Smith: How women in motorsport are succeeding on a level playing field

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The debate surrounding women in motorsport has re-ignited in recent days following comments made by former Lotus Formula 1 development driver Carmen Jorda, who reiterated her call for an all-female championship to be created.

The idea was first floated by former F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone in 2015, who believed it would be a way to showcase women in motorsport and offer a better chance of making it onto the F1 grid. Jorda echoed her support days later, and has been an avid supporter of the idea ever since.

Jorda’s argument back then is the same as it is now. Other sports divide themselves into male and female brackets – take tennis, soccer, athletics – so why shouldn’t motorsport?

In short: because women do not need to be separated in motorsport. Because they have already proven they can fight on a level playing field for several decades.

Let’s get a few things out of the way first though.

First up: motorsport is still a male-dominated world. It is still seen as a ‘boy thing’. It is a perception that is changing gradually thanks to the excellent work of many women in racing, such as ex-Williams test driver Susie Wolff’s ‘Dare 2 Be Different’ campaign, but the number of boys who aspire to be involved in motorsport as kids will dwarf the number of girls significantly.

This does not mean boys are more talented than girls in racing. But it does mean that for every 20 kids who want to be racing drivers, there will be two or three who are female. As odds go, the number of girls who will make it as a professional or to the very pinnacle of racing are therefore much, much slimmer. Gender does not matter one bit when looking at the raw numbers.

“I think we will see more women coming in the future, but you’ve got to remember for any driver to get to F1 is tough, not just a female driver,” Wolff told me back in 2015.

“There are so few opportunities, there are so many people trying, and if there’s 500 guys trying to get to F1 and only five girls, the chances are you’re going to have more guys and less girls.

“I think for us it’s just about having this positive voice that says look, this isn’t just a man’s world. We’re here, and it’s about building that network where actually women see that it’s possible and doable.”

Susie Wolff during practice for the Spanish Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Catalunya on May 8, 2015 in Montmelo, Spain.

Divides between men and women in sports where physical ability are greater defining factors are a different. Take tennis for example. Back in 1998, Serena and Venus Williams claimed they could beat any male player outside the world’s top 200, leading to an exhibition against unknown German player Karsten Braasch. He beat Serena 6-1 and Venus 6-2, citing his ability to get to shots easier and put greater force into shots and spin on the ball as reasons for his success.

Racing is very different though. It is a highly physical sport, yes, but the greater deciding factors come in technical ability. This is why women are more capable of fighting on a level playing field.

Jorda’s comments are disappointing for a variety of reasons. Not only would segregating women in a sport which they have already met success set the movement back decades, but she is hardly a suitable figure to be speaking on behalf of an entire gender within an industry.

Jorda’s racing record leaves much to be desired. She has never won a professional motor race, and has scored just five podiums, all of which came in sub-classes of Formula 3 races. Her three-year stint in GP3 saw her finish no higher than 28th in the standings and record a finish no better than P12 in a race, not scoring a point. In 2014, she was one second per corner slower at Spa than the rest of the field.

Her move into an F1 role with Lotus was dubbed as a “marketing gimmick” by FIA Women and Motor Sport Commission chief Michèle Mouton. Jorda didn’t earn her drive, nor did she ever get the chance to drive an F1 car as had been planned. When Lotus became Renault, Jorda was shuffled out, but has retained links to F1 through its Paddock Club hospitality, for which she is an ambassador.

There are many more qualified and excellent women in racing who can and do fly the flag. They are doing their talking on-track where gender does not matter one iota. If you’re fast, you’re fast.

Drawing away from circuit racing, NHRA drag racing offers perhaps the clearest example of women being able to compete and succeed regularly in motorsport. More than 250 NHRA wins have been taken by women through the years, the most successful being Shirley Muldowney, who won multiple titles through the 1970s and ‘80s. Current female stars include Courtney Force, Alexis DeJoria and Leah Pritchett, all of whom are regular race winners.

Courtney Force after winning the Traxxas Funny Car Shootout. Photo by Richard Shute/Auto Imagery.

There are strong examples to be found in more traditional racing circles also. So let’s play a game. Here are 11 racing drivers of varying ages, disciplines, nationalities, successes and experience. Their names have been omitted, as have their genders. See if you can recognize which of them are women. Some may be giveaways to readers given their racing records.

Driver A: Two-time class champion in national sports car series, regular fixture at Le Mans.

Driver B: IndyCar podium finisher, title contender in IndyCar support series.

Driver C: Youngest ever British GT champion and winner of a 24-hour endurance race.

Driver D: STCC podium finisher and Audi DTM tester.

Driver E: F1 test driver, factory DTM driver.

Driver F: Indy Lights race winner and multiple pole-sitter.

Driver G: Four-time WRC rally winner, WRC drivers’ championship runner-up

Driver H: IndyCar race winner and pole-sitter, NASCAR pole-sitter

Driver I: German Formula 4 podium finisher, British Ginetta Junior championship pole-sitter and race winner.

Driver J: Star Mazda podium finisher, F1 development driver

Driver K: Atlantic winner, IndyCar veteran and Prototype and GT veteran, and a GT winner, in sports cars.

All 11 of these drivers have enjoyed some kind of success and boast a pretty decent resume, even if none are truly outstanding. It’s not possible to easily pick which are men and which are women.

So how did you get on? Let’s go through them one-by-one.

Driver A is Christina Nielsen, who last weekend clinched her second straight GTD class title in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship alongside Alessandro Balzan for the Ferrari-backed Scuderia Corsa team, having become the first woman to win a major full-season racing title in North America in 2016. Nielsen finished sixth in class at Le Mans last year.

Driver B is Simona de Silvestro. De Silvestro fought for the Atlantic Championship title in 2009, falling six points shy in the final standings, and moved up to IndyCar the following year. De Silvestro finished on the podium at Houston in 2013 before moving into Formula E, where she became the first woman to score points. After a brief test run with Sauber’s F1 Team, she is now racing in the Australian V8 Supercars series.

Driver C is Jamie Chadwick. Chadwick became the youngest ever champion in British GT last year, winning the GT4 title with the Aston Martin Beechdean team, as well as winning the Britcar 24 Hours at the age of 19. Jamie is now racing in British F3 and has scored one podium this season.

Driver D is Emma Kimmalainen, a Finnish racer who has been plying her trade in the Scandinavian Touring Car Championship for the past few years. Kimmalainen has three podiums in the series to her name.

Driver E is Susie Wolff, perhaps the most prominent female racing driver in Europe over the past 10 years. While her escapes with Mercedes in DTM weren’t exactly stunning, a one-off test with Williams led to an official role and her becoming the first woman to take part in a race weekend session for 22 years at the 2014 British Grand Prix.

Driver F is Pippa Mann, a driver who will be well-known to readers on MotorSportsTalk. Mann regularly appears at the Indy 500, taking a best finish of 17th in this year’s running, her sixth start. Mann took three poles through the 2010 Indy Lights season, including for the Freedom 100, ending the season fifth overall in the standings.

Pippa Mann leads Helio Castroneves on-track at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Picture: INDYCAR)

Driver G is Michele Mouton, earlier mentioned as the head of the FIA Women and Motor Sport Commission. Mouton took three wins through the 1982 season for Audi, finishing the year second in the championship – a championship filled with men fighting on the exact same playing field – falling 12 points short of the title. She remains the last woman to race in top-line rallying.

Driver H is, obviously, Danica Patrick. Patrick is perhaps the most visible woman in motor racing globally. After working her way up the ranks to IndyCar and winning the Indy Japan 300 at Twin Ring Motegi, Patrick moved over to NASCAR from 2010, taking her first pole in the premier championship, then the Sprint Cup, in 2013.

Driver I is up-and-coming youngster Sophia Floersch, Just 16 years old, Floersch already has a good deal of racing experience under her belt in Europe, and will be working her way up the ladder. She is definitely seen as one for the future.

Driver J is Tatiana Calderon. The Colombian racer started going up the Mazda Road to Indy ladder before moving across to Europe, where she now races in GP3 and is working in a development role with the Sauber F1 team.

Driver K is Katherine Legge. The first woman to win in Formula Atlantic did so on her debut and also took the new Acura NSX GT3 to two wins in IMSA this year, and shared the podium with Nielsen several times (pictured top of page).

All 11 of the drivers above are women. The pronouns and names in some of the descriptions may have made that obvious.

However, they were omitted for Jamie Chadwick – a gender-neutral name to only further the point that you cannot possibly see these drivers are women simply by their CVs.

All of these women have enjoyed some level of success in a male-dominated industry. All of these women are impressing and proving that, regardless of gender, if you have the talent to succeed, you can make it happen.

None of these women are looking for their own championship to fight on a level playing field – because they are already doing exactly that despite everything being thrown against them.

So let sleeping dogs lie. Drawing women away into a separate event may make for a nice exhibition to see who is the fastest female racer, but there would be few other positives to be gained. If women are already succeeding when going toe-to-toe with men, there’s no reason at all the change things.

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA – MARCH 28: Development driver Carmen Jorda of Spain and Lotus F1 walks in the paddock before final practice for the Malaysia Formula One Grand Prix at Sepang Circuit on March 28, 2015 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

Carmen Jorda is right about one thing, though. As things stand, men and women will never be equal in motorsport.

Why? Because women will always have come much further and fought against much greater barriers to make it to the top level. Their journeys are harder-fought, but that does not deter them.

And for that reason, their success is only all the more valuable and impressive.

Eli Tomac wins Houston Supercross: Hunter Lawrence takes early 250 East lead


With his 47th career victory and third of the 2023 season in Houston, Eli Tomac closed to within one win of tying Ricky Carmichael for third on the all-time Monster Energy Supercross list.

Tomac rebounded from last week’s crash by earning the holeshot in both his heat and the Main. At the start of the big show, he couldn’t shake Aaron Plessinger in the first four minutes and actually was in the process of losing the lead as a red flag waved for a crash involving Tomac’s teammate Dylan Ferrandis when he overjumped an obstacle and landed on Ken Roczen’s back fender as they raced for eighth.

“That was a tough race,” Tomac told NBC Sports’ Will Christien, referencing his loss to Chase Sexton in the heat. “And honestly, I was just beat down after that heat race and was searching quite a bit and was basically losing speed everywhere. I just rode better, straight up in the Main. I felt better.”

In their heat, Sexton passed Tomac at the two-minute mark and then simply rode away from the field. At the end, he had an almost eight-second gap on Tomac.

“It wasn’t great by any means,” Sexton told Jason Thomas. “I feel like the strengths I had all day, I really lagged in the Main event between the whoop and the sand section. I think I could have walked through it faster. It was still a good ride; it wasn’t great. I expected after the heat race he would be fired up.”

RESULTS: How they finished for the 450 Main in Anaheim 2

Jason Anderson scored his second consecutive pole, but he was not happy to finish third behind the two points’ leaders.

“We should be thankful every time we get to be up here,” Anderson said. “They’re making it tough on me, but all I can do is give my best.”

Tomac had to withstand a red flag and the distant second place finish in his heat to win the Houston Supercross race. In the post-race conference, he indicated that he did not make any changes to the bike and simply rode better.

Aaron Plessinger and Cooper Webb rounded out the top five.

Ferrandis was fitted with a neck brace, but still able to walk to the medical cart. He was still being evaluated by the medical staff as the night came to a close.

In 250s Hunter Lawrence entered the 250 East opener as the consensus favorite to win the championship this year with Christian Craig making the move into 450s and his brother Jett Lawrence in the West division. He answered quickly with a huge lead in Heat 1, but it almost went awry in the Main.

Lawrence got a good start, but he was passed early in the race by two-time MXGP champion (2020, 2022) Tom Vialle, who was making his Supercross debut this week. Vialle passed Lawrence on the first lap. When Lawrence tried to pass him back, Vialle scrubbed speed off a jump and pushed Lawrence wide, over the Tuff Blox.

Championships are made out of Lawrence’s response. He kept his composure and did not overcorrect before methodically working his way to the front.

“We had a little off track excursion. I wasn’t sure how hard across Tom was coming so I thought I’ll just go left, but then saw that was the side of the track. Thankfully I didn’t hit the Tuff Blox and got back on track safely. … Good start; put myself in position.”

Click here for full 250 East Main Results

Making a move from the 450 class to 250s, Max Anstie had immediate success. He finished second in his heat behind Jordon Smith and lined up with a great gate pick. He had to overtake Vialle in the opening laps and lost ground on Lawrence, that cost enough time to keep him from pressing Lawrence. This is Anstie’s first podium in the United States

“Honestly, I’ve dreamed of this for a long time to come up on these steps and man it’s a great feeling. I’ve really enjoyed the day and being on this 250, I feel like an 18-year-old kid. Everyday I’m learning.”

Smith backed up his heat win with a podium finish.

“It feels good to be back up here again,” Smith said. “It’s been a long time; a lot of injuries.”

Haiden Deegan proved the hype surrounding his debut in the 250 class was not unfounded. He finished fourth in his heat to advance to directly into the Main. During the early laps, he was circling the track in a podium position until a minor mistake sent him off the box. In the closing laps, he narrowly made an aggressive pass on Jeremy Martin and narrowly missed the podium with a fourth-place finish.

Martin held on to round out the top five.

Vialle was running in a podium position when went down with a 1:30 left on the clock. He ended his night seventh.

Chance Hymas was also making his 250 debut and scored a top-10 in eighth.

2023 Race Recaps

Anaheim 2: Triple Crown produces new winners Chase Sexton, Levi Kitchen
San Diego: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence double down
Anaheim 1: Tomac wins opener for the first time

Houston coverage

Houston by the numbers
Supercross unveils 16th edition of a Ricky Carmichael designed Daytona track
Power Rankings after week 3
Malcom Stewart out for “extended duration” after knee surgery
Haiden Deegan makes Supercross debut in Houston, Justin Cooper to 450s
Talon Hawkins set to relieve injured Jalek Swoll in Houston
Jalek Swoll out for an indefinite period with broken arm
Ken Roczen urgently needed a change
Chris Blose joins Pro Circuit Kawasaki in 250 East opener
Seth Hammaker to miss Houston with wrist injury
Jo Shimoda joins Seth Hammaker, Austin Forkner on injured list