Another milestone was reached on Saturday, as Andretti Autosport’s Jessica Mace was part of the over-the-wall pit crew that won the Indianapolis Grand Prix with Alexander Rossi.
Mace, a veteran of the team’s Indy Lights and IndyCar programs, changed the right-rear tire on the No. 27 Honda which Rossi drove to victory and she’s believed to be the first woman to win an IndyCar race — and among the first, if not the first, in any top-tier racing series — in a tire-changing role.
She joins a growing number of women racers in IndyCar this year whose names are becoming synonymous with winning. Prior to Mace’s win with Rossi, Chip Ganassi Racing’s Angela Ashmore became the first woman to win the Indy 500 in an engineering role with the No. 8 Honda driven by Marcus Ericsson.
And at Team Penske, Caitlyn Brown, who joined the team after making her IndyCar debut last year on the pit crew for Simona De Silvestro at Paretta Autosport, has earned four wins this season as the crewwoman going over the wall to remove the aeroscreen tear-offs on Josef Newgarden’s No. 2 Chevy. Brown also serves as a backup front tire changer on Newgarden’s car.
Better still, Mace’s excellent over-the-wall work came as part of a last-minute need for tire-changing talent and she was ready to step in and deliver for the Californian.
“Jessica has been off and on my car for over a year now filling in where necessary and she delivered in a big way last weekend,” Rossi told RACER. “She wasn’t originally scheduled to be going over the wall but when we needed, and without any repetitions in morning warm up, she got it done. Very proud to help her achieve her first IndyCar win and I know she has a lot more in her future.”
For Mace, who grew up close to the Mid-Ohio road course and spent her youth going to the racetrack to watch her grandfather compete in SCCA events, the roots of becoming a motor racing mechanic started by helping her father to work on everything from Volkswagens to bulldozers.
Her first job in racing came in a team’s parts department, and after learning about all of the components that combine to make a complete car, she ventured into the mechanical side of the sport. A tryout with the former Arrow McLaren SP Indy Lights program opened the door to the sport, and from there, Mace has become a standout performer like the rest of the elite members on race-winning IndyCar teams.
“It was it was great for the guys; I haven’t been with them all year,” she said. “And a lot of guys have been with Alex for a couple years now. And I was just I was so happy for them. They’ve been working so hard and just dealing with a lot of things; they needed that so much Alex needed that.”
Mace knows it makes a difference for women to see other women doing the toughest task in an IndyCar pit stop and wants to be joined by more of her sisters on pit lane.
“It does. I really [hope] there’s a lot of women that want to get into it,” she said. “There’s a lot more [women] on the engineering side. It’s just great and shows that hey, you girls can do this. You don’t have to be afraid of the guys or that really big tire. Just work for it and do it. Once anyone sees you have the ability, you’re going to get those opportunities time and time again. And the cards will fall right eventually, and you’ll win a race. And it’s a great feeling when it all comes together.”
Take a look at most IndyCar teams today, and there’s greater diversity to be found in so many roles compared to just a few years ago. As a whole, the series making visible progress in becoming a greater reflection of everyday life with crew members who hail from all corners of the country and world.
“Super-happy for Jessica,” said Andretti COO Rob Edwards. “She changed a tire on Jacques Villeneuve’s car at the Indy 500 in 2014 and has always been a solid tire changer. Jessica has been on the Indy Lights team for the last few seasons and she moved across to the IndyCar crew this year. We’re proud to have another opportunity to showcase our philosophy of hiring ‘the best person for each position,’ regardless of gender or ethnicity.”
UPDATE: As is the case with the achievements of women and people of color in racing where incomplete documentation exists, it often takes the publishing of a story like this to learn more about the unsung predecessors who deserve recognition. This certainly applied to Tess Gape, who was identified by one of her former colleagues as being the first woman in IndyCar to win a race as a tire changer with Ryan Hunter-Reay’s victory at Surfers Paradise in 2003 while driving for the American Spirit Team Johansson outfit. And like Mace and Gape, the door is always open for more women to be hailed as the first if and when their names are put forth.
Catch the full conversation with Mace below: