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.”

IndyCar releases schedule for 2023 season

IndyCar schedule 2023
Douglas Stringer/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The NTT IndyCar Series’ 2023 schedule will feature the same number of races and tracks as this season with some minor reshuffling of dates.

IndyCar will open the 2023 season March 5 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida, and will conclude Sept. 10 at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, California. The 107th Indy 500 will take place May 28 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The 17-race schedule will conclude with a stretch of eight races in the final nine weeks.

“The NTT IndyCar Series is on an impactful upward trajectory, making progress at a pace that befits our thrilling style of competition,” Penske Entertainment Corp. president and CEO Mark Miles said in a release. “The 2023 season provides an opportunity to further build on this trend, bringing our sport and its stars to more markets and households and reaching new consumers across the globe.”

There will be 15 events on NBC: 13 races (including six of the final seven) plus Indy 500 qualifying May 20-21. There also are three races on USA Network and the Toronto race exclusively on Peacock. All races on NBC and USA also will have live simulstreams on Peacock.

In partnership with NBC Sports, the 2022 IndyCar season was the most-watched in six years and the most-watched across NBC Sports on record. The 2022 season also was the most streamed season on record.

“We’re very excited for our 2023 NTT IndyCar Series schedule and to build on this past season’s viewership milestones,” NBC Sports vice president of programming Mike Perman said in a release. “In providing comprehensive coverage across NBC, Peacock and USA Network, NBC Sports is once again looking forward to telling the stories of these world-class drivers and this compelling series.”

Notable elements on the 2023 schedule:

–There will be the same balance of seven road course races, five street courses and five ovals.

–St. Pete will be the season opener for the 13th time.

–The Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix will move from Belle Isle to the streets of downtown.

–The NASCAR doubleheader weekend at the IMS road course will shift to mid-August.

–The World Wide Technology Raceway event will move from Saturday to Sunday.

Start times for the 2023 events will be announced at a later date.

Here’s the 2023 IndyCar schedule:

Date Race/Track Network/Platform
Sun., March 5 Streets of St. Petersburg NBC, Peacock
Sun., April 2 Texas Motor Speedway NBC, Peacock
Sun., April 16 Streets of Long Beach NBC, Peacock
Sun., April 30 Barber Motorsports Park NBC, Peacock
Sat., May 13 Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Road Course) NBC, Peacock
Sun., May 28 The 107th Indianapolis 500 NBC, Peacock
Sun., June 4 Streets of Detroit NBC, Peacock
Sun., June 18 Road America USA Network, Peacock
Sun., July 2 Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course USA Network, Peacock
Sun., July 16 Streets of Toronto Peacock
Sat., July 22 Iowa Speedway – Race 1 NBC, Peacock
Sun., July 23 Iowa Speedway – Race 2 NBC, Peacock
Sun., Aug. 6 Streets of Nashville NBC, Peacock
Sat., Aug. 12 Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Road Course) USA Network, Peacock
Sun., Aug. 27 World Wide Technology Raceway NBC, Peacock
Sun., Sept. 3 Portland International Raceway NBC, Peacock
Sun., Sept. 10 WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca NBC, Peacock

*dates and networks/platforms are subject to change