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Indy 500 field sheds light on racing's need for more gender diversity

For the first time in 21 years, there are no female drivers on the starting grid. The empty stances and coronavirus produced delay testify this year’s Indianapolis 500 deep change at the famed Brickyard.

Pippa Mann, an outspoken advocate for the next generation of female drivers who competed at the Indy 500 eight times and was the only woman in the field last year, but was unable to get funding to compete this year, explained that “If we just quietly pretend the problem is not happening, the problem is not going to go away”.

“Anyone who has ever worked with female drivers at any level (...) will turn around and tell you that it is way tougher to try and find the funding and support for female racers who have the same record (as) a male racer.

“I want them to know they’re not fighting alone. Because for most of my career I felt like I was fighting alone.”

Professional race car driver Danica Patrick poses for a photograph during an interview with Reuters in New York City, New York, U.S. Image credit REUTERS/Mike Segar

In 1977, the American Janet Guthrie, now a retired professional race car drive, was the first woman to drive in the Indy 500. Only nine women have qualified in the last five decades even though the race has featured female competitors every year since 2000.

Also Katherine Legge, a class 1980’s British professional auto racing driver who competed in the Jaguar I-Pace eTrophy, led the consecutive all-female team at the Rolex 24 at Daytona, and has twice raced at the Indy 500 and in January, said this year’s field is “more than a coincidence”.

She expressed her view on the development program, saying that “What IndyCar need to do is they need to have more diversity on the Road to Indy.

“Because that’s the only way that you’re going to get competitive people go up to IndyCar.”

Pippa Mann (39) of Clauson-Marshall Racing sits in her car during practice for the Indianapolis 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Image credit Bob Goshert/for IndyStar

Legge, recovering from a leg surgery after a recent bad crash last month, argued that more female team owners and people in the upper echelons of the sport would be of so much help.

The retired American driver Danica Patrick, who is still the most successful woman in the history of American open-wheel racing, spoke to some reporters saying that despite 2020’s all-male field, female drivers have made significant progress over the long term.

“The story always used to be that there is one, that there is a female in the race and we need to look at the bigger version to understand that it’s far, far more normal now to have females in the race” added Patrick, who is also working at the race for NBC broadcast team.

IndyCar and IMS, which last month launched the Race for Equality & Change initiative to increase diversity in the sport, said; “We believe 2020 is an exception rather than the norm.”


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