Statistics: Formula 1 drivers at the Indianapolis 500

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The specialized nature of modern motorsports means that very few drivers cross into disciplines or series that are outside of their full-time ventures. Consequently, the practice for Formula 1 drivers entering the event while still running full-time efforts was considered a thing of the past.

However, from a historical perspective, the practice is nothing new. In fact, from 1950 to 1960, the 500-mile race, then known as the International 500-Mile Sweepstakes, was a staple on the Formula 1 World Championship calendar, meaning several drivers from that era have world championship points to their name, even if they never ran any other Formula 1 events.

That brings us to Fernando Alonso’s shock announcement of his Indy 500 effort, which will see him forego this year’s Monaco Grand Prix to compete in a joint effort between McLaren, Honda, and Andretti Autosport. Alonso will join a long list of drivers who have raced at least a full season in Formula 1 and made Indy 500 efforts. Below is a selection of such drivers.

Alberto Ascari
Indy 500 starts: 1 (1952)
Started: 19th
Finished: 31st (DNF)

In 1952, Alberto Ascari won every world championship event he entered except one. That one was the Indy 500 that year. Driving an effort fielded by the Scuderia Ferrari team with which he competed in F1, Ascari qualified 19th, but retired only 40 laps into the race following a wheel failure.

Juan Manuel Fangio
Indy 500 starts: None
(note: attempted to qualify in 1958, but withdrew)

Fresh off his fifth and final world championship in 1957, Fangio elected to try his hand at the Indy 500 in 1958. However, the then 47-year old was in the twilight of his career at that point, only entering three races that year. He ultimately withdrew from the “500” prior to qualifying and retired later that year.

Sir Jack Brabham
Indy 500 starts:
4 (1961, 1964, 1969, 1970)
Best Start: 13th (1961)
Best Finish: 9th (1961)

Although the Indianapolis 500 was no longer on the Formula 1 calendar, a number of drivers still entered the race in conjunction with their full-time F1 efforts. Exhibit A of this is Sir Jack Brabham, who made Indy debut after winning back-to-back F1 titles in 1959 and 1960. His initial run was a success, starting 13th and finish ninth. However, it was to be his best effort at the 2.5-mile speedway. He failed to finish his next three attempts, although he did add a third Formula 1 crown in 1966.

Jim Clark
Indy 500 starts
: 5 (1963-1967)
Best Start: 1st (1964)
Best Finish: 1st (1965)

Arguably the greatest driver who ever lived debuted at the “500” the same year he was to win his first Formula 1 title. Clark finished second on maiden voyage. He next effort some him qualify on the pole, but a suspension failure sidelined him 47 laps into the race.

In 1965, however, Clark conquered the famed Brickyard, leading a whopping 190 laps on his way to  decisive victory. Coincidentally, he missed the Monaco Grand Prix to do so, exactly what Alonso will be doing.

Clark finished second the following year in 1966 (although a scoring controversy lingers to this day) and recorded a DNF in 1967, his final Indy 500 effort, due to a piston failure.

Sir Jackie Stewart
Indy 500 starts:
2 (1966-1967)
Best Start: 11th (1966)
Best Finish:
6th (1966)

Sir Jackie Stewart debuted in Formula 1 in 1965, but made trips to the U.S. in both 1966 and 1967 for Indy 500 efforts. His 1966 run gave a hint that great things were to come. He led 40 laps before retiring ten laps from the end with a mechanic failure, but was still credited with a sixth place finish. His 1967 effort was not as successful; he started 29th and finished 18th after an engine failure. While he went on to become a three-time world champion, he never did return to Indy as a competitor.

Graham Hill
Indy 500 starts:
3 (1966-1968)
Best Start: 2nd (1968)
Best Finish: 1st (1966)

The controversial 1966 race that cost Clark his second “500” win saw Hill record his first. What’s more, the British driver recorded his victory on debut, something that was not matched until Juan Montoya did so in 2000. The two-time world champion failed to finish each of his next two starts and elected not to enter the race after 1968.

Denny Hulme
Indy 500 starts
: 4 (1967-1971)
Best Start: 4th (1971)
Best Finish: 4th (1967 and 1968)

New Zealand’s only world champion debuted at Indy the same year he won his world championship. He struggled in qualifying that year, taking the 24th spot on the grid. But, race day was a different story and he drove up to fourth at the end of he day. His second attempt was almost identical. He qualified 20th before again finishing fourth.

His next two efforts didn’t end as well. He dropped out with clutch problems in 1970, and after qualifying an impressive fourth in 1971, retired with a valve failure.

Jochen Rindt
Indy 500 starts: 2 (1967 and 1968)
Best Start: 16th (1968)
Best Finish: 24th (1967)

Jochen Rindt’s Indy 500 efforts were surprisingly poor given his driving talents. He qualified 32nd in 1967, barely making into the field, and fell out of the race with a valve failure (he is credited with 24th). Qualifying went better in 1968, as he took the 16th spot on the grid. But, he fell out of the race five laps in due to a piston failure (he is credited with 32nd).

Rindt did not compete in the 1969 and 1970 races before he was tragically killed at the 1970 Italian Grand Prix. However, even if he had survived, it is not a certainty that he would have tried running Indy again, as he was rumored to be considering retirement after the 1970 season.

Mario Andretti
Indy 500 starts: 29 (1965-1978; 1980-1994)
Best Start: 1st (1966, 1967, 1987)
Best Finish: 1st (1969)

The Andretti patriarch was already a mainstay in the American racing scene when he made his Formula 1 debut in 1968 (he entered the Italian and U.S. Grands Prix that year). But, his 1969 Indy 500 win, on the heels of his 1967 Daytona 500 triumph, catapulted him into the stratosphere of stardom. He continued to enter the event even while doing full-time F1 duty (this includes 1978, the year he won his world championship). Though he missed the 1980 event, he returned in 1981 and never left until he retired in 1994.

Mark Donohue
Indy 500 starts
: 5 (1969-1973)
Best start: 2nd (1971)
Best Finish: 1st (1972)

Not many know that Roger Penske and Mark Donohue fielded a Formula 1 effort. In fact, the combination even scored a podium in 1971 at the Canadian Grand Prix.

Still, they’re best known for their time in the United States. The Penske era in IndyCar arrived in 1969 when Roger Penske and his team, with driver Mark Donohue, entered the Indianapolis 500 for the time. Interestingly, it was not until their fourth attempt that they went to victory lane. But, it was a “breaking of the dam” moment for Penske, whose operation has gone on to win 15 more “500s,” along with a host of other accomplishments. Donohue was tragically killed in 1975, but his legacy lives on as the driver who helped spark the Penske dynasty.

Emerson Fittipaldi
Indy 500 starts
: 11 (1984-1994. Note: 1995 was the 12th time he entered, but he failed to qualify)
Best Start: 1st (1990)
Best Finish: 1st (1989, 1993)

Fittipaldi’s Formula 1 career ended in disappointment (he never won a race after he left McLaren following the 1975 season). But, upon embarking on an IndyCar venture in 1984, his career was reignited, particularly after he joined Patrick Racing. In one of the most famous battles ever, Fittipaldi secured his first “500” triumph after dueling with Al Unser Jr., a duel that ended with Little Al up against the wall. Fittipaldi added another win in 1993 with Team Penske (he controversially declined to drink milk in Victory Lane that year, opting for orange juice instead). He was on his way to a possible third win in 1994 before a late-race crash, which ironically allowed the aforementioned Little Al to win. Fittipaldi failed to qualify in 1995 before his career ended in 1996 following a crash at the Michigan 500.

Danny Sullivan
Indy 500 starts
: 12 (1982; 1984-1993; 1995)
Best Start: 2nd (1988)
Best Finish: 1st (1985)

Some may be surprised to learn that Danny Sullivan has Formula 1 experience. Following his IndyCar debut in 1982, Sullivan signed with Tyrell Racing (then known as Benetton Tyrell Team) for the 1983 Formula 1 campaign. Though he had a best finish of fifth, the season was largely a disappointment and he returned to IndyCar in 1984.

Sullivan’s career flourished, its signature moment being his 1985 “Spin and Win.” Sullivan continued through 1993 before a brief sabbatical in 1994. He returned in 1995, but his career ended with a crash at the Michigan 500 that year.

Roberto Guerrero
Indy 500 starts: 14 (1984-1988, 1990-1999, Did not qualify in 2000 or 2001)
Best Start: 1st (1992)
Best Finish: 2nd (1984, 1987)

Guerrero spent two fruitless F1 campaigns with Ensign and Theodore in 1982 and 1983 before coming Stateside to IndyCar, where the Colombian made his name for the better part of two decades. Guerrero’s run of four consecutive top-fives in his first four ‘500s is one of the best in history, including runner-ups to Rick Mears in 1984 and Al Unser in 1987. He recovered from a devastating testing accident in 1987 but had heartbreak strike twice more at Indy – crashing on the pace lap from pole in 1992 and crashing on the last lap in the Eliseo Salazar/Alessandro Zampedri mess in 1996. That fifth place in 1996 ended a nine-year drought outside the top five, but it was also his last best finish at Indy.

Teo Fabi
Indy 500 starts
: 8 (1983-1984, 1988-1990, 1993-1995)
Best Start: 1st (1983)
Best Finish: 7th (1994)

Fabi’s F1 career ran for parts of five season in the 1980s and his 1983 and 1984 Indianapolis 500s were intriguing ones. He qualified on the pole as a rookie in 1983 and then scored his first F1 podium at Detroit in 1984, not long after racing at Indy. The quiet Italian posted three straight top-10s to end his Indianapolis 500 career from 1993 to 1995.

Derek Daly
Indy 500 starts
: 6 (1983-1985, 1987-1989)
Best Start: 9th (1988)
Best Finish: 12th (1985)

Daly’s F1 career featured five on-and-off seasons between 1978 and 1982 and his IndyCar career followed, including six qualifications for the Indianapolis 500. Never a world-beater on the track, Daly’s career flourished afterwards with a successful commentary career for F1 and IndyCar races, his Derek Daly Academy, driver coaching and seminars, and of course, his son Conor who now races in the Verizon IndyCar Series full-time today.

Nelson Piquet
Indy 500 starts:
1 (1993. He entered the 1992 race, but withdrew following a practice crash)
Started: 13th
Finished: 32nd (DNF)

The three-time World Champion was near the end of his career when he arrived at the Indianapolis 500 in 1992. In fact, his career nearly came to an end that year after a devastating practice crash left him with badly injured legs and feet. However, he was able to return the following year to make a full effort. Unfortunately, he was saddled with the powerful but fragile Buick V-6. An engine failure on lap 38 sidelined him, leaving him 32nd in his only “500” start.

Nigel Mansell
Indy 500 starts
: 2 (1993-1994)
Best Start: 7th (1994)
Best Finish: 3rd (1993)

Few drivers have entered the Indianapolis 500 with as much fanfare as Mansell did in 1993. The defending Formula 1 world champion at the time, Mansell left F1 to race IndyCars with Newman/Haas Racing, which rivaled Team Penske for status as the strongest team on the grid.

Mansell won the ’93 IndyCar World Series championship, but his “500” effort fell just short. He finished third after an error on a late-race restart allowed both Emerson Fittipaldi and Arie Luyendyk to pass. Dennis Vitolo infamously eliminated Mansell from the 1994 race by crashing with him under caution.

Mansell returned to Formula 1 at the end of 1994 and retired the following year.

Jacques Villeneuve
Indy 500 starts: 3 (1994-1995; 2014)
Best Start: 4th (1994)
Best Finish: 1 (1995)

Before he became a world champion, Jacques Villeneuve was an IndyCar star, bursting onto the scene in 1994 and winning “Rookie of the Year” at that year’s Indy 500 by finishing second. He then won the 1995 race after a controversial restart, in which then leader Scott Goodyear passed the pace car before the race restarted.

Villeneuve then departed for Formula 1, where he won the 1997 world championship. However, his career fizzled from there and he left F1 in the middle of 2006. Since then, he has competed in several one-off events, including the 2014 Indy 500, where he finished 14th.

Stefan Johansson
Indy 500 starts: 3 (1993-1995)
Best Start: 6th (1993)
Best Finish: 11th (1993)

The Swede shifted Stateside from his successful Formula 1 career in the 1980s, where he scored 12 podiums in 79 career starts and finished as high as fifth in the World Championship in 1986, driving with Ferrari. Johansson made three Indy 500s with Bettenhausen Motorsports, the first two in year-old Penske chassis and the last one, in dramatic fashion, bumping Emerson Fittipaldi of Team Penske from the starting field… while in a backup Reynard chassis. He’s won overall at Le Mans and now has gone onto a successful post open-wheel career in sports cars, as a driver manager and as a watchmaker.

Mauricio Gugelmin
Indy 500 starts: 2 (1994-1995)
Best Start: 6th (1995)
Best Finish: 6th (1995)

After his F1 career, “Big Mo” made a pair of 500 starts with Chip Ganassi and PacWest Racing, the latter where he led a race-high 59 laps but faded to sixth at the checkered flag. One of the more underrated 500-mile drivers of his day, Gugelmin was rewarded with the first closed-course lap of more than 240mph at Fontana’s Auto Club Speedway when the track opened in 1997. True to his luck though, Gil de Ferran beat it in 2000, and that record stands to this day.

Christian Fittipaldi
Indy 500 starts: 1 (1995)
Best Start: 27th
Best Finish: 2nd

After his few seasons in F1, a then 24-year-old Christian was the only Fittipaldi to qualify for the 1995 ‘500 as uncle Emerson didn’t, and little did we know at the time it would be the last time a Fittipaldi would race at the Speedway with the split the following year. In Derrick Walker’s second car, Christian started 27th and made it to second.

Eliseo Salazar
Indy 500 starts: 6 (1995-1997, 1999-2001)
Best Start: 3rd (1996, 2000)
Best Finish: 3rd (2000)

The Chilean raced in F1 in the 1980s and made it to Indianapolis for the first time in 1995, posting an unheralded fourth place finish for Dick Simon Racing. Under the Team Scandia banner a year later, Salazar got caught up in the last-lap crash with teammate Alessandro Zampedri and Roberto Guerrero. His best start and finish came in 2000. Salazar became a driver manager after his racing career and recently worked with Indy Lights driver Santiago Urrutia.

Michele Alboreto
Indy 500 starts:
1 (1996)
Started: 12th
Finished: 30th

The likable Italian, Alboreto was a Grand Prix winner in the 1980s for Tyrrell and Ferrari, and finished second in the 1985 World Championship. His F1 career ended after 1994 and a couple years later Alboreto made his first and only Indianapolis 500 start, part of Team Scandia’s record seven-car lineup (an ex-Ferrari driver in a six-car lineup? You don’t say…). His race ended with a gearbox issue. Alboreto, tragically, lost his life in a testing accident with Audi in 2001.

Vincenzo Sospiri
Indy 500 starts:
1 (1997)
Started: 3rd
Finished: 17th

Vincenzo Sospiri is infamously known for being one of the ill-fated MasterCard Lola drivers in 1997. The woefully under-prepared outfit quickly folded after an abysmal outing at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, but Sospiri landed on his feet. With IndyCar experience from the previous year (he contested several events in the newly formed Indy Racing League), he returned to the U.S. in an Indy 500 effort with Team Scandia. He qualified an impressive third, but faded to 17th during the race. He contested sporadic events in both IRL and CART over the next two years before turning his attention to sports cars. He retired in 2001.

Juan Montoya
Indy 500 starts
: 4 (2000; 2014-2016. Scheduled to contest the 2017 race)
Best Start: 2nd (2000)
Best Finish: 1st (2000, 2015)

Chip Ganassi Racing was the first of CART teams to return to the Indy 500 following “the split.” Ganassi did so in 2000 with drivers Jimmy Vasser and Juan Montoya. Montoya was on the heels of the 1999 CART championship, and his Indy 500 effort was all-conquering, as he led 167 laps on his way to victory.

After winning races in full-time efforts in Formula 1 (2001-2006) and NASCAR (2007-2013), Montoya returned to full-time IndyCar competition in 2014. A speeding penalty hampered his 2014 Indy 500 return, though he did rebound to finish fifth. But, he triumphed again in 2015, outlasting Will Power, Scott Dixon, and Charlie Kimball to do so. Montoya crashed out in 2016, but is entered in a fifth Team Penske car for 2017.

Sebastien Bourdais
Indy 500 starts
: 6 (Scheduled to compete in the 2017 race)
Best start: 7th (2015)
Best Finish: 7th (2014)

One of the best drivers currently on the IndyCar grid, Sebastien Bourdais made his Indy debut in 2005 with Newman/Haas, who fielded one-off entries for Bourdais and teammate Bruno Junqueira in addition to their full-time Champ Car efforts.

Bourdais subsequently spent the better part of two years in Formula 1 with Scuderia Toro Rosso. His best result, though, was seventh (twice, in 2008) and he departed F1 halfway through 2009. After spending time with Peugeot Sport’s LMP program, he returned to IndyCar on a part-time basis in 2011 before making full-season efforts from 2012 onward.

For all his success, Bourdais has struggled at Indianapolis, only finishing inside the top ten twice in six starts (7th in 2014, 9th in 2016).

Enrique Bernoldi
Indy 500 starts:
1 (2008)
Started: 29th
Finished: 15th

A forgotten man of sorts, Bernoldi contested two seasons with the fledgling Arrows outfit before the team folded in the middle of the 2002 season.

He came to the U.S. in 2008, presumably to compete in the Champ Car World Series with Conquest Racing. However, reunification saw he and the team make the move to IndyCar. His Indy 500 effort that year was the only one of his career. He started 29th and finished 15th, and a troublesome season eventually saw him part ways with the team with two races remaining on the schedule.

Takuma Sato
Indy 500 starts: 7 (2010-2016)
Best Start: 10th (2011)
Best Finish: 13th (2013, 2015)

Takuma Sato made his name as a hard-charger in Formula 1, first with Jordan Grand Prix, where he finished a stellar fifth at the Japanse Grand Prix in 2002. He moved to BAR Honda, where he continued to in 2004 before fading in 2005. But, his hard-charging nature remained, as evidenced by his 2007 season with Super Aguri Honda, an effort highlighted by a sixth-place finish at the Canadian Grand Prix, where he coincidentally passed Fernando Alonso to do so.

He moved to the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2010 and has contested every Indy 500 since then. Perhaps the 2012 race most exemplifies his career. Sato had one of the fastest cars and pushed leaders Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti for the win. On the final lap, he tried diving inside Franchitti for the lead, only to crash in turn 1. He was credited with 17th that year, but gathered a lot of praise for his efforts.

Rubens Barrichello
Indy 500 starts
: 1 (2012)
Started: 10th
Finished: 11th

It was Barrichello’s long-time friend Tony Kanaan who brought him into the IndyCar mix in 2012. The two became teammates at KV Racing Technology, with E.J. Viso also running a third car. The effort saw Barrichello contest his only Indy 500 effort. The former grand prix winner started 10th and finished 11th in a quietly solid outing. However, he left IndyCar after the season ended and currently races stock cars in his native Brazil.

Jean Alesi
Indy 500 starts
: 1 (2012)
Started: 33rd
Finished: 33rd

Like Barrichello, another ex-Ferrari F1 man raced the Indianapolis 500 but unless you had good memory of the first nine or 10 laps of the race, you’d have probably forgotten it. Alesi was saddled in a woeful, if good-looking, Lotus entry with the Fan Force United team, and subsequently was black flagged just nine laps in owing to a lack of pace.

Max Chilton
Indy 500 starts: 1 (2016. Scheduled to enter the 2017 race)
Started: 22nd
Finished: 15th

Max Chilton was a rising star in Europe and eventually contested two full-season campaigns for the Marussia F1 team. He moved to the U.S. in 2015, when he ran Indy Lights, and joined IndyCar in 2016. His only “500” start saw him finish an unspectacular 15th, though his career is still young, meaning he’ll likely have plenty of chances to better that.

Alexander Rossi
Indy 500 starts: 1 (2016. Schedule to enter the 2017 race)
Start: 11th
Finished: 1st

Technically, Rossi does not have a full season of F1 experience to his name. But, as the defending Indy 500, his mention is more than noteworthy.

Last year’s unlikely winner was a possibly more unlikely participant when the year began. The Californian spent most of racing career in Europe and contested a handful of races with the Manor Marussia F1 Team at the end of 2015. Funding issues pushed him out of the seat, and it was a merger between Bryan Herta Autosport and Andretti Autosport that brought Rossi to the IndyCar ranks just before the season started. Yet, he made the most of his opportunity, using fuel strategy to score an upset win. Improved form in 2017 means he likely contend again this coming May.

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Heart of Racing program aims to elevate new generation of women to star in sports cars

women sports cars
Mike Levitt/LAT Images/Heart of Racing

(Editor’s note: This story on the Heart of Racing sports cars shootout for women is one in an occasional Motorsports Talk series focusing on women in racing during March, which is Women’s History Month.)

Heart of Racing driver and team manager Ian James says his daughter, Gabby, isn’t so interested in auto racing. But she is interested (as a New York-based journalist) in writing about the sport’s efforts and growth in gender equality

It’s a topic that also was brought up by James’ wife, Kim.

“They’re always saying, ‘Hey, you manage all these guys, and you help them, so why not a woman?’ ” Ian James told NBC Sports. “And I feel like there are a lot of women that haven’t had a fair crack at it in sports car racing.

Our whole DNA at Heart of Racing is we give people opportunities in all types of situations where there’s been crew personnel or drivers. And I felt like we hadn’t really addressed the female driver situation. I felt like there was a void to give somebody a chance to really prove themselves.”

During the offseason, the team took a major step toward remedying that.

Hannah Grisham at the Heart of Racing shootout (Mike Levitt/LAT)

Heart of Racing held its first female driver shootout last November at the APEX Motor Club in Phoenix, Arizona, to select two women who will co-drive an Aston Martin Vantage GT4 in the SRO SprintX Championship.

The season will begin this weekend at Sonoma Raceway with Hannah Grisham and Rianna O’Meara-Hunt behind the wheel. The team also picked a third driver, 17-year-old Annie Rhule, for a 2023 testing program.

The Phoenix audition included 10 finalists who were selected from 130 applicants to the program, which has been fully underwritten by Heart of Racing’s sponsors.

“We didn’t want it to be someone who just comes from a socio-economic background that could afford to do it on their own course,” James said. “We can pick on pure talent. We’re committed to three years to do this and see if we can find the right person. I’m very hopeful.”

So is Grisham, a Southern California native who has been racing since she was 6 in go-karts and since has won championships in Mazda and Miata ladder series. She has several victories in the World Racing League GP2 (an amateur sports car endurance series). The last two years, Grisham has worked as a test driver for the Pirelli tire company (she lives near Pirelli’s U.S. headquarters in Rome, Georgia, and tests about 30 times a year).

Starting with the Sonoma during SprintX event weekends (which feature races Saturday and Sunday), she will split the Heart of Racing car with O’Meara-Hunt (a New Zealand native she got to know at the shootout).

“It’s huge; the biggest opportunity I’ve had in this sport,” Grisham, 23, told NBC Sports. “Now it’s up to me to perform how I know I can. But I’m super lucky to be with such an amazing team and have a good teammate. The Heart of Racing has a family vibe and energy to it that’s really amazing. It’s super exciting. It’s hard to put into words.”

Grisham is hopeful that a strong performance eventually could lead to a full-time ride with Heart of Racing. The team has full-time entries in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and won the GTD category of the 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona with the No. 27 Aston Martin Vantage GT3 piloted by James, Darren Turner, Roman DeAngelis and Marco Sorensen.

James said “there’s no guarantee” of placement in an IMSA entry for Grisham and O’Meara-Hunt, but “if they prove themselves, we’ll continue to help them throughout their career and our team. The GT3 program is an obvious home for that. If they get the opportunity and don’t quite make it, we’ll be looking for the next two. The next three years, we’ll cycle through drivers until we find the right one.”

Grisham described the two-day shootout as a friendly but intense environment. After a day of getting acclimated to their cars, drivers qualified on new tires the second day and then did two 25-minute stints to simulate a race.

Hannah Grisham reviews data with Heart of Racing sports car driver Gray Newell during the team’s shootout last November (Mike Levitt/LAT).

“Everyone was super nice,” she said. “Once everyone gets in the car, it’s a different level. A different switch gets turned on. Everyone was super nice; everyone was quick. I feel we had an adequate amount of seat time, which is definitely helpful.

“It’s always cool to meet more women in the sport because there’s not too many of us, even though there’s more and more. It’s always cool to meet really talented women, especially there were so many from all over the world.”

IMSA has celebrated female champions and race winners, notably Katherine Legge (who is running GTD full time this season with Sheena Monk for Gradient Racing). The field at Sebring and Daytona also included the Iron Dames Lamborghini (a female-dominated team).

The Heart of Racing’s female driver shootout drew interested candidates from around the world (Mike Levitt/LAT).

James believes “a breakout female driver will be competing with the best of them” in the next five years as gender barriers slowly recede in motorsports.

“It’s been a male-dominated sport,” James said. “It’s still a very minute number of women drivers compared to the guys. I’m sure back in the day there were physical hurdles about it that were judged. But now the cars are not very physical to drive, and it’s more about technique and mental strength and stuff like that, and there’s no reason a girl shouldn’t do just as well as a guy. What we’re just trying to achieve is that there isn’t an obvious barrier to saying ‘Hey, I can’t hire a guy or a girl.’ We just want to put girls in front of people and our own program that are legitimate choices going forward for people.”

“There’s been some really good female drivers, but a lot of them just haven’t been able to sustain it, and a lot of that comes from sponsorship. I think (with the shootout), there’s no pressure of raising money and worrying about crash damage. We’ve taken care of all that so they can really focus on the job at hand.”

Funding always has been a hurdle for Grisham, who caught the racing bug from her father, Tom, an off-road driver who raced the Baja 1000 several times.

“I don’t come from a lot of money by any means,” she said. “So since a young age, I’ve always had to find sponsorships and get people to help me, whether it was buying tires, paying for entry fees, paying for the shipment of a car to an actual race. Literally knocking on the doors of people or businesses in my town.

“So yeah, it’s definitely something I’ve always struggled with and held me back because the sport revolves so much around money. So again to get this opportunity is insane.”

Rianna O’Meara-Hunt was one of two women selected by the Heart of Racing to drive in the SRO SprintX Championship this year (Mike Levitt/LAT).

Grisham credits racing pioneer Lyn St. James (an Indy 500 veteran and sports car champion) as a role model who has helped propel her career. She was hooked by the sights, smells and sounds of racing but also its competitive fire.

“There’s a zone you get in, that subconscious state of mind when you’re driving. It’s like addictive almost. I love it. Also I’m just a very competitive person as I think most race car drivers are.

“For sure I want to stay with the Heart of Racing. Obviously, I’m still getting to know everyone, but it’s a super family vibe. That’s how I grew up in the sport with just my dad and I wrenching on the cars. That’s what I love about this sport is all the amazing people you meet. And I think this is one of the most promising teams in this country. For sure, I want to learn as much as I can from them and hopefully continue. I feel so lucky and grateful to be one of those chosen.”