In 2010, 2011 and 2013, there have been at least four female drivers on the Indianapolis 500 grid.
Although up to three are possible for 2014, there’s a very distinct chance none of them will be in a full-time IndyCar driving role.
Simona de Silvestro’s decision to pursue Formula One, as a Sauber-affiliated driver, removes the only full-time female driver from the IndyCar grid.
Danica Patrick is the most famous female departure from IndyCar, when she left for NASCAR at the end of 2011.
But all of Katherine Legge, Pippa Mann and Ana Beatriz have made multiple ‘500 starts in the last few years, and none seems projected for a full-time ride at this juncture.
Sarah Fisher, a record nine-time ‘500 starter, is still active as a team co-owner with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, but has no plans to return to the driver’s seat.
Mann continues to work towards a partial season effort; meanwhile Legge, who races the DeltaWing coupe in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, no doubt could benefit from another IndyCar chance after being unceremoniously dumped by Dragon Racing on the eve of the 2013 season.
Beatriz, who I spoke to at the Rolex 24 at Daytona as she hoped to land a ride there (she didn’t after testing with the Starworks Motorsport PC class team), has said finding finances in Brazil is harder than ever. The four-time Indianapolis 500 starter raced seven events for Dale Coyne Racing in 2013, but the likeable “Bia” didn’t appear to have any IndyCar prospects in the pipeline.
Besides the IndyCar drivers above, Ashley Freiberg won the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge season opener at Daytona in a Fall-Line Motorsports BMW M3, but she too wasn’t guaranteed further races beyond that.
Freiberg has past open-wheel experience in both the Pro Mazda and Skip Barber Race Series, the latter of which she has an overall championship.
Even in NASCAR, Johanna Long has had to work harder to find sponsorship after the small ML Motorsports team shut its doors this offseason.
This all poses an intriguing shift from even a few years ago.
Whereby female drivers have, in the past, been able to garner opportunities by the pure fact they are female, and some initiatives have been created to help (namely TrueCar’s “Women Empowered” one in 2012), it now seems the game is nearly as hard for female drivers to find sponsorship to race as it is for males.
In some respects, that’s a good thing. We might not be there yet, but we might be closer to judging all drivers on ability level rather than picking and choosing based on gender, and the potential sponsorship package they bring.
Part of why de Silvestro was liked in IndyCar was because she was seen by some as the “anti-Danica.” They raced in the same series for two years and de Silvestro’s management team crafted her as a racing driver who happened to be female. But they found sponsorship for her just as well.
There will always be female drivers who push the “female” angle first, but ultimately, they’re all drivers first, and they’re all having to work just as hard to keep their racing dreams alive.