Column: Does motorsports really need an all-female racing series?

The W Series

Motorsports has always talked the talk – but not always walked the walk – when it comes to female racecar drivers.

Sure, there’s been tons of discourse over the years on giving opportunities to female racers — but in practice, well, not so much.

Look at Formula One: will it ever have a full-time female driver who will be successful going head to head with the likes of Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen and others? There have only been five female drivers in F1 history — all briefly, and the last being in 1992. That’s 26 years ago. Shame, shame on F1 officials.

But there are other examples of series or races that have embraced female drivers, too:

* The Indianapolis 500 has been one of the leaders in not only allowing but also encouraging females to compete in the Greatest Spectacle In Racing. The list of females that have raced at the Brickyard include Lyn St. James, Janet Guthrie, Desire Wilson, Amber Furst, Milka Duno, Sarah Fisher, Danica Patrick, Katherine Legge, Simona Di Silvestro, Ana Beatriz and Pippa Mann.

* NASCAR has had its Drive For Diversity program for more than a decade, as well as its NASCAR Now program, to encourage minorities and particularly females to pursue their racing dreams either behind the wheel or from the pit box.

* NHRA drag racing has been one of the biggest proponents of female racers over the years, with such stars as Shirley Muldowney, Erica Enders, Courtney and Brittany Force and dozens others. Look at NHRA’s Junior Dragster program — it’s almost 50 percent made up of female racers.

* Last week, Michael Shank Racing announced it will have an all-female team in the 2019 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. MSR isn’t looking for cheap publicity with the all-female lineup. Rather, it has four very capable drivers signed not for their gender but for their talent and ability: Legge, Beatriz, De Silvestro ad Jackie Heinricher.

But last week’s announcement of the formation of the so-called “W Series” has many in the motorsports world questioning the legitimacy and need of an all-female racing series.

At first glance, the Formula 3 W Series seems like a good idea, offering opportunities for up to 20 women to battle it out for their own six-race championship in 2019 and a hefty $500,000 prize to the eventual series champion.

On the surface, looking at it with a glass half-full outlook, the W Series also appears to be well-funded, with millions of dollars to spare and spend.

Or burn, if you look at things from a glass half-empty point of view.

The interesting aspect of this new series is that while organizers claim to have “dozens” of female drivers from around the world interested in joining the series, where are the big names? Only about a dozen junior-level racers appear committed thus far.

There’s plenty of time to add to that list of drivers, as the series doesn’t kick off until next May.

But it is interesting that at least two well-known current or former female racers – Pippa Mann and Lyn St. James – are not in favor of an all-female series.

Mann has been the most vocal. When the W Series was first floated as an idea last season, Mann took to Twitter to voice her displeasure with the concept.

When the series was officially announced last week, Mann once again took to Twitter to further blast the overall idea now that it appears headed toward reality.

Add then there’s this poignant tweet from Leilani Munter:

This past weekend during the NASCAR weekend at Talladega Superspeedway, St. James also questioned the logic and legitimacy of the W Series, as well.

“Any opportunities that present themselves to put women in race cars, you have to at least take a hard look at it,” St. James said. “I’m for any opportunities that can put women in race cars.

“Do we need a women-only series? No, I really don’t think there’s a need for that. But before I can really have a hard-core response and make a statement that puts me on record, I want to know where the funding source for this is.

“When you read what they’re proposing, no cost to the drivers, a $1.5 million dollar points fund and a $500,000 prize to the winner, I want to know where the funding source is and what the mission of that funding source is. How real is that? That’s a lot of money. And if that money could be spread in different ways to have a good result, have a better result potentially maybe.

“I have a bigger question than I do an answer, the short answer being that if it presents opportunities to women drivers, you’ve got to take a hard look at it and not throw it under the bus. Do we need an all-woman series? I don’t think so, not at all. I can’t support that that’s necessary.”

St. James knows what she’s talking about, particularly when it comes to opportunities for female racers. She launched the Women in Motorsports Scholarship program more than two decades ago to aid female racers in securing opportunities.

In addition to St. James’ legitimate concerns questioning the funding of the W Series, there are several other questions that need to be answered:

* By having an all-female series, while it may fall under the umbrella of diversity and opportunity, isn’t it also a form of segregation?

* To follow that question up, where does a line ultimately become drawn? Does that mean we eventually could see a variety of new racing series based upon a person’s gender, sexual identity, ethnic or racial makeup, religious beliefs, etc.? Motorsports are based upon talent and ability, not segregation.

* While it may have good intentions going in, could the W Series ultimately do more damage than good to women racers in the long run? Will women who compete in that series perhaps lose other opportunities in “male” forms of motorsports that could ultimately be more beneficial and rewarding?

* While it is one of the W Series’ hopes, can anyone legitimately – at least at this point – call the series a true developmental series for female racers to get more opportunities in entities such as Formula 1, IndyCar, Global Rallycross and even NASCAR? Time will be the real judge, but at this point, opportunities down the road are suspect at best until proven otherwise.

* Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, how does the W Series prevent itself from becoming nothing more than a curiosity or sideshow, where gender and sex appeal is more important than actual racing talent? Will W Series officials do the smart thing and showcase female driving talent, rather than how they may look in a firesuit or bikini or what have you? Remember, that type of thing had countless people question Danica Patrick’s serious commitment to racing in her career for how she was promoted and some of the ad campaigns that featured her more for her looks than her talent behind the wheel.

Will the W Series be able to sustain at length? Will people take in a race or two and conclude that the competition isn’t very good – especially when there are no male equivalent drivers to compete be judged against?

While the W Series says it’s about promoting and showcasing women racers, in the overall scheme it really shouldn’t be just about women — it should be about opportunity. That’s why St. James may have the best answer of all to those questions:

“Hey, if you want to start a new series, that’s great. But put half-women and half-men in it. That would give some guys a chance that maybe wouldn’t have an opportunity as well.”

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Will Power says IndyCar field toughest in world: ‘F1’s a joke as far as competition’


DETROIT – With the 2023 Formula One season turning into a Red Bull runaway, Will Power believes the NTT IndyCar Series deserves respect as the world’s most difficult single-seater racing series.

“It’s so tough, an amazing field, the toughest field in the world, and people need to know it, especially compared to Formula One,” the defending IndyCar champion told NBC Sports during a media luncheon a few days ahead of Sunday’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix. “Formula One’s a joke as far as competition, but not as far as drivers. They have amazing drivers. And I feel sorry for them that they don’t get to experience the satisfaction we do with our racing because that is the top level of open-wheel motorsport.

“I think Formula One would be so much better if they had a formula like IndyCar. I love the technology and the manufacturer side of it. I think that’s awesome. But from a spectator watching, man, how cool would it be if everyone had a Red Bull (car)?”

INDYCAR IN DETROITEntry list, schedule, TV info for this weekend

It probably would look a lot different than this season, which has been dominated by two-time defending F1 champion Max Verstappen.

The Dutchman won Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix from the pole position by 24 seconds over seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton. It’s the fifth victory in seven races for Verstappen, whose 40 career wins are one shy of tying late three-time champion Aryton Senna.

Along with being a virtual lock to tie Senna’s mark for titles, Verstappen is poised to break his own record for single-season victories (15) that he set last year.

“You simply know Max is going to win every race if something doesn’t go wrong,” Power said. “Imagine being a guy coming out as a rookie, and you probably could win a race. It would be really cool to see. But you know that would never happen with the politics over there.”

Verstappen’s F1 dominance has been a stark contrast to IndyCar, where Josef Newgarden just became the first repeat winner through six races this season with his Indy 500 victory.

Team Penske (with Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin), Chip Ganassi Racing (with Palou and Marcus Ericsson) and Andretti Autosport (with Kyle Kirkwood) each have visited victory lane in 2023. Arrow McLaren (which has past winners Pato O’Ward, Alexander Rossi and Felix Rosenqvist) is certain to join them at some point.

Meanwhile, Verstappen and teammate Sergio Perez (two wins) have won every F1 race this season with the two Red Bull cars combining to lead more than 95% of the laps.

The primary differences are in the rulesets for each series.

While F1 teams virtually have complete autonomy to build their high-tech cars from scratch, IndyCar has what is known as a spec series in which the cars have a large degree of standardization.

IndyCar teams all use the Dallara DW12 chassis, which is in its 12th season. The development of the car largely has been maximized, helping put a greater emphasis on driver skill as a differentiator (as well as other human resources such as whip-smart strategists and engineers).

Alex Palou, who will start from the pole position at Detroit, harbors F1 aspirations as a McLaren test driver, but the Spaniard prefers IndyCar for competitiveness because talent can be such a determinant in results.

“Racing-wise, that’s the best you can get,” Palou said a few days before winning the pole for the 107th Indy 500 last month. “That’s pure racing, having chances to win each weekend.”

Of course, F1 is the world’s most popular series, and the 2021 IndyCar champion believes its appeal doesn’t necessarily stem from being competitive.

Though the ’21 championship battle between Hamilton and Verstappen was epic, F1 has grown its audience in recent years with the help of the “Drive To Survive” docuseries on Netflix that has showcased their stars’ personalities along with the cutthroat decisions of its team principals (IndyCar started its own docuseries this year).

“I don’t think the beauty of F1 is the race itself,” Palou said. “I’d say the beauty is more the development that they have and everything around the races, and that they go different places. But when we talk about pure spectacle, you cannot get better than (IndyCar).

“You can feel it as a driver here when you first come and jump in a car. When I was in Dale Coyne (Racing), we got a podium my rookie year. It wasn’t the best team, but we were able to achieve one of the best cars at Road America (where he finished third in 2020). It’s not that I was driving a slow car. I was driving a really fast car. I think we can see that across all the teams and the drivers.”

Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin, who will start second at Detroit, is in his third season of IndyCar after winning three championships in Supercars.

The New Zealander said recently that IndyCar has been “the most enjoyment I’ve ever had in my career. I had a lot of fun in Supercars, but there were still things like different uprights, engines, all that stuff. (IndyCar) is spec. Really the only things you can change are dampers and the engine differences between Honda and Chevy.

“I have a blast,” McLaughlin said. “Trying to extract pace and winning in this series is better than I’ve ever felt ever. I’m surprised by how satisfied it feels to win an IndyCar race. It’s better than how it ever has felt in my career. I’ve always liked winning, but it’s so satisfying to win here. That’s why it’s so cool. There are no bad drivers. You have to have a perfect day.”

Qualifying might be the best example of the series’ competitiveness tightness. The spread for the Fast Six final round of qualifying on Detroit’s new nine-turn, 1.645-mile downtown layout was nearly eight 10ths of a second – which qualifies as an eternity these days.

Last month, the GMR Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course produced a spread of 0.2971 seconds from first to sixth – the fourth-closest Fast Six in IndyCar history since the format was adopted in 2008. Three of the seven closest Fast Six fields have happened this season (with the Grand Prix of Long Beach ranking sixth and the Alabama Grand Prix in seventh).

While the technical ingenuity and innovation might be limited when compared to F1, there’s no arguing that more IndyCar drivers and teams have a chance to win.

“The parity’s great, and no one has an advantage, basically,” Power said. “The two engine manufacturers (Honda and Chevrolet) are always flipping back and forth as they develop, but we’re talking like tenths of a second over a lap. There’s not a bad driver in the field, and there are 20 people all capable of being in the Fast Six every week. Maybe more. It’s incredibly competitive. There isn’t a more competitive series in the world. I’m sure of that.

“If you want the ultimate driver’s series, this is it I’m from a big team that would benefit massively from opening the rules up, but I don’t think (IndyCar officials) should. I think this should always be about the team and driver getting the most out of a piece of equipment that everyone has a chance to do so. That’s the ultimate driver series. Who wants to win a championship when you’re just given the best car? It’s just ridiculous.”

Power believes the talented Verstappen still would be the F1 champion if the equipment were spec, but he also thinks there would be more challengers.

“There’s got to be a bunch of those guys that must just be frustrated,” Power said. “Think about Lewis Hamilton, George Russell, Lando Norris, (Fernando) Alonso. Those are some great drivers that don’t get a chance to even win. They’re just extracting the most out of the piece of equipment they have.

“All I can say is if everyone had a Red Bull car, there’s no way that Max would win every race. There are so many guys who would be winning races. It’d just be similar to (IndyCar) and different every week, which it should be that way for the top level of the sport.”