Driven to be Bold – Motor Sport and International Women’s Day
The FIA community is celebrating International Women's Day - take a look back through the history of successful women in motor sport from the pioneers of early racing to modern day stars
Around the globe International Women’s Day 2017 will be marked in many ways, with thousands of different activities planned to celebrate this year’s theme, ‘Be Bold for Change’. It’s a theme women involved in motor sport have championed since the dawn of the motoring age.
Within a decade of motor racing first capturing the public imagination in the 1890s, women such as French racer Camille du Gast (competing in the Paris-Berlin race) and English driver Dorothy Levitt (at the Shelsley Walsh hillclimb in the UK) were boldly pushing the boundaries of speed.
The trend continued through the interwar period as a succession of pioneering female drivers competed in events such as illustrious Targa Floria but female motorsport entered its first Golden Age after World War II, with Pat Moss and Anne Hall breaking new ground in rallying and Maria Teresa de Filippis becoming the first woman to take part in a Formula One race at the 1958 Belgian Grand Prix.
These and other pioneers have been joined by many others in the decades since, but it was on the rally stages that the greatest mark was made, with Michèle Mouton and co-driver Fabrizia Pons becoming the first women to win a World Championship rally in Sanremo in 1981. The following year the female crew were Vice World Champions.
Throughout, the pathway for women to the top of the motor sport remained tough, with Mouton believing that more needed to be done to encourage female participation in motor sport.
It was fitting, then, that when FIA President Jean Todt resolved to tackle the issue he called on Mouton to head up the Federation’s Women in Motorsport Commission.
In the years since, the Commission has grown in strength and purpose, with 74 national Women in Motorsport representatives now working on behalf of their ASNs and with the Commission.
At grassroots level the Commission has supported the development of a number of young racers including France’s Lucile Cypriano and Spaniard Marta Garcia who competed in the CIK-FIA Karting Academy Trophy, with Garcia taking the title in 2015. Cypriano has since become a race winner in the SEAT Leon Eurocup and is this year targeting participation in the French Porsche Carrera Cup. Garcia last year made the transition to single seaters in Spanish Formula 4 and is hoping to undertake a full campaign in the Spanish national F4 championship this year.
In rallying the Commission last year organised its most ambitious talent search yet. Launched in conjunction with the Qatar Motor & Motorcycle Federation, the Women’s Cross Country Rally Selection initiative provided three all-female crews with the chance to compete in a round of the FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies.
The success of the venture led to the driver and co-driver who showed the most promise – Emma Gilmour and Sandra Labuscagne – receiving a funded drive in the 2016 Italian Baja and the Baja Portalegre, with the support of the Automóvel Club de Portugal.
The Commission has also supported the rise of young rally star Tamara Molinaro and this year the Italian will step up to the FIA ERC Junior Under-27 category alongside co-driver Ursula Mayrhofer as a factory Opel driver
Elsewhere, Molly Taylor, who has been supported by the Commission, last year became the first woman to win the Australian Rally Championship. Her title defence, as a works Subaru driver, begins this month.
2016 was also a notable year for providing a female drag racing champion in the shape of Finland’s Anita Mäkëla who won the FIA European Top Fuel category for the second time in her long career.
Women are increasingly represented at the pinnacle of motor sport, in Formula One, with Former F3 racer Tatiana Calderon from Colombia recently being appointed to the role of development driver at the Sauber F1 Team where FIA Women in Motorsport Ambassador Monisha Kaltenborn is Team Principal.
Kaltenborn is not the only female powerbroker in F1, with Claire Williams - also a member of the FIA’s Commission - continuing to help guide the Williams F1 team in her role as Deputy Team Principal.
Elsewhere, former Indycar driver and F1 hopeful Simona de Silvestro is this year competing in the highly competitive V8 Supercars series in Australia as a full-time driver with Nissan Motorsport. The drive follows de Silvestro becoming the first woman to score points in a Formula E race, with ninth place at last year’s Long Beach ePrix.
Away from the track, motor sport continues to give women the chance to excel in a huge array of disciplines – with an increasing number of women involved at the highest levels of officialdom, in engineering, design and in administration and promotion. A key example was last year’s FIA World Rallycross Championship round in Norway, which was officiated over by an all-female panel of stewards for the first time in FIA World Championship history.
This year is set to be another year of intense activity for the Commission. At last year’s Commission seminar in Portugal, Mouton announced details of a new Europe-wide driver search programme, which Mouton said “we hope to develop in different countries and regions.”
As the world celebrates International Women’s Day, motor sport can confidently claim to be a truly equal opportunities endeavour that has been (and continues to be) bold enough to drive change.