ST JAMES: A landmark week for women in racing

Skibinski/IndyCar

ST JAMES: A landmark week for women in racing

Insights & Analysis

ST JAMES: A landmark week for women in racing

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On Tuesday, a press conference was held at Indianapolis Motor Speedway announcing the introduction of Paretta Autosport, a female-led IndyCar team set to debut at the 105th running of the Indianapolis 500 with veteran racer Simona de Silvestro in the cockpit powered by Chevrolet, and technical support provided by Team Penske.

The team is an extension of IndyCar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s Race for Equality & Change initiative announced last July. Paretta Autosport will integrate women into the team to ensure that it provides opportunities in all areas of the racing organization. While not able to announce further races, the intention is to develop the team to be able to run a full season in the future.

Beth Paretta (pictured above) has a long history as an automotive and motorsports executive, holding leadership roles at FCA’s (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles) SRT (Street and Racing Technology) where she was the first female executive to lead a performance brand and an OEM in motorsports. While she led FCA/SRT they earned three national championships: in 2012 the NASCAR Cup Series championships for Dodge with Team Penske, in 2014 the IMSA GTLM championships with the factory Viper GTS-R program and the Trans Am championship with the Dodge Challenger TA2. Prior to that she was Aston Martin’s East Coast operations manager, often calling on Penske Automotive.

In 2016 Beth announced the launch of Grace Autosport with the intention of campaigning an all-female team in the 2016 Indianapolis 500 with Katherine Legge as the driver. Although that program was never realized, she has had a long passion for education and focused Grace Autosport on STEM educational programs.

One thing I found noteworthy is how building positive, long-term relationships is critical to success. Having formed a relationship with Roger Penske enabled her to approach him after the announcement of the Race for Equality & Change initiative. This is a ground-breaking opportunity for tremendous growth in IndyCar racing as well as opening doors and creating opportunities for women to pursue a career in various areas of motorsports. This program checks all the boxes for success: experienced leadership, commitment to opportunities, and support from the top.

With mixed-gender driver pairings built into the regs, Extreme E will offer a huge platform for women racers. Image via Extreme E

IMSA

Another important program was the announcement that IMSA championship-winning driver Christina Nielsen and multiple race-winning sports car and open wheel racer Katherine Legge will be joining forces with former Le Mans 24 Hour-winning Kiwi Earl Bamber and former Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA driver Rob Ferriol behind the wheel of Team Hardpoint EBM’s GTD class Porsche 911 GT3R for the IMSA 2021 Rolex 24 at Daytona.

While both women drivers are veterans of the Rolex 24 and were teamed with two other women drivers (Rachel Frey and Tatiana Calderon) in 2020, this year they are teamed with an experienced team in a very competitive Porsche. Other partners include VB Enviro Care and Richard Mille, who has been a huge supporter of women racers with their all-women driver line-up, finishing 13th overall at the 2020 24 Hours of Le Mans in an LMP2 ORECA 07. I’m hopeful this program with continue for the season.

TRANS AM

It was exciting to see the first female driver to finish on the podium in the Trans Am TA2 Series, Michele Abbate, voted the Fan Favorite Driver in the Trans Am Series. This confirms how many fans love to see women drivers succeed in racing.

OTHER NOTABLES:

DAKAR RALLY

After Belgian racer Christine Beckers was the first woman racer to compete in the Dakar Rally in 1979 and German racer Jutta Kleinschmidt was the first woman to win the Dakar Rally in 2001, nine women were competing in this year’s Dakar Rally, including two from the United States.

EXTREME E

This new series will be racing electric SUVs around the world in a five-race environmentally conscious series. What makes it important for women in racing is that each race team must have two drivers – one male and one female — promoting gender equality and a level playing field. Chip Ganassi Racing (Sara Price) and Andretti Autosport (Catie Munnings) are among the eight teams en-ered. This is creating some great opportunities for women racers!

W SERIES

I’m very excited about the W Series being included as a Formula 1 support race. While the schedule continues to be adjusted due to COVID, I look forward to seeing women compete in this very competitive open-wheel series. I’ll be watching former Project Podium Grant recipients American Sabre Cook, along with 2014 F1600 champion Ayla Agren, compete against a strong field of 20 women racers from around the world! COTA is on the schedule, which will bring the series to the United States for the first time. You bet I’ll be there!

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