you do there’s always something you can do that involves motorsport”.

FIA girls on track at sydney motorsports park

In addition to programs like FIA Girls on Track, there are a number of other organisations dedicated to growing female participation in motorsport.

Race Chix, for example, runs their own race school for females, and they hold a lot of events. Girls Torque encourages young female motorsport fans to follow their dreams, whether their “dream is to drive a race car, coach a team, wave a flag, work in the pits, or simply know that they have the choice to try.” They also provide talks, workshops and track days.

With such great organisations, the growth of female participation in motorsport feels like a guarantee. They help provide an opportunity for women to move beyond attitudes that have limited opportunities in the past, to a more inclusive and thriving environment.

Women’s competitions work

Where Australian women’s sport has thrived is in the determination to provide both quality and quantity. The AFLW has expanded rapidly in terms of size. Despite many fears fearing an increasing number of teams would dilute the quality on show, the competition remains extremely popular, and having more teams means the possibility of drawing in more fans who follow the same clubs in the men’s competition.

The Women’s Big Bash League has similarly been designed in the same mould as the men’s Big Bash League, with 8 teams. Last season’s most recent competition was comfortably the most popular. It seems there is a trend emerging; create women’s sport content, and Australian viewers will tune in.

Beyond that, what these competitions prove is that with proper funding and coverage, women’s competitions can be extremely helpful to overall enthusiasm around the sport. These sports are seeing an increasing number of female junior participants, and the genuine possibility that young girls can grow up and compete in their favourite sport professionally is a great motivation.

Women have already proven their ability to draw fans to the sport. Simona de Silvestro brought a huge profile to V8 Supercars when she formed with Renee Garcie the first female pair for the Bathurst 1000 in 2015. Superstar De Silvestro, who competed in IndyCar, Formula E and GT3 demonstrated, when given the opportunity, that female drivers can deliver the personality, competitiveness and excitement that grow fan bases and attract big sponsors.

women in motorsport 2022

There are so many female motorsport fans out there, and with the popularity of local women’s sporting leagues like the WBBL and AFLW it must be time to plan for our own dedicated women’s competition. It has the potential to be hugely popular and to help grow and strengthen the future of motorsport in this country, giving Aussie girls a pathway to be the next Daniel Ricciardo.

The Fastrack V8 Race Experience

The Fastrack V8 Race experience over the last 20 years has become a popular activity for motorsport fans and driving enthusiasts to get a ‘taste’ of an on-track real racing experience. While most participants are male, the Managing Director, Greg Evans is witnessing a significant increase in females getting behind the wheel in the last 5 years.

“When we started our V8 performance driving experiences in 2005, it was not uncommon to have male-only driving groups with less than 10% of women driving and many favouring to do hot laps, rather than drive. However, we’ve seen a big shift in patronage with women now looking to be in the driver’s seat and demonstrating their skills while enjoying the same exhilarating drive experience”.

“While the hot laps remain a popular option with females, there’s more young women buying their own drives or receiving the experience as a gift from family and partners. We now have female in-car coaches and the growth rate for women drivers at our events is currently 40% with many young women getting behind the wheel. Our coaches rate their performances highly and two women qualified as finalists in the Top 10 Shootout for the last Hot Laps Driver Audition. All women need is more opportunities to show how good they can be for motorsport.”

women in motorsport 2022

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