Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Women make their mark in racing

As I get ready for a trackday next week I'm reminded of how often at previous track days I've gotten my ass kicked by lady riders. In fact, the first instructor at my first ever track day was Kristen Hill, wife of top California club racer Ken Hill.

I like to consider myself somewhat of a liberal kind of chap, and have no problems with women being better than me at traditionally male pursuits. As such, I like to see women making more of a mark in racing, as I feel it helps legitimize the success of racers if they can say they've taken on the best in their category regardless of gender. So let's have a quick "women in racing" hall of fame, in no particular order and with no claims to have not missed anyone....

Michele Mouton: One of the top rally drivers in the early 80s, and came close to winning the WRC.

Claudia Hurtgen: Successful sportscar and touring car driver, class winner at the Daytona 24 Hours, and overall winner of the Historic Grand Prix at Monaco.

Sarah Fisher: Made her mark in the Indy Racing League and was the first woman to ever qualify on pole in a top single-seater race in the USA.

Louise Aitken-Walker: Ladies World Rally Champion in 1990, British Open Rally Champion, and very, very Scottish.

Giovanna Amati: The most recent of five women to compete in Formula 1, in a dreadful Brabham in 1992. Was very much limited by the car, not her racing chops. Went on to a successful career in sportscars.

Danica Patrick: If you don't know who Danica is, you're probably either (a) a cave-dweller or (b) a gay man. Either way, she's the most famous lady driver currently competing and a terrific role model for girls interested in getting into racing.

Lilian Bryner: Very successful GT racer, one of only two women to win a major 24 hour race (in this case, Spa).

Amanda Stretton: Known more for her TV work as a motorsports presenter, she's also a damn quick driver, and will no doubt one day achieve her goal to race at Le Mans. In the meantime she races in British GT, ASCAR and other series.

Ilka Minor: The top woman in the WRC right now, co-driver for Manfred Stohl, supremely calm in a rally car.

Erin Crocker: Young talent in NASCAR, part of Ford's female driver development program, running in ARCA, trucks and the Busch series.

Jutta Kleinschmidt: One of the few women who can currently claim to be in the top five of their chosen form of racing, Jutta has won Dakar and is currently a factory VW driver in the FIA Rally-Raid series where she's usually faster than Carlos Sainz!

Katja Poensgen: One of the top female motorcycle road racers in the world. She has raced in 250GP and European Superstock.

Susie Stoddart: Running in DTM this year with Mercedes. First race out at Hockenheim she finished very well, despite having pink mirrors...

Nathalie Richard: Guided top North American rally talent Pat Richard (her brother) to five championship wins in two years. If funding were to show up, she certainly has the talent to excel in WRC.

Vanina Ickx: Daughter of Le Mans legend Jacky, she's the other lady in DTM this year. She's run at Le Mans twice and is consistently fast.

Liz Halliday: Probably the top lady racer in sportscar racing at the moment, came second OVERALL at Sebring this year, and is surely in with a shout at a class win at Le Mans in 2006.

Tina Thorner: Although not a regular in the WRC anymore, Tina has been one of the most successful WRC lady co-drivers. These days she's competing with Giniel de Villiers in Rally Raid for VW.

Who have I missed? Many, I'm sure, and I'm open to comments. In the interests of time and conciseness I know I skipped Lyn St. James, Milka Duno, Fabrizia Pons, Katherine Legge, Melanie Troxel, Shirley Muldowney, Kristen Tabor, Chrissy Beavis and many more.

It's sad that it's even necessary to highlight successful female drivers and riders. There is absolutely no reason why motorsport should not be populated 50/50 by men and women. Yes, taking charge of a MotoGP bike takes strength, but if little Dani Pedrosa can do it, any women certainly could. Unfortunately it once again comes down to money. Most sponsors are reluctant to put their money behind women who race because the perception is that they won't be as successful as men, and therefore won't provide them with bang for their marketing bucks. And if there is one thing that all racers, men and women face in their climb to the top, it's the tough job of finding sponsors

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