W Series makes American debut at F1’s U.S. Grand Prix with renewed momentum

W Series: Circuit of The Americas - Qualifying & Race 1
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AUSTIN, Texas — Catherine Bond Muir has heard the critics complain that the W Series racing league she created wasn’t boosting female drivers but segregating them from the best competition.

Here is what she sees: Young drivers in aggressive, wheel-to-wheel racing, crashing and restarting and getting more time in the cockpit in front of bigger crowds than they might have ever had before.

And that, she says, was and is the plan behind the W Series that hits American soil for the first time this weekend as part of Formula One’s U.S. Grand Prix weekend in Texas. The W Series concludes its second season on the track – the pandemic wiped out the 2020 season – with races Saturday and Sunday at the Circuit of the Americas.

Gaining a foothold in the U.S. is critical to the future of a series she hopes will support and develop women for a long time.

“Our most important territory is the U.S.,” Bond Muir said. “America, beyond any other country, has a history of being supportive of women’s sport.”

The W Series was hatched over a glass of wine in London, where Bond Muir was retired from a career in finance, and a conversation about the lack of opportunity for women in Formula One, often viewed as the playground of billionaire men.

“They professionalized the sport for women overnight,” said W Series driver Jamie Chadwick of Britain, the 2019 champion who lead the standings by 10 points entering Sunday’s season finale after winning the Saturday opener of a weekend doubleheader.

“It’s giving so many more women opportunity in the sport,” Chadwick said. “If you don’t understand what it stands for, you could think it’s a backward step. It’s really a massive step forward.”

There have been some breakthrough female stars such as American Danica Patrick in IndyCar and NASCAR, who will be part of British TV’s Sky Sports broadcast team in Austin. Britain’s Pippa Mann raced in IndyCar 15 times over five years. Simona de Silvestro drove this year’s Indianapolis 500 for a predominantly female team.

Bond Muir said there simply haven’t been enough. Formula One hasn’t had a female driver in a race since 1976.

“If men and women raced against each other, you don’t need a women’s racing series,” Muir said. “But if you looked at the numbers of women racing in single-seater series, around the world, it was going down … Everyone said it’s a great idea and needed in motor sport, but no one is going to watch it.”

Bond Muir first had to raise $30 million for a series that pays all expenses for the drivers and puts them in equal cars to race for $500,000 awarded to the season champion. Then she had to convince drivers the W Series was supposed to help them, not shunt them to the sidelines of racing.

Chadwick admits she was skeptical at first. So was Sabre Cook, the only American driver in the series. Cook said meeting with Bond Muir changed her mind.

“She said, ‘Make no mistake, this series wasn’t created to say you cannot race with the men.’ … This series was created to give you more seat time, more development, so that you can go back out and kick men’s (butts),’ ” Cook said.

Britain’s Alice Powell, who had sidelined her racing career and was working with her father in construction, jumped at the chance to return.

“W Series came along and changed the game. I had just been unblocking a urinal when I got the call,” Powell said.

Yet the question remains: Will the W Series really boost drivers to higher levels of racing?

Michele Mouton, the head of the FIA’s Women in Motorsport Commission, said the W Series provides important visibility, but will only prove valuable if its drivers move into other series racing against men. Mouton was a top driver in her day, finishing second in the 1982 World Rally Championship.

“If not, this championship will remain, in my eyes, limited and discriminating with women only allowed to compete against each other,” Mouton said last month in a interview with French news outlet Le Figaro. “I believe that as long as they will not be confronted with the competition of the boys of their generation, it will be difficult to emerge in Formula One where it is no longer a question of being one of the best women, but one of the best drivers in the world, and for that the road is still long.”

Chadwick has signed to be development driver for F1 team Williams and hopes to someday race in F1. Cook says her ultimate dream is to race in IndyCar.

The year away from racing in 2020 gave Bond Muir time to make two moves she considers key to the success of the W Series: the geographic partnership with F1, which meant every W Series race this season was on the same tracks in front of the same crowds as the world’s most popular racing series, and a push toward a full, two-car team format in 2022 that will bring in more commercial sponsors.

“As a tiny little sports brand, being on the F1 platform is fantastic,” she said, describing what she called the “halo effect” that comes with it. “When Formula One posts (on social media) about us, it can get 2 million likes. When we do it, it gets tens of thousands.”

Final 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona results, points

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona overall results were all streaks: two consecutive victories in the endurance classic for Meyer Shank Racing and three in a row for Acura.

And Helio Castroneves became the second driver to win three consecutive Rolex 24s and the first to win in three straight years (Peter Gregg won in 1973, ’75 and ’76; the race wasn’t held in ’74 because of a global oil crisis).

Starting from the pole position, Tom Blomqvist took the checkered flag in the No. 60 ARX-06 that led a race-high 365 of 783 laps with co-drivers Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud and Colin Braun.

RESULTS: Click here for the finishing order in the 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona l By class

POINTS: Standings after Rolex 24 at Daytona l Michelin Endurance Cup standings l Daytona endurance points

Meyer Shank Racing now has two Rolex 24 victories and the 2022 championship since entering the premier prototype category of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in 2021.

“I think what’s so special about this team is we are a small team compared to some of our opponents, but the atmosphere, the way we work, enables people to get the best out of themselves, and I think that’s why we’re such high achievers,” Blomqvist said. “I think there’s no egos. It’s a very open book, and that just enables each and every one of us to reach our potential. I think that’s why we’ve achieved so much success in really a short time at this level of competition.”

It’s the 16th IMSA victory for MSR.

The 61st running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona marked the debut of the Grand Touring Prototype category that brought hybrid engine technology to IMSA’s top level.

In other categories:

LMP2: James Allen passed Ben Hanley on the final lap and delivered a victory in the No. 55 ORECA by 0.016 seconds. It’s the second IMSA victory for Proton Competition, which last won at Sebring in 2012. It was the first Rolex 24 victory for Allen and co-drivers Gianmaria Bruni, Fred Poordad and Francesco Pizzi.

GTD Pro: Cooper MacNeil won in the last start of his IMSA career as the No. 79 Mercedes-AMG GT3 scored the first Rolex 24 at Daytona for WeatherTech Racing and the team’s fourth career victory.

MacNeil, who co-drove with Maro Engel, Jules Gounon and Daniel Juncadella, earned his 12th career victory and first at the Rolex 24.

“Winning by last IMSA race is tremendous,” MacNeil said.

GTD: The No. 27 Heart of Racing Team delivered the first Rolex 24 at Daytona for Aston Martin, which has been competing in endurance races at Daytona International Speedway since 1964. Drivers Marco Sorensen, Roman De Angelis, Darren Turner and Ian James (also the team principal) earned the victory in the English brand’s 13th attempt.

It’s also the first Rolex 24 at Daytona win for Heart of Racing, which has seven IMSA wins.

LMP3: Anthony Mantella, Wayne Boyd, Nico Varrone and Thomas Merrill drove the No. 17 AWA Duqueine D08 to victory by 12 laps for the team’s first class win in IMSA.


STATS PACKAGE FOR ROLEX 24 HOURS OF DAYTONA:

Fastest laps by driver

Fastest laps by driver after race (over the weekend)

Fastest laps by driver and class after race

Fastest lap sequence

Lap chart

Leader sequence

Race analysis by lap

Stint analysis

Time cards

Pit stop time cards

Best sector times

Race distance and speed average

Flag analysis

Weather report

NEXT: The 2023 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season will resume with the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring March 18 with coverage across NBC, USA and Peacock.