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

W Series: Circuit of The Americas - Qualifying & Race 1
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

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.”

Ford unveils a new Mustang for 2024 Le Mans in motorsports ‘lifestyle brand’ retooling

Ford Mustang Le Mans
Ford Performance

LE MANS, France — Ford has planned a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans with its iconic Mustang muscle car next year under a massive rebranding of Ford Performance aimed at bringing the automotive manufacturer “into the racing business.”

The Friday unveil of the new Mustang Dark Horse-based race car follows Ford’s announcement in February (and a ballyhooed test at Sebring in March) that it will return to Formula One in 2026 in partnership with reigning world champion Red Bull.

The Mustang will enter the GT3 category next year with at least two cars in both IMSA and the World Endurance Championship, and is hopeful to earn an invitation to next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. The IMSA entries will be a factory Ford Performance program run by Multimatic, and a customer program in WEC with Proton Competition.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, also an amateur sports car racer, told The Associated Press the Mustang will be available to compete in various GT3 series across the globe to customer teams. But more important, Farley said, is the overall rebranding of Ford Performance – done by renowned motorsports designer Troy Lee – that is aimed at making Ford a lifestyle brand with a sporting mindset.

“It’s kind of like the company finding its own, and rediscovering its icons, and doubling down on them,” Farley told the AP. “And then this motorsports activity is getting serious about connecting enthusiast customers with those rediscovered icons. It’s a big switch for the company – this is really about building strong, iconic vehicles with enthusiasts at the center of our marketing.”

Ford last competed in sports car racing in 2019 as part of a three-year program with Chip Ganassi Racing. The team scored the class win at Le Mans in 2016 in a targeted performance aimed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Ford snapping Ferrari’s six-year winning streak.

Ford on Friday displayed a Mustang with a Lee-designed livery that showcased the cleaner, simplified look that will soon be featured on all its racing vehicles. The traditional blue oval with Ford Performance in white lettering underneath will now be branded simply FP.

The new mark will be used across car liveries, merchandise and apparel, display assets, parts and accessories and in advertising.

Farley cited Porsche as an automaker that has successfully figured out how to sell cars to consumers and race cars in various series around the world while creating a culture of brand enthusiasts. He believes Ford’s new direction will help the company sell street cars, race cars, boost interest in driving schools, and create a merchandise line that convinces consumers that a stalwart of American automakers is a hip, cool brand.

“We’re going to build a global motorsports business off road and on road,” Farley told the AP, adding that the design of the Mustang is “unapologetically American.”

He lauded the work of Lee, who is considered the top helmet designer among race car drivers.

“We’re in the first inning of a nine inning game, and going to Le Mans is really important,” Farley said. “But for customer cars, getting the graphics right, designing race cars that win at all different levels, and then designing a racing brand for Ford Performance that gets rebranded and elevated is super important.”

He said he’s kept a close eye on how Porsche and Aston Martin have built their motorsports businesses and said Ford will be better.

“We’re going in the exact same direction. We just want to be better than them, that’s all,” Farley said. “Second is the first loser.”

Farley, an avid amateur racer himself, did not travel to Le Mans for the announcement. The race that begins Saturday features an entry from NASCAR, and Ford is the reigning Cup Series champion with Joey Logano and Team Penske.

The NASCAR “Garage 56” entry is a collaboration between Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, and is being widely celebrated throughout the industry. Farley did feel left out of the party in France – a sentiment NASCAR tried to avoid by inviting many of its partners to attend the race so that it wouldn’t seem like a Chevrolet-only celebration.

“They’re going right and I’m going left – that NASCAR thing is a one-year deal, right? It’s Garage 56 and they can have their NASCAR party, but that’s a one-year party,” Farley said. “We won Le Mans outright four times, we won in the GT class, and we’re coming back with Mustang and it’s not a one-year deal.

“So they can get all excited about Garage 56. I almost see that as a marketing exercise for NASCAR, but for me, that’s a science project,” Farley continued. “I don’t live in a world of science projects. I live in the world of building a vital company that everyone is excited about. To do that, we’re not going to do a Garage 56 – I’ve got to beat Porsche and Aston Martin and Ferrari year after year after year.”

Ford’s announcement comes on the heels of General Motors changing its GT3 strategy next season and ending its factory Corvette program. GM, which unlike Ford competes in the IMSA Grand Touring Prototype division (with its Cadillac brand), will shift fully to a customer model for Corvettes in 2024 (with some factory support in the IMSA GTD Pro category).