PHOTO: Insyde Media
It may have been a tough initiation for Simona De Silvestro in her first full season as a Virgin Australia Supercars Championship driver, but by the final event of the season at the Newcastle 500, the 29-year-old Swiss pilot’s talent was starting to shine through.
De Silvestro’s achievements this season are not to be understated – to come into a brand-new category and have to come to grips both the cars and the circuits was always going to be a vertical learning curve. When one of those elements – the circuit – was taken out of the equation at Newcastle, De Silvestro demonstrated her ability.
However, the fact remains that De Silvestro is on the grid because Supercars management wanted a full-time female driver in the category, didn’t think any Australian drivers had the necessary combination of experience or ability to be up to the task, and scouted overseas instead.
But there are some fast Australian females who are determined to forge a professional career in motorsport – here’s a look at some of the best.
Racing status: Completed the 2017 Blancpain GT Series with Reiter Engineering. Plans for 2018 are yet to be confirmed.
While her results in Australian junior categories such as Formula Ford and F4 were solid without being outstanding, Caitlin Wood and her family deserve enormous credit for identifying opportunities and capitalising on them through sheer hard work.
In 2016, they discovered the Reiter Young Stars Championship, which awarded a funded drive in the Blancpain GT Series to the best-performing male and female drivers. Through some self-initiated fundraising projects, they raised the funding for Caitlin to travel overseas and compete in the Reiter competition.
Wood ended up as the highest-placed female driver, and scored a drive in Reiter’s Lamborghini Gallardo GT3. She embarked on a full-time move to Germany, in order to immerse herself in the European racing scene ahead of her Blancpain campaign.
In endurance races, finishing positions are often dictated by factors outside the control of individual drivers. After a promising start with a podium in the season-opener at Misano, Wood was on the receiving end of some bad luck in other races which compromised her chances of top results.
Regardless of the outcome, the knowledge gained by spending time in Reiter Engineering’s factory and sharing a car with an experienced driver like Tomas Enge will have been priceless for Wood’s development, and there’s no doubt she will have returned to Australia as a far more rounded individual.
Wood’s ambition is to become the first female driver to win the coveted 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race and earlier in the year she launched her Journey to Le Mans 2020, a crowdfunding program aimed at generating the necessary dollars for her overseas racing to continue.
Wood has already been confirmed as a starter in the 2018 Bathurst 12 Hour; her plans for the remainder of next season are less certain. To make the Le Mans dream a reality, it’s vital for her to continue racing overseas and not stall the momentum she has worked so tirelessly to build.
Racing status: Regular pole-sitter and race winner in 2017 Series X3 NSW. Plans for 2018 are yet to be confirmed.
A driver with no experience in go-karts or open-wheelers, who didn’t start racing until age 24. Going by the book of how to become a professional racing driver, no chance.
Emily Duggan hasn’t read the book of how to become a professional racing driver and even if she had, she wouldn’t care what it said. Her rise to prominence in the Australian motorsport scene continues to inspire not just female competitors, but anyone who has aspired to race professionally but hasn’t been in the position to take the normal karting-to-open-wheeler route.
Starting in the Series X3 NSW category for Hyundai Excel race cars, Duggan proved a quick learner and is now one of the top Excel racers in the country. She also made a one-off appearance in the Kumho V8 Touring Cars at Sandown at the start of 2016. Jumping straight out of a four cylinder Excel into a 650hp V8 Supercar (without so much as a single test day) went against every accepted motorsport principle, but it was symbolic of the way she has approached her entire career – don’t over-analyse, don’t take no for an answer, just do it!
The absence of parental support and initial lack of background racing knowledge has, in some ways, been a blessing in disguise for Duggan, who has just gone and done things that people who have been around the industry for longer would never have even considered.
For someone racing in essentially a state-level category, Duggan’s media exposure has been outstanding; enough to make many national-series drivers blush. Being nominated as a finalist for the Cosmopolitan Sportswoman of the Year Award was a particular highlight. She has also proven adept at off-track networking which has been her biggest asset – without a comprehensive CV of junior category success, she has needed to make up for it in other areas in order to forge an alternative pathway to a professional racing career.
The next challenge for Duggan will be to turn all her networking exploits into dollars so she can take the next step – for her career progression to continue, it’s critical she’s racing in a national category full-time in 2018.
*Chequered Flag Media manages Emily Duggan’s media and PR.
Racing Status: Competed in the Winton 300 and tested various race cars in 2017. Plans for 2018 are yet to be confirmed.
From a driver who needs to race at a national level, to a driver who just needs to race; Chelsea Angelo’s only competitive event of 2017 was the Winton 300, and even then she didn’t turn a race lap after her car broke down in the first stint.
Nevertheless, she’s worthy of an appearance in this article based on the strength of her previous racing accomplishments, which have demonstrated she does possess ability.
Angelo was a solid performer in Formula Ford during 2012 and ’13, and in 2014 she competed in the Australian Formula 3 Championship, punching above her weight in an older, National Class car and recording some outright top-three finishes.
In 2015 and ’16, she participated in the Dunlop Series but her campaign was somewhat patchy; she swapped between different cars and was not able to string together complete seasons due to funding constraints. However, she did enough during her limited outings to show she has talent.
Apart from the ill-fated Winton 300 appearance, Angelo’s race car miles in 2017 have included tests in an Asian Formula Renault 2.0 and a Porsche Cup Car. Her off-season mission is to turn one of those test opportunities into a full-time drive for 2018 if her career is to progress any further.
Racing Status: Competed in Victorian Formula Ford Championship and selected national rounds in 2017, confirmed for a full Australian Formula Ford Series campaign in 2018.
She may have only recently turned 16 and completed just a season and a half of car racing, but Courtney Prince is rapidly establishing herself as a promising female talent.
After a successful career in karting, Prince started racing Formula Ford at a state level in the middle of last year, and in 2017 she contested five out of the six national series rounds. After running mid-pack initially, Prince became a regular fixture inside the top 10 during the last couple of rounds and scored a second-place race finish in the season finale at Phillip Island.
Off the track, Prince has already started building key relationships and has been able to gain mainstream media coverage. She has benefited from the support of her family and is driving for Sonic Motor Racing Services – an outfit with a well-earned reputation for grooming young drivers. She has also taken a keen interest in the off-track business aspects of the sport and started putting her own sponsorship deals together – very impressive for someone of her young age.
There is a long way for Prince to go, and there are still aspects of her game that need polishing – for example, in the Formula Ford races she has tended to be very conservative in wheel-to-wheel combat. But she definitely has potential and her progress will be interesting to watch.
For so long one of the most prominent advocates for women in motorsport, Leanne Tander continues to do excellent work off the track, and even though her racing appearances were restricted to one-off events in 2017, she has still been able to run competitively every time she has been in a race car. And let’s not forget, it’s only just over 12 months since she achieved the milestone of becoming Australia’s first female national circuit racing champion with her Australian Formula Ford Series triumph.
After several seasons in Carrera Cup and Dunlop Series, Renee Gracie’s future racing plans are unknown; the reality is she was given enough chances to perform in both those categories, and never achieved front-running results. To her credit, Gracie is pursuing other professional opportunities within the automotive industry.
Other female drivers participating in a national category in 2017 included Charlotte Poynting and Madison Dunston in Aussie Racing Cars; both drivers need significant improvements in results before they’re ready to take the next step.
Ellexandra Best competed in the Australian Production Car Series during the season and came up with some solid results within her class, but the jury is out on whether Best wants to race professionally, or is happy just to compete recreationally.
Finally, this article has been focused on circuit racing but we’ll still give an honourable mention to Molly Taylor, who continues to achieve highly in the rally scene.