WATKINS: ‘W Series’ fails to represent the voice it should value most – women

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Pippa Mann

Today the motorsports industry was greeted with a brand new racing competition that will feature only female drivers.  Forty years ago this could have been a celebrated venture by creating another opportunity for women to race professionally, but today, the move falls flat on its face.

The ‘W Series’ is a self-proclaimed “ground-breaking women’s racing series” that aims to change the face of motorsport by offering 18 to 20 female drivers a “free-to-enter” opportunity to race Formula 3 cars.  Beginning in 2019 these women will compete for their slice of a $1.5 million prize purse that includes $500,000 to the series winner.

But while the prize purse is okay ($500,000 won’t get you through a season of Indy Lights) and an opportunity to compete at historic circuits across the world seems appealing, segregating women from men in motor racing is not.

The formation of an all-women’s racing series doesn’t just defy popular opinion across motorsport – it completely ignores opinions of the most prominent and successful women within the industry.

While the world’s general population (and maybe casual race fans) see Danica Patrick as the female face of motorsport, Pippa Mann is the true embodiment of what a female racer should be.

Mann works at the grassroots level each day fighting tooth-and-nail for women’s rights in racing.  Her raw, honest and heartbreaking display of emotion after being bumped from this year’s Indianapolis 500 is just one of the countless ways Pippa shows her love and dedication to the sport.

The six-time Indy 500 starter has vehemently opposed a women-only racing series for the better part of four years now.  She’s voiced this stance countless times on her social media platforms, offered her opinion on PippaMann.com, and even formed an article for Autosport magazine that was printed and distributed to thousands in the United Kingdom.

Even when the W Series contacted Mann directly to try and court the British driver, she declined the offer and said she wanted no part of it.  Multiple times.  This morning it came as little surprise that Mann blasted Wednesday’s announcement on social media, citing its poor direction rather than the message and intentions.

“What a sad day for motorsport,” Mann said on Twitter.  “Those with funding to help female racers are choosing to segregate them as opposed to supporting them.  I am deeply disappointed to see such a historic step backwards take place in my lifetime.”

Earlier this year a program named “Fuel the Female” was launched by respected motorsports professional Katie Hargitt.  Its mission is to “promote women empowerment through scholarship, mentorship programs and networking opportunities,” all of which are to be experienced within the business of motorsport with both men and women.

Katie Hargitt

Katie Hargitt, joined by Firestone’s Cara Adams and Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kate Gundlach, gives a Fuel the Female presentation back in May (James Black/INDYCAR).

Hargitt’s program – even in its early stages – does so well what the W Series seems to be missing after years of planning: integrate a focus on women’s opportunities while keeping them in racing’s real-world environment.

She, too, spoke out on the issue today by tweeting “why not use the money to help fund that same core group of women drivers in series that already exist?

“Want to be the best?  Beat the best.”

Taking 20 women and putting them in their own series doesn’t give them more opportunities down the road – it only clouds the judgment for any prospective team trying to evaluate a female driver with what is now an incomparable playing field.

Women want to race, but more importantly, they want to race against the best their sport has to offer.  Competition is at the root of each driver’s core – regardless of gender – and that is a trait that can burn just as intense in a woman as it can in a man.

Did Leena Gade need an all-women’s racing series to become a three-time Le Mans race-winning engineer?  The answer is no: she worked her ass off and earned her place because she is exceptional at what she does and deserves to be there.

So not only does the W Series miss its mark in giving women the best opportunity to succeed in racing, it blatantly missed the target with those they should have listened to the most.  It ignored opinions of two highly-respected women in the industry (among others who voted ‘no’ on an all-women’s series) and proceeded with a racing organization that seems more like a PR grab than a true talent search.

Why do we need 20 drivers and a full season of competition with ready-to-race cars supplied by Tatuus to give women a “chance” when that money could have been spent more effectively elsewhere?

By the very definition of the word, this venture is futile: incapable of producing any useful result, rendering it pointless.  When the W Series says it is more than just a series – that it is a mission-driven competition determined to equip its drivers with experience and expertise necessary to progress in motor racing – it is babbling complete nonsense.

Talented female drivers such as Mann, Katherine Legge, Jamie Chadwick, Hailie Deegan and countless others don’t need coaching on how to handle sponsorship meetings or pit road interviews.  They need funding, damn it.

Those with the means are free to spend their money how they feel, but to see investors allocate their funding in this way is disheartening.  It is a crucial misstep in the path towards elevating female drivers to Formula One, IndyCar, NASCAR or any other high-level form of racing, something that has eluded women trying to make the jump from karts to cars for years.

I’m not one to wish any form of racing bad luck in motorsport’s current state, but at the very least, the W Series and its direction are in need a serious reality check before I will show any form of support.  And with that, I know I am far from alone in taking such a stance.

Header image by Walter Kuhn/INDYCAR.

Tanner Watkins

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