Search
  • RACERS

2021: Women in Motorsport, a Year in Review

Updated: Jan 5

One year of motorsport went by, and one is fastly approaching. We took some time to analyze the progress made by women in the sport in the last year highlighting our top-10, our favorite moments and most positive trends. But above all, we would like to thank all of them for inspiring us each day of the year.


Photo by: Racers Behind the Helmet

This time last year, we wrote a season review titled "The Women that made 2020 bearable". We were just out of one of the most surreal years in our lifetimes and the motor racing world, understandably, had come to a halt only to resume its activities midway through the summer. Still, an honorable amount of female racers distinguished themselves all around the world and carried momentum despite a difficult year. 2021 certainly continued the trend; year two of the Covid pandemic was surely not an easy one and still posed massive challenges globally – but motorsport somehow found a balanced new normality that allowed for most championships to get underway under the safest protocols. This season review might therefore be subtitled "The women that kept making waves and won't stop at nothing". In the last five years or so, the increase in both female participation and, most importantly, in the competitive levels among the world's top championships resulted in some drivers rising to international stardom, as well as a plethora of up-and-coming youngsters showing impressive speed in single-seaters, prototypes, touring and GT cars. Some of these names are in fact returning from our 2020 feature, while others make their first appearance. Especially notable were the results in the endurance racing realm, where a really fruitful cooperation between the Michéle Mouton-led FIA Women In Motorsport Commission and projects such as Richard Mille Racing and Iron Dames really changed the game. These programmes proved that when provided with quality equipment and equal opportunities, women will definitely rise to the top. For the third year in a row, the all-female crew Iron Dames finished the legendary 24H of Le Mans within the top 10 in class, and expanded their presence to the best GT championships in Europe and the world. At the base of the single-seater pyramid, more and more women approached F4 series and the first ever winner of the Girls on Track - Rising Stars programme joined the prestigious Ferrari Driver Academy. In the GT3 and GT4 platforms a few really interesting names – both in Europe and overseas – established themselves as ones to watch. Likewise, in the always popular TCR championships, women climbed the top step of the podium in a record-breaking number. Here are the drivers that we acknowledge for their achievements – and we thank them for being daily inspirations.



OUR TOP 10


Photo credits: Juergen Tap / Hoch Zwei / DTM

Sophia Floersch


Floersch has become one of the most complete and adaptable drivers as she ventured from single-seaters into sportscars and then GT3 machinery. In 2020, she completed a double-program in FIA Formula 3 and ELMS, both satisfying her dream of racing at the highest level in F3 and exploring her opportunities in sportscars, in the newly-formed Richard Mille Racing team. While formula cars are not off the table yet for her future, the young German has since then really found in endurance racing her natural habitat. Sharing the Oreca LMP2 prototype with Tatiana Calderon and Beitske Visser, Sophia conquered a historic top-10 at debut in Le Mans. In 2021, the team would step up to the World Endurance Championship, in a very strong LMP2 field. They scored two six places as best results in Portimao and Bahrain, but were often unlucky in the Full Course Yellow timings when on course to their first top-5 in more than an occasion. Additionally, she turned another dream into reality when she was announced as part of the ABT Sportsline line-up in the new DTM era, as the German series moved to GT3-based regulations. The championship might be second only to F1 in terms of popularity in Germany and, despite Floersch having a mountain to climb in order to make up for the lack of experience in GT cars, she showed great progress and flashes of brilliance in one of the most competitive grids on the planet. Not only did she have to learn the secrets of driving a GT3 car – including ABS braking – but Floersch was also part of the development for the innovative SpaceDrive system by Schaeffler Paravan, which for the first time brought to the race track a fully-electronic steering. The project proved to be very interesting but inevitably not quite fully ready yet for competitions and Floersch returned to a traditional system after the Austrian round. In the latter stages of the championship, she made a significant leap forward and scored her first points in Assen. In Hockenheim she was close again to the top-10, and would finish 9th again at the season finale at Norisring, completing the season with 8 points. Despite feeling unwell at the WEC final round in Bahrain, Floersch made headlines in the post-season collective tests, when she topped the timing sheets in both sessions in the LMP2 class, having tested for championship-winning WRT Team. Sophia's season, though, probably had her highest peak at the European Le Mans Series finale in Portimao, where she joined Algarve Pro Racing in a one-off appearance. Together with Ferdinand Habsburg and Richard Bradley, Floersch finished third overall – becoming the first ever woman to step on the overall podium in the series. The 21-year old racer has recently tested LMP2 machinery with Prema – the benchmark team in junior formulae that will join endurance racing for the first time – as she is currently evaluating a series of options for 2022.


Photo credits: W Series

Nerea Martí


The second on-track edition of the all-female championship W Series certainly offered a stunning duel between reigning champion Jamie Chadwick and Alice Powell – both coming into the final round at Austin equal on points and equally deserving of the 2021 title.


Chadwick eventually bagged a back-to-back crown, as Powell was hampered by a series of technical issues. While both Chadwick and Powell would deserve a place in our Top-10, their presence at the top of W Series was hardly a surprise. So we opted to include two seriously impressive rookies: among them, 19-year old Spaniard Nerea Martí.


Martí – at only her second season in formula cars after making her debut in Spanish F4 in 2019 – was selected to join W Series alongside fellow competitors Belén Garcia and Irina Sidorkova. Martí was paired with the young Russian to form the W Series Academy team, as the two youngest drivers on the grid secured the seat for two years.


Despite missing out on racing action throughout 2020 (when she was back in the Spanish karting championship), Nerea completed a series of tests in the Tatuus T318 Regional car and, once on track at the season opener in Austria, she immediately proved to be a consistent point-scorer and a serious contender for the Top-5 in most races.


Also thanks to good qualifying efforts, she managed to finish ahead of much more experienced drivers and claimed her first top-five at Silverstone, round 3 of the championship. One race later, she would step for the first time on the podium at Hungaroring and was fourth at Zandvoort.


Martí was eventually fourth in the drivers' championship – the only driver together with Chadwick and Powell to finish every race within the points. Without excessive pressure to finish in the top-8 to gain automatic entry in 2022, Nerea was able to show her potential and impressed everyone. The rookie of the year will thus certainly be one to watch in 2022, as she now targets consistent podiums and her first win.


Towards the end of the year, Martí was rewarded with a FIA F3 test day in Magny Cours, in a joint-effort by W Series and FIA F2/F3. She then announced to have joined BMW Motorsport Spain, for a 2022 double-program that will see the Valencian combining her efforts in W Series with a season in the Spanish Endurance championship as well as the BMW M2 CS Racing Winter Cup. With this move, Nerea will start gaining experience at the wheel of touring cars, keeping her options open for what it certainly looks like a bright future.


Photo credits: W Series

Abbi Pulling


British 18-year old racer Abbi Pulling certainly was another protagonist of the 2021 W Series season. Alice Powell's protegé made her single-seater debut in 2020 in British F4, where she immediately established herself as one of the most exciting female up-and-coming talents of the last years and went on to secure 4 podiums.


Even though she couldn't clinch a maiden win in 2020, everything was pointing in the direction of a title-fight campaign in 2021, as Pulling returned to the series with JHR Developments and with the support of her W Series race-winning mentor.

Unfortunately, Pulling had a very unlucky season in British F4, with missed opportunities arising from technical issues, contacts and changeable weather conditions. Still, she scored three podiums in the first half of the season.


In an unexpected announcement, Pulling dropped out of the championship after the summer break due to a lack of funding that had also forced her on the sidelines in a few collective tests. Having been selected as one of the reserve drivers in W Series after an impressive run in Anglesey before the season, the all-female championship remained her last hope to race.


And Pulling did deliver. The Brit made her W Series debut at the home race in Silverstone and scored points – before returning behind the wheel of the second Puma car at Zandvoort, where she was once again in the Top-10. Without financial support and a seat for 2022, Abbi had to pull off a spectacular result at the COTA double-header in order to keep her racing dreams alive: with a fourth place in Race 1, a pole position and an outstanding second place in the final race of the year, Abbi Pulling was able to break into the top-8 and secure a race seat in 2022 despite having only contested half the races as reserve driver.


2021 was a rollercoaster for Pulling, who nonetheless proved to be an extraordinary talent, deserving of at least another season in formula cars.


Photo credits: Racers - Behind the Helmet

Hamda Al Qubaisi


Hamda Al Qubaisi's Formula 4 career was a continuum, in the sense that everything seemed to flow quite naturally since her debut in selected rounds of the 2019 Italian championship.

2020 was her first full-time season in formula cars and the young Emirati continued to make impressive progress in what is arguably one of the most competitive junior series worldwide.


Furthermore, over two seasons in the UAE-based series, Hamda started to win races and built confidence – then carrying momentum into another remarkable year in Europe.

The two years of the pandemic were not without challenges for Hamda, who lived on her own away from her family throughout the racing seasons. But on track she kept climbing the timing sheets and, after scoring her first points in 2020, she became a constant presence around the Top-10 in 2021.


Her year started again with a race-winning campaign on home soil, where Al Qubaisi was a serious contender and finished fourth in the UAE championship. With six wins, she became the most successful female driver in F4 championships worldwide.


Having joined Prema Powerteam, her second European season had all the potential to be the natural progression from the previous season – and Al Qubaisi did not fail to meet expectations: she was consistently among the front-runners in testing and battled for points in most races. Hamda sure was unlucky in some rounds – the season opener at Le Castellet or Red Bull Ring for example – but bounced back with great races in Misano, Vallelunga and Monza.


The Misano weekend will remain as one of the highlights of the year, as Hamda gained two positions in race 1 to finish third – becoming the highest female finisher in the history of the series. Her first podium was just the tip of the iceberg though; her whole F4 career was about choosing the most challenging environment and comparing herself with the best.

"It's all about learning" – she often told us during these couple of years, and indeed her apprenticeship at the top level of European feeder series will undoubtedly reveal crucial in her next steps in motor racing.


As she plans to step up to F3 machinery, Hamda Al Qubaisi remains one of the most interesting female prospects in single seaters.


Photo by: Sideline Sports Photography / L.Benedict

Taylor Hagler


26-year old Taylor Hagler is one of our strongest candidates for person of the year, having taken by storm the American sports cars' scene with two seriously impressive campaigns in IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge and SRO GT World Challenge America.

The Texan racer cut her teeth in touring cars, with two podiums in her first full season in TC America before moving into the IMSA world in the TCR category. In 2020, a podium and a pole position already proved the young lady's potential, but it was 2021 to ultimately crown Hagler as one of the most interesting up and coming talents.


Having signed with the Honda Performance Development programme, Taylor started to log important mileage at the wheel of GT cars and, while she announced a move to championship-winning Bryan Herta Autosport for a second season in IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge, she also made her debut in GT3 machinery, joining Racers Edge Motorsport in the Fanatec GT World Challenge America championship.


Hagler's 2021 turned out to be a complete success: a series of consecutive podium finishes in the TCR class in IMSA built up to Hagler's first win at Lime Rock Park in July, approximately one month before she could climb the first step of the podium in SRO as well, taking Pro-Am class victory at Elkhart Lake at the wheel of the Acura NSX GT3 Evo.


One class podium after the other, Hagler and teammate Michael Lewis built a strong lead in the Michelin Pilot Challenge championship, culminating with the historic result at Road Atlanta that assigned her the title – becoming the second ever female champion in IMSA after Christina Nielsen.


In GT World Challenge, fellow HPD drivers Jacob Abel and Dakota Dickerson alternated as Hagler's teammates through the year and, with 8 class podiums, three class victories and two overall podiums, Taylor completed an outstanding debut season in GT3 with second place in the points' standings. Her consistency and determination in the battles were the standout qualities that proved crucial in both championships – which really make Taylor Hagler a solid candidate for a works team at the top of sports cars racing in the future.


Photo by: Racers - Behind the Helmet

Michelle Gatting


Among the female drivers that conquered a title and made history in 2021 we couldn't have mentioned Michelle Gatting. The Dane is part of the inaugural Iron Dames line up since the project debut in 2019 and, when the team announced its expansion to several top endurance championships in 2021, she was initially scheduled to race in World Endurance Championship.


The drivers line-ups were then shuffled in a series of different moves, which resulted in Gatting taking on driving duties in European Le Mans Series, Ferrari Challenge, two rounds of WEC – including the 24H of Le Mans for her third time in a row – and a round in Italian GT and GT World Challenge Europe.


Her experience in endurance racing proved to be crucial in the sprint races of Ferrari Challenge, which she contested for the first time in a full campaign: her season started with the victory at the Temple of Speed in Monza, followed by a perfect weekend at Red Bull Ring where she claimed two pole positions, two fastest laps and two race wins.


Having built a solid gap in the championship, Gatting continued her run with pole positions and podium finishes, always managing her leadership even when Italian Niccolò Schirò started to hunt her down for the title. Gatting always kept her cool and never made mistakes, and secured the historic achievement at the World Finals in Mugello, where she became the first female Champion in the history of the European one-make series.


In ELMS, Iron Dames were not as lucky and two DNFs at Red Bull Ring and Le Castellet – caused by contacts with no fault of their own – resulted in a slightly more difficult season. Nevertheless, they scored two podiums in the last two races at Spa and Portimao and, famously, they were back in the top-10 at Le Mans for the third time in a row.


Gatting has become one of the pillars of the Iron Lynx / Iron Dames powerhouse and her performances in 2021 were never short of remarkable.


Photo by: Racers - Behind the Helmet

Lilou Wadoux


Lilou Wadoux is another name that we will hear a lot in the years to come. The young Frenchwoman made her debut in the Alpine Europa Cup in 2020, after a few years in touring car championships on home soil – first in the Peugeot 308 and then the Clio Cup. Her first big international appearances were in a few starts in TCR Europe, before a full time switch to the Alpine one-make series. Following a big marketing campaign to re-launch the historic French brand, in fact, Alpine Europa Cup quickly became a very competitive GT4-based series featuring a quality starting grid of young drivers: Wadoux had a very strong 2020 season, consistently finishing in the Top-10 and a few fourth places as her best results in Magny Cours and Portimao. But it would be her sophomore season to ultimately highlight Wadoux as one of the top female names in motorsports: at the Nogaro season opener she claimed her first two podiums and fought for the victory – which would slip away from her for the smallest margin on several occasions. After six podiums – one at each race meeting – finally her first win materialized at Circuit do Algarve, Portugal, where Wadoux was protagonist of a near perfect weekend. She battled for the overall title until the very end of the season, only to finish third in a tightly-fought championship. But what really impressed about Wadoux was her highly-spectacular driving style: when she had the car to fight for the win, you could always count on Lilou to pull off some breathtaking passes. Her skills did not go unnoticed and she was invited to the Porsche Carrera Cup France race at La Sarthe, the support event to the 24 Hours of Le Mans. In a field of over 60 drivers – and at her racing debut in a GT3 car, which she had only driven once before – Wadoux stormed to an extraordinary pole position and victory. To wrap up the year, Wadoux was among the three selected drivers to test the Richard Mille Racing Oreca LMP2 car at the WEC rookie test in Bahrain. She joined W Series superstars Jamie Chadwick and Alice Powell, as she is now evaluating her options for 2022.


PHOTO ©JEP - WWW.JAKOBEBREY.COM

Sarah Bovy


The Belgian 32-year old driver spent several years in GT cars – especially on home soil – before being selected as reserve driver for the first ever season in the all-female W Series championship. On the day of her birthday, Bovy was supposed to make her racing debut in F3 at her home race in Zolder, but a technical issue on the starting grid meant that she had to postpone her first race to Misano – where she actually impressed and finished just outside the points.


But, as she often told us, single seaters were always a means to improve her skills and return to sports cars with one big aim in mind: the 24H of Le Mans. That was Sarah's dream, and had always been since starting out in motorsport. But, despite several starts at another popular 24-hour race – at Spa Francorchamps – Bovy knew it would have been not an easy task to find enough financial support to turn her dream into reality.


Fast forward two years and there she is, on the grid of the most legendary endurance race in motorsport, as part of the #85 crew in the Ferrari 488 GTE Evo by Iron Dames.


Her involvement with Iron Dames dated just a couple of months back, when the team was on the hunt for a bronze-rated driver with the ELMS season quickly approaching. Bovy got the seat, and shared the #9 GT3 Ferrari with French teenager Doriane Pin in the Michelin Le Mans Cup. The duo had some great results and Bovy, after a podium in Monza, was promoted to the main line-up, for the World Endurance Championship debut at the Temple of Speed.


Sarah delivered brilliantly, with a strong qualifying performance and an amazing stint in the race, which convinced the team to confirm her for the biggest race of the year at Le Mans. For Bovy – who had also worked in the media at the event – it was a career-defining moment.

The Belgian continued her progression within the team and was also part of the final two races in ELMS, at Spa and Portimao – where she stepped on the podium in both occasions.


Sarah Bovy is now very much part of the Iron Dames' family and her rise at the echelons of international endurance racing is just another reminder that, with proper support, some drivers will never disappoint.


Photo by: Oliver Krüger

Gabriela Jílková


Last year, as Esports quickly became the only form of motorsport for the first half of the year, we decided to include nominations to the real-world racing drivers that showed the most commitment in simracing and, alongside some of the W Series Esports League colleagues, we mentioned Gabriela Jílková as one of the most active drivers in both realms.


After a promising start in single seaters and touring cars in northern European championships, Jílková had to put her racing career on hold for a few years due to a lack of funding – and that's where she successfully started to put more serious efforts in simracing and built a good online following.


"Quick Gabi" – her self-explanatory nickname – returned behind the wheel in the 2019 in a couple of appearances in the 24H Series, before taking part in the second assessment tests for the 2020 W Series championship. When the season was canceled and moved online on the iRacing platform, Jílková was invited as a guest starter and showed her talent at the sim with two podiums and a victory.


But 2021 was the year of the return to the track: and Gabi did return in style. The young Czech racer signed with historic German team Zakspeed for the GT Winter Series, sharing a Mercedes AMG GT4 with Robert Haub. Gabriela and Robert not only won in spectacular fashion the GT4 class, but they also claimed the overall title – as they prepared for the jump in ADAC GT4 Germany.


Jílková's debut in one of the most competitive GT4 championships in Europe was extraordinary: she claimed a podium at the season opener at Oschersleben, was back in the top-5 in Austria and was the protagonist of a spectacular recovery in Zandvoort, ended with a second place at photo finish.


Unfortunately, a few issues marked Jílková and Haub's second half of the season, but the duo still finished eighth in the championship standings. They were also able to join the continental series GT4 Europe at Nürburgring, in a one-off that resulted in another impressive podium in class.


Gabriela Jílková emerged as the most promising female talent in GT4 machinery in Europe and, in her second year in ADAC GT4 – plus in the European series – she can now really target the big prize.


Photo credits: BMW Motorsport

Samantha Tan


If there was an award for most titles in a year, that would certainly go to Canadian driver/owner Samantha Tan. The young Canadian's outstanding season in fact brought her team the impressive number of six titles in the Creventic 24H Series, including GT4 teams and drivers' championship, overall teams and drivers' championship, Junior Cup and Ladies Cup.


Samantha, whose ST Racing was entering its first international campaign after a few years in North American motorsport, led the team flawlessly to four wins and seven podiums – including class victories at the 24 Hours of Dubai, the non-championship race in Abu Dhabi, the 24H of Barcelona and 12H of Hungaroring.


Tan started racing in touring cars in Canada, before founding ST Racing in 2017 and moving to the Pirelli World Challenge TC class. As a BMW customer team, they stepped up to the M4 GT4 machine in the SprintX championship in 2018.

2019 saw Tan and teammates finishing second in GT4 America ProAm class and kept momentum in 2020, when they secured third in the GT4 SprintX Silver category.


Throughout these years, Samantha made significant progress and learned a lot alongside experienced GT racers, which prepared her for the leap in 2021: an international campaign on all new tracks. The only circuit she had visited before was Dubai Autodrome, as ST Racing had attempted to conquer the famous endurance race in 2020 before the competition was interrupted due to heavy rainfall.


Tan's 2021 thus started with back-to-back victories in the Emirates, before claiming second place in Mugello. After an unfortunate DNF for a technical issue at Paul Ricard, she bounced back at Hockenheim where she returned to the podium, and two more wins at Barcelona and Budapest crowned her GT4 champion. At the 24H of Sebring, then, the shower of accolades: with second place in class, ST Racing sealed the overall titles and Samantha became the first woman to do so in a series that has historically featured many female talents.


In 2022, ST Racing decided to go a step further and acquired two brand-new BMW M4 GT3 cars – the first delivered by BMW Motorsport globally – to race in both the 24H Series and the SRO GT World Challenge America. Samantha will in fact combine a double programme to move her first steps in GT3 machinery and continue her path towards her ultimate dream: becoming the first Asian woman to win Le Mans.



MOMENT OF THE YEAR


Photo credits: Audi Sport

Girls Only team wins ADAC 24 Hours of Nürburgring


Endurance races are supposed to be demanding, but the 24 Hours of the Nürburgring at the Nordschleife takes the concept to another level.


The 2021 edition of the biggest GT race on the planet was a classic example of what can happen at the mighty Green Hell, where weather conditions play such an integral part of the race and, in a fraction of a second, the work of several months can be shattered.


But this time, it wasn't the case: the all-female team "Girls Only by Giti Tire" accomplished a near perfect weekend and claimed class victory in the SP8 class, bringing across the line the Audi R8 LMS GT4 in first place after six changes in the lead.


The race was heavily disrupted by the weather, with heavy downpour followed by a lengthy red flag overnight for a thick layer of fog. When the race fin