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IndyCar loses its lone full-time female; speaks to tougher funding chase

Feb 14, 2014, 11:07 AM EDT

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In 2010, 2011 and 2013, there have been at least four female drivers on the Indianapolis 500 grid.

Although up to three are possible for 2014, there’s a very distinct chance none of them will be in a full-time IndyCar driving role.

Simona de Silvestro’s decision to pursue Formula One, as a Sauber-affiliated driver, removes the only full-time female driver from the IndyCar grid.

Danica Patrick is the most famous female departure from IndyCar, when she left for NASCAR at the end of 2011.

But all of Katherine Legge, Pippa Mann and Ana Beatriz have made multiple ‘500 starts in the last few years, and none seems projected for a full-time ride at this juncture.

Sarah Fisher, a record nine-time ‘500 starter, is still active as a team co-owner with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, but has no plans to return to the driver’s seat.

Mann continues to work towards a partial season effort; meanwhile Legge, who races the DeltaWing coupe in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, no doubt could benefit from another IndyCar chance after being unceremoniously dumped by Dragon Racing on the eve of the 2013 season.

Beatriz, who I spoke to at the Rolex 24 at Daytona as she hoped to land a ride there (she didn’t after testing with the Starworks Motorsport PC class team), has said finding finances in Brazil is harder than ever. The four-time Indianapolis 500 starter raced seven events for Dale Coyne Racing in 2013, but the likeable “Bia” didn’t appear to have any IndyCar prospects in the pipeline.

Besides the IndyCar drivers above, Ashley Freiberg won the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge season opener at Daytona in a Fall-Line Motorsports BMW M3, but she too wasn’t guaranteed further races beyond that.

Freiberg has past open-wheel experience in both the Pro Mazda and Skip Barber Race Series, the latter of which she has an overall championship.

Even in NASCAR, Johanna Long has had to work harder to find sponsorship after the small ML Motorsports team shut its doors this offseason.

This all poses an intriguing shift from even a few years ago.

Whereby female drivers have, in the past, been able to garner opportunities by the pure fact they are female, and some initiatives have been created to help (namely TrueCar’s “Women Empowered” one in 2012), it now seems the game is nearly as hard for female drivers to find sponsorship to race as it is for males.

In some respects, that’s a good thing. We might not be there yet, but we might be closer to judging all drivers on ability level rather than picking and choosing based on gender, and the potential sponsorship package they bring.

Part of why de Silvestro was liked in IndyCar was because she was seen by some as the “anti-Danica.” They raced in the same series for two years and de Silvestro’s management team crafted her as a racing driver who happened to be female. But they found sponsorship for her just as well.

There will always be female drivers who push the “female” angle first, but ultimately, they’re all drivers first, and they’re all having to work just as hard to keep their racing dreams alive.

  1. testover6370 - Feb 14, 2014 at 11:23 AM

    Will Simona’s role with Sauber allow her to do the 500? It would be nice if she could keep bridges to Indycar in case Gutierrez, Sutil, Van der Garde, and Sirotkin all don’t fall out by next year.

    • worknman24hours - Feb 15, 2014 at 4:03 PM

      Simona might well be able to do just that.

      Unlike any other driver in recent history,there is a large amount of good will behind the scenes that Simona has built up by just doing her job, not trying to be anything other then a race car driver and the right people in a lot of racing sports have noticed.

      Her starting at Sauber is simply another door open for her and a chance to try and accel.

      Plus,if she did do Indy with partial Sauber backing and decals on her uniform showing that and did well-that would be worldwide recognition of the team as well.

  2. convincedofthehex - Feb 14, 2014 at 11:29 AM

    It’s great that Simona is following her dream. The problem is that F1 is littered with countless outstanding drivers that could never get a seat, let alone with a decent team. With 2 other development drivers at Sauber, I’ll be shocked if she has a ride for 2015. She looked like she was progressing to be a winner in Indycar, that may never happen now.

  3. rho1953 - Feb 14, 2014 at 12:57 PM

    Good luck to her, she is a real racer, unlike Danica Patrick. But breaking through in F1 will be a lot tougher than in Indy cars. The boys in F1 won’t accept a woman driver and will do everything possible to make her life miserable.

    • indycarseries500 - Feb 14, 2014 at 3:13 PM

      Danica finish in the top 10 in all her Indy 500 starts save one and has better stats than SdS in every category. Not to mention she won a race and finished 5th in the championship. Pre-2010 Danica was a real racer.

      • testover6370 - Feb 14, 2014 at 5:26 PM

        But she did that with equipment that should have won in any given weekend, and she did it while complaining, blaming, and whining the whole time.

      • indycarseries500 - Feb 14, 2014 at 8:31 PM

        Should have won any given weekend? Really? They had 2 wins in 08, winless in 09, 2 in 2010, 3 in 2011. Yep AGR/AA was really bringing home trophies in that time frame. 2007 I guess you’d have an argument but it was her first year in the team.

    • worknman24hours - Feb 15, 2014 at 4:09 PM

      The boys go after the boys in Formula One too.

      I remember Nigel Mansell talking about getting out of his race car and his engineer changing the settings in his car so the engineers in his teammates car would get bad setup copies and do badly.

      That’s decades ago.

      Simona’s no weakling and she’ll fight like hell to do well.

      I expect to see an intensity from Simona that few have realized she possessed as she starts that daily grind to an actual Formula One drive.

  4. bigdcart - Feb 15, 2014 at 9:31 AM

    From watching them drives last year, I think SdS is faster than Gutierrez. If she sticks with it, she’ll have that Sauber seat in 2015. As far as IndyCar, Mann and Bea simply aren’t competitive enough for the current merged Series. KL was screwed over by Jay Penske, so I doubt if she’ll want to come back. And I don’t know of any female up-and-comers in lights or F-2000, so I think IndyCar is out of luck on the distaff side.

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