2022: Women in Motorsport, a Year in Review
As the world of motor racing already looks ahead to 2023, we want to reflect on the groundbreaking season that we have just put behind us, analyzing trends and celebrating the achievements of extraordinary athletes. Here's the ultimate season review, dedicated to women in motorsport.
There are certain moments in history that are instantly and clearly recognized as milestones - and that is true also for sports, where certain achievements can define groundbreaking seasons. For women in motorsports, 2022 was certainly one of those years.
Despite a global pandemic in the middle, the last five years have been a constant improvement in both participation and competitive level, especially in sports car racing. If 2021 could have been described as the target was keeping momentum after the challenges, 2022 will go into the history books for the year when farsighted projects delivered results.
In her first year at the helm of the FIA Women In Motorsport Commission, Deborah Mayer continued the legacy of her predecessor – racing legend Michéle Mouton – as the Commission extended its support of crucial programmes such as the Girls On Track - Rising Stars selections and launched networking events at Le Mans and Monza.
Mayer saw just as much success for her Iron Dames project, which effectively boomed after a few years of great development: 2022 will be primarily remembered for the outstanding successes of the pink Ferraris, who kept writing new chapters of motorsport history at each and every round of the several series they entered.
While certainly a team effort, project founder Deborah Mayer is to be praised for the rise of the all-female team, having created an environment which allowed all the team members to thrive and a winning-mindset, thanks to a long-term vision and proper funding.
In the wake of Iron Dames' successes, the trend for women in sports cars and endurance racing really picked up momentum and, towards the end of the season, several teams announced plans to run all-female crews in the near future, as a further testament that success stories can go a long way.
On the other hand, 2022 showed that the road on the single-seater ladder is still bumpy and work will need to be done.
While more women are coming up the ranks of karting competitions and approaching the F4 categories, the past year highlighted the need for a clear pathway to move up the ladder, in a heavily funding-dependent sport. The first all-female F3 championship, W Series, was forced to cut short its third on-track season, having hit financial troubles in its second year on the F1 support bill and having failed to promote a driver to the higher F1 feeder series.
Nevertheless, two top single-seater championships IndyCar and FIA Formula 2 returned to feature female entries - albeit not on a full season term – with the visionary Paretta Autosport project managing to extend its presence beyond the Indy500.
Formula Regional Japan crowned the first ever female champion in a FIA-sanctioned single-seater series and, despite slightly down from the 2021 figures, new promising talents made their debut in F4 championships around the world.
We would like to acknowledge the athletes that made this year particularly special – as our contributors voted their top-ten list which is by no means exhaustive of the many talented women that took to the racetrack in the year that is coming to a close.
OUR TOP 10
Having won her second W Series title in 2021, Jamie Chadwick was under the spotlight prior to announcing her 2022 plans: as it has been the case for some drivers rising to the top, the burden of the whole movement was on her shoulders, as stakeholders, supporters – and critics alike – of W Series expected her to step up the F1 ladder.
Chadwick would announce a surprising return to the all-female championship, unable to find the necessary funding to secure a competitive seat in FIA F3 despite the W Series prize-fund.
Her return to the series – in the newly-founded Jenner Racing team, managed by American TV personality and former Olympic athlete Caitlyn Jenner – initially fueled scepticism for the series, apparently unable to provide a pathway even for its winners.
"The budgets required at F3 and F3 level are huge. It makes it very difficult for most people to progress throughout the ranks" – Chadwick told us ahead of the season. "W Series put me on this pedestal and gave me this huge amount of exposure, which is fantastic - but I still need to find that budget. I wouldn't be racing without W Series."
As the championship looked to the other side of the Atlantic to expand its business opportunities, Chadwick hoped that would help her cause in the long run. "When I spoke to Caitlyn [Jenner], I made clear that my goal isn't just to become 3-time W Series champion", Jamie explained to us. "There's a lot of longer term goals that I have and I made that clear. She was very aligned with that and wanted to help support where she could. Her knowledge of the sport - as well as the business environment of the sport is really good. So I'm confident that with a good working relationship, the start of Jenner Racing is going to evolve into something that I'm hoping can last beyond just W Series". Once on track, Chadwick made her talent speak for itself and managed to turn that situation into one of the most impressive runs in recent memory, winning the five races of the year, setting a new record of seven consecutive victories and leaving everyone with the question if the young Briton could bag all the wins throughout the season.
She would eventually win five of the seven contested races, claiming her third consecutive W Series title in the bittersweet – yet not less deserving – moment of the announcement of the series pausing its racing activities. Chadwick's title, though, was never in jeopardy from the first round of the season, as the Jenner Racing driver stormed to victory in the opening races showing a mix of speed, racecraft, composure and cool-headedness that allowed her to claim maximum points even in the rare occasions when she probably wasn't the fastest driver on track. The true virtue of champions.
Jamie Chadwick leaves W Series with 11 wins, 10 pole positions, 18 podiums over 21 races. Incredible numbers of a driver that has done all in her power to prove she deserves to keep her single-seater dreams alive.
And, ironically, W Series' biggest win to date potentially arrived with their operations on hold: Jamie Chadwick move to IndyNXT – or IndyLights, how it was formerly known – is in fact the sign that the championship created by Catherine Bond Muir needed, as Jamie will have an opportunity in IndyCar's top feeder series, with powerhouse team Andretti Autosport.
If given the opportunity to learn the machinery and the tracks, next year's chance is an immense step in Chadwick's career, with potential to reach the pinnacle of American open wheel racing – as well as return to Europe.
After a sterling debut in the FIA RX2e Championship in 2021 – where she almost claimed a podium at Spa Francorchamps, in one of just two outings – 22-year-old rallycross driver Klara Andersson rose to international stardom in 2022, with history-making performances in each of the categories she entered.
Having joined CE Dealer Team in the FIA World Rallycross Championship, Andersson became the first ever full-time woman competing at the highest level of RX globally. Once again, the young Swede was quickly up to the task, gaining access to the final at debut and barely missing out on an overall podium in Norway.
The historic top three finish – the highest female result ever – was just a couple of rounds later, as Klara Andersson finished third in Portugal, at the third race meeting of the season.
Facing legends of the sport such as Johan Kristoffersson and the Hansen brothers, Klara's next step was to raise the bar even higher and win her first heat in the series. Her target was almost accomplished in Belgium, at her return to Spa Francorchamps, when a potential heat win was denied due to a penalty.
But, after another very solid fourth place in Barcelona, Andersson rounded out her impressive rookie WRX season by winning the first heat at the Nürburgring, where she enjoyed one of her strongest weekends and again made it to the final.
With her teammate Niclas Gronholm fighting for championship positions, though, Andersson also showed unmatched team spirit and gave up her spot in the final for her teammate. Her overall performance, though, gained her the Racer of the Weekend award.
She would finish seventh in the championship standings in her rookie season at the top of world rallycross, often battling on par with experienced and acclaimed drivers. Her racing season, though, was far from over.
Initially named Extreme E driver for Xite Energy Racing, Andersson was forced to miss the opening round in Saudi Arabia due to Covid and, with several driver changes across the season, she ended up being sidelined and returned in a championship reserve role.
When the opportunity presented itself to replace offroad icon Jutta Kleindschmidt at Abt Cupra, Klara Andersson finally got behind the wheel of the electric SUV Odyssey21 at the Copper X Prix in Chile – immediately bagging a podium.
Strong of her third place at debut, the Swedish driver was confirmed for the season finale at Punta del Este, Uruguay, where Klara Andersson stole the show and took her first victory in Extreme E, at her second start.
After spending a few years making her way up the ranks of the Swedish motorsport scene, Klara Andersson has undoubtedly proven herself as a star of the future.
Few drivers have shown more dominant performances than 18-year-old Frenchwoman Doriane Pin in her 2022 rise to the top of sportscar racing.
Pin made her debut in race cars only in 2020, contesting the Renault Clio Cup France after impressing in national karting. She was then selected as one of the four inaugural finalists for the first ever Girls On Track selections, eventually won by Maya Weug. Pin, though, had impressed enough to win the attention of Iron Dames, who decided to take her onboard for their Michelin Le Mans Cup programme.
The jump from Renault Clio to a Ferrari 488 GT3 did not faze young Doriane, who went on to score five podiums over six started races, sharing the wheel with Sarah Bovy first and Manuela Gostner in the second half of the season. But it would be in the following year that Pin's talent was clearly on display for the whole world to see: she made her full time debut in Ferrari Challenge Europe, succeeding 2021 champion Michelle Gatting in the #83 Iron Dames entry.
Her run in the Italian one-make series will remain in the history books as one of the most jaw-dropping performances in the series' history, taking 9 race wins, 13 podiums, 10 pole positions over 14 races – literally obliterating the competitions in the Pirelli Trophy category destined to pro drivers, including names of the likes of former F1 driver Adrian Sutil.
Alongside her victorious journey in Ferrari Challenge, Pin made appearances in the Iron Dames main line-up, joining Michelle Gatting, Sarah Bovy and Rahel Frey at the team's first ever participation at the 24 Hours of Spa. In a flawless run for the team, the four ladies claimed victory in the Gold Cup, making history once again.
Pin then was brought in the Iron Dames European Le Mans Series crew as well, partnering Bovy and Gatting. Doriane got behind the wheel at Spa and Portimao, scoring a second place and a victory – as the Italian team claimed its first ever win in the series.
After finishing third at the Ferrari World Finals, Doriane Pin rounded out her incredible season by entering the Lamborghini world finals, in Iron Dames' first ever race with the new brand. In a 42-car field, Pin took pole position at debut.
She would then test LMP2 machinery in Bahrain at the WEC rookie test, and was awarded the FFSA Volant d'Or by the French Federation.
At 18 year of age, Doriane Pin has established herself as one of the top names in endurance racing for the years to come.
Belgian racer Sarah Bovy joined Iron Dames in 2021, just before the start of the racing season and in a late call to enter the Michelin Le Mans Cup.
Bovy's performances highly convinced Iron Lynx and she was quickly promoted, literally months later, to the main line-up for the WEC 6 Hours of Monza. Bovy showed her talent and became one of the pillars of the history-making squad.
In 2022, Sarah Bovy was behind the wheel of the pink Ferrari in all the team's programmes, entering ELMS, WEC, as well as GT World Challenge Europe.
As the bronze-rated driver, Bovy was often elected to taken on driving duties in qualifying and, across the past season, she has become a true master in the art of single-lap performance: throughout the European Le Mans Series campaign, Iron Dames often started from the front row, as Bovy got increasingly closer to secure the team's first pole position.
That historic achievement eventually arrived in Monza, exactly one year after her WEC debut: at the highest level of endurance racing in the world, Sarah Bovy became the first ever woman to claim a pole position. It was only a matter of time and, once unlocked, the trend continued in Bahrain for the WEC season finale.
But, obviously, Bovy's task was not only to qualify the car and her merits go well beyond: often behind the wheel for the critical first part of the race, Sarah Bovy was in charge of survive the hectic first laps, make her way to the front and open as much gap as possible before handing over to her colleagues, usually after mammoth double stints.
And Sarah Bovy did just that, with metronomic precision: one of the strongest bronze drivers in the world, the 33-year-old was often seen taking the class lead and opening a gap, laying the foundation for the many podium finishes conquered by Iron Dames in 2022.
With a few starts under her belt at her home-race – the 24 Hours of Spa – Bovy was also crucially important in the team's victory in Gold Cup, as well as in the remarkable recovery drive at the 24 Hours of Le Mans after a lap 1 puncture.
While the whole Iron Dames crew would certainly be deserving of a nomination in our Top10 list – Michelle Gatting and Rahel Frey were unbelievably fast and pivotal throughout the three championship runs – Bovy stood out for her consistency and speed.
After shattering records with pole positions, race victories and a title hunt slipped away in the very final minutes in GTWC, Sarah and the other Iron Dames will be ready for new challenges in 2023, as the Italian team continues to pave the way for women in motorsport.
After a few seasons in Japanese Formula 4, Miki Koyama went international in 2019, when she was selected for the inaugural season of the all-female W Series championship. Spetting up to F3 regional machinery didn't prove to be too much of an issue for Koyama, who set the fastest lap at the very first race and was fourth in Misano, in what would be her best finish of the season. She would finish seventh in the championship, proving to be a great fighter and a good overtaker.
Her second year in the championship, though, was not equally successful and, despite a good start with a top five at the season opener in Austria, Koyama's season was hampered by a series of neverending mechanical troubles that put her in 14th position – outside of the confirmed top-eight.
Back in Japan, Koyama landed a seat in Formula Regional Japan after joining the Toyota GR development program. Teaming up with top squad SuperLicense, Miki Koyama had one of the most remarkable seasons, claiming the title after seven race victories and 17 podiums out of 17 races.
Koyama built her success with intelligence and consistency: a fierce racer that left nothing to the competitions on her good days, Miki was smart enough to maximise points and never took unnecessary risks when she didn't have the car to win.
She would win her first race at Okayama at the second round of the season, becoming the second woman to win after fellow SuperLicense driver Ai Miura scored a race victory in 2021.
Koyama, though, started a streak of five consecutive wins - including a perfect weekend at Motegi - that allowed the Japanese lady to significantly build her lead ni the championship standings, then winning again at Sportsland Sugo and at Fuji.
With a third place as her worst result of the year, Miki Koyama matematically secured the Formula Regional Japan title with three races to go at Fuji Speedway, becoming the first ever woman to win a FIA-sanctioned mixed-gender single seater championship.
Such accomplishment is a big step forward for Koyama as well as for women in formulae, and also represent a success story for W Series.
At the same time, Toyota's trust and support was an important step for Koyama, who paid back with a highly successful season the Japanese manufacturer. Having been confirmed as part of the junior programme for 2023, Miki Koyama will continue to work to reach Japan's premier championships.
Winning a championship is definitely no small achievement – but claiming back to back titles is something that only a few elite racing drivers have managed to do. Taylor Hagler, 27 year old from Texas, had a brilliant 2021 season clinching her first IMSA title in the TCR class of Michelin Pilot Challenge, alongside Michel Lewis in a Bryan Herta Autosport entry. With six podiums and one win, Hagler became the second woman to be crowned IMSA champion after Christina Nielsen had conquered the GTD class. The young American racer had an equally outstanding GT3 debut, as she fought for the ProAm title in GT World Challenge America at her first season in the Acura NSX GT3 Evo – eventually finishing Vice-Champion and rookie of the year. What really separates great drivers from champions though, is the ability to keep raising the bar and winning for a second year. Hagler and Lewis, behind the wheel of the #1 BHA Hyundai Elantra, had another strong start to their 2022, finishing twice second at Daytona and Sebring. While the season wasn't without hurdles and some difficulties, Taylor Hagler and Michael Lewis' ability always allowed them to bounce back and make the most out of every race weekend, maximising points and always remaining in the title fight for the TCR class. With two more second place finishes at Mid Ohio and Mosport, the strong duo built a gap in the point standings - and consistency in the second half of the season continued to pay off. The first win of the year did eventually arrive at VIRginia International Raceway, which granted Hagler a 100 point lead coming into the season finale at Road Atlanta. The last race was not drama-free, with a contact in the opening stint causing some thrills. But Taylor and Michael, just as they had done all season long, kept their cool and completed another solid recovery drive, finishing third and clinching the second title in just as many years. In the often chaotic and spectacular Pilot Challenge championship, Taylor Hagler delivered once again and, alongside her teammate, became the first drivers to defend the crown in the series' history. At the launch of the TCR World Ranking - which ranks the performance of over 900 drivers – Hagler is the highest placed woman, currently 25th and having been as high as 15th. Her return to SRO for the Intercontinental GT Challenge at the 8 Hours of Indianapolis in October turned out to be a more unlucky race, but 2022 definitely confirmed that the young Texan has what it takes to compete at the top in TCR and GT3 machinery.
Another driver that kept momentum from her rise up the ranks of sportscar racing in 2021 and continued to raise the bar is Ashton Harrison, 28, from Georgia, USA.
After cutting her teeth in the highly competitive Mazda MX5 Cup, Harrison made her jump into the Lamborghini Super Trofeo North America – and soon made headlines, becoming the first woman to ever win the Lamborghini World Finals in 2019, winning in the LB Cup at Jerez.
In 2020, Harrison continued in the single-make series, this time stepping up to the ProAm class. She would finish third in the championship, scoring one class win and seven podiums out of nine races. In the following year, Harrison ran a solo campaign in the Am class, again placing third and claiming two race wins, seven podiums and a fastest lap.
Towards the end of the season, Harrison made her debut in SRO, as she took part in the 8 Hours of Indianapolis that rounded out the GT World Challenge America and Intercontinental GT Challenge seasons. With a seriously impressive performance, Harrison won at her GT3 racing debut, becoming the first woman in to win overall in the American GTWC series.
Strong of such a result, Harrison embarked on a double programme in 2022, returning to the ProAm class of Lamborghini Super Trofeo, combined with her first full campaign in GT World Challenge America: the American teamed up with Mario Farnbacher at Racers Edge Motorsport – a combination that revealed to be a powerhouse in the ProAm class.
Harrison and her experienced teammate were quickly on the class podium in Sonoma, then followed by another second place and their first class win – and an overall second – at NOLA. It would be only the first of four class victories for Harrison, who also stepped three times on the overall podium, to eventually secure the class title at the season finale in Indianapolis.
A HPD graduate, Harrison showed great pace, overtaking skills and ability to fight with the Pro class drivers, as she increasingly got closer towards the end of the season, when she swept the Road America weekend with two class wins. Harrison therefore becomes the first female champion in the series' history and was named Rookie of the Year.
At the same time, Harrison battled for the ProAm title also in Lamborghini Super Trofeo, where a highly successful campaign alonsgide Tom Long in the Harrison Contracting WTR Lamborghini Huracan only came short of a few points at the Portimao finals.
After a class win at Laguna Seca, Ashton collected 6 second and 3 third place finishes – for a grand total of 10 podiums in 12 races that put her in third place in the standings.
After four years in Super Trofeo, Harrison will step up to North American premier sports car championship IMSA for her first full time season in a GTD Acura fielded by the new WTR/Andretti Autosport joint venture.
Swedish star Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky – daughter of established rally drivers Jerry Åhlin and Susanne Kottulinsky – might be one of the most versatile active racing drivers; almost from another era, when racers hopped from a car to the next, from one side of the globe to the other.
From karting to touring cars, from GT3 to offroad and rallycross: Åhlin-Kottulinsky has raced it all. After racing in the Scirocco and TT Cup, Mikaela contested two seasons in the ADAC GT Masters – one of Europe's top GT3 championships – before joining STCC, Scandinavian's premier touring car series. At the wheel of the PWR Cupra, Åhlin-Kottulinsky claimed podium and victories across her five years in the series, eventually finishing runner up in 2021 and becoming the highest placed woman ever.
Meanwhile, she joined the inaugural season of the new electric Extreme E championship, bringing Jenson Button's team JBXE to four podiums out of five races despite that being effectively her first ever season in off-road. Towards the end of the year, Åhlin-Kottulinsky also made her debut in the Nitro Rallycross championship, immediately taking victory.
After such a strong year in Extreme E, Mikaela impressed champion team RXR and Nico Rosberg lined up an all Swedish duo for its second campaign: Åhlin-Kottulinsky would team up with Johan Kristoffersson. The driver pairing kicked off 2022 with a win in the desert of Saudi Arabia, followed by another first place in the second Sardinia race.
Coming into the Uruguay finale as the championship leader, Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky and her teammate had one of the most unfortunate weekends ever, that eventually saw RXR finishing runner up. Nevertheless, Åhlin-Kottulinsky was always one of the stars of the show throughout the season, one of the fastest and most consistent female drivers.
But Kottulinksy's 2022 was not all about Extreme E, as she again combined a few rallycross outings and even made her GT4 debut, at her return to the racetrack in a few guest appearances in the Porsche Sprint Challenge Scandinavia.
At her first time in a GT4 car – the Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 Clubsport Competition – Mikaela took victory in her first weekend at Anderstorp, becoming the first female to enter – and to win – in the series.
A few weeks later, Åhlin-Kottulinsky did even better at Gelleråsen, when she swept the weekend and smashed the competition with two pole positions and two dominant race victories. Her adaptability to any kind of cars, tracks, forms of racing – as well as testing skills – makes Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky one of the most impressive drivers in international motorsport.
A returning name to our end of year lists, Sophia Floersch has made a name for herself in endurance racing since her debut in LMP2 with Richard Mille Racing Team, as the young German combined a FIA F3 and ELMS campaign in 2020. While she always continued to pursue opportunities to return to single-seaters – and even tested Euroformula machinery at the end of the year – Floersch showed plenty of potential in sportscars.
As part of the all-female trio with Tatiana Calderon and Beitske Visser, Floersch completed her rookie Le Mans 24H in the top 10 in class, and fully embraced the endurance racing spirit and environment in the following seasons, spent in WEC and ELMS. A combined programme in WEC and DTM – at the series' first year adopting the GT3 rules - also showed good progress through the season, especially after the team's return to a traditional steering technology. But it is at the wheel of prototypes that Floersch thrives and makes the difference.
Her experience of high-downforce cars, combined with a mix of decisiveness as well as consistency in long stints resulted in a great combo of car and driver, as Floersch found her place in the driving seat of the Oreca LMP2. In a one off appearance with Algarve Pro in the 2021 European Le Mans Series season finale, Sophia became the first ever woman to grab an overall podium in the series, finishing third at Portimao.
Securing a full-time seat at the Portuguese outfit for 2022, her racing season started where she had left off: together with Bent Viscaal, Floersch went on to finish second at the season opener at Paul Ricard – just a few laps short on fuel of a potential victory. The relatively small team compared to some bigger organizations in the ELMS paddock then continued to deliver great pace in the coming races, with Floersch and Viscaal – in a silver-rated duo up against some gold and platinum drivers - always fighting for the top three.
After her second podium, though, Floersch's season was hindered by the most surreal series of unfortunate events: a tyre puncture with few minutes to go in Imola, while the young German was once again catching up the leading trio; several ill-fated timed cautions in Monza; a surreal start from pitlane in Barcelona. Add a gearbox failure as the car rolled towards the start at Le Mans, and you'll get the perfectly unfortunate season.
Despite the evident difficulties outside of her control, Floersch drove her heart out, often charging through the field to score a few points. Her tenacity and determination could not award her with the deserved results, having showcased pace for the top 3 in every race – but certainly proved that Sophia Floersch belongs to the competitive elite of the now-booming endurance racing.
Her run at the 24 hours of Le Mans was particularly gut-wrenching, as Floersch, Aitken and Falb's performance were certainly victory-worthy in LMP2 ProAm.
While her 2023 program has not been announced yet, there is little doubt that her talent behind the wheel will start to bear fruit.
Catalan racer Belén García made a sensational single-seater debut in 2019, when she entered the Spanish Formula 4 championship and won at debut at Navarra, becoming the first woman in Europe – and only the second globally – to win a F4 race. She then went on to claim the Female Trophy, with great competition from two talented drivers like Nerea Marti and Irina Sidorkova.
Selected for the second W Series season in 2020, her debut in F3 machinery would actually come one year later, as the racing season ended up being cancelled for the pandemic. In 2021, though, Belén soon proved her worth and barely missed out on a podium finish at her W Series debut in Austria, eventually finishing fourth.
With also four rounds of FRECA experience under her belt, García had a positive debut season, albeit severely hampered by a few technical issues and unfortunate races. Despite five point-scoring weekends, García finished 10th in the championship standings, and missed out on the confirmation for the following year reserved to the top-8 classified drivers.
García, though, is not a driver that gives up easily and she worked hard to get that spot back. She was invited again by the series organization at the following selection tests, acting as a reference for the newcomers. "W Series have trusted me to do this job, to be consistent, to be fast and set the benchmark and I have to do the job well and I have to be fast" – she told us at the Arizona assessment tests, where there was pressure to prove the series' management to be quick enough to earn a second chance.
And that's exactly what she did, as Belén was again invited at the pre-season testing in Barcelona and showed plenty of speed, ultimately claiming back her spot on the field. Her second season in the all-female championship was a continuous improvement, with some remarkable runs – including a fourth place in Miami's second race – a five-race consecutive scoring streak, and her first podium in Le Castellet, where she was second in a highly impressive performance. Her only non-top10 turned out to be the Hungaroring race, where a first lap contact took her out of contention, but another near-podium in Singapore concluded her season in fifth in the championship, as the best Spaniard.
When W Series announced its financial difficulties, Belén García again had to work on an alternative for her future – and her move to endurance racing came just at the right moment.
Belén tested a LMP3 prototype and made her debut in the Michelin Le Mans Cup at the Portimao season finale, where she was eager to maximise track time and learn as much as possible in her first endurance race.
Unfortunately, the weekend saw many red flags and interruptions that left García with approximately a 20 minute stint behind the wheel of the Ligier JS P320, but potential was clearly there, as she set the fastest lap of her team and gained several positions.
With a clear goal in mind, García entered the final race of the Ultimate Cup at Circuit Paul Ricard towards the end of the year. In only her second race in the car, Belén led the Graff Racing LMP3 Ligier to victory after an outstanding recovery.
Belén García is now set to compete in the Asian Le Mans Series, again in a Graff Racing entry, as she prepares for her 2023 full-time programme. Her 2022 season is proof of her determination to overcome adversities, and is a clear example that there's life and opportunities outside the single-seater realm.
MOMENT OF THE YEAR
Iron Dames win Gold Cup class in Total 24 Hours of Spa
While the first major success was in the air all year long, nobody – not even within the team – would have expected it to come at the 24 Hours of Spa, the toughest GT3 race on the planet.
They had been so close numerous times throughout their campaigns in ELMS and WEC, often coming just short for a bad-timed caution, a strategy call, or an unlucky BOP for the Italian brand. Over 24 hours, a lot can go wrong – even a puncture on the first lap of the race, as it unfortunately happened at Le Mans.
But not this time: over a historic August weekend, Rahel Frey, Sarah Bovy, Michelle Gatting, Doriane Pin and the whole Iron Dames crew executed the perfect race. Having prepared the race with race pace in mind, the four drivers ran with clockwork-precision and steady rhythm, navigating through the field to take the lead in the Gold Cup class just as the night fell over the Ardennes.
From then on, the Iron Dames proved the world what they are capable of, putting two laps between them and the closest pursuers. At the chequered flag, it was not a victory, it was utter dominance. An iconic moment for women in motorsport that will remain in the history books of the sport.
More groundbreaking moments followed: Sarah Bovy's first WEC pole position in Monza, the pole position at Portimao and the subsequent ELMS victory. But it was the Spa victory that finally showed the whole world the team's potential and brought them under the global spotlight.
Samantha Tan wins the 12H of Mugello
Young Canadian driver-owner Samantha Tan had already enjoyed a fantastic 2021 season, when she brought her ST Racing team to a stockpile of titles in the CREVENTIC 24H Series, in her first year of international competitions. With a superbly consistent season, Tan claimed GT4 teams and drivers' championship, overall teams and drivers' championship, Junior Cup and Ladies Cup.
After such accolades, Samantha decided to step up to the GT3 category and ST Racing purchased two brand-new BMW M4 GT3 – the first ever delivered to customer teams by the German manufacturer. Sporting another striking art-livery, Samantha Tan Racing was ready to make some more history.
The January classic endurance at the 24 Hours of Dubai was tougher than expected, as everyone tried to get up to grips with the new car. Samantha, though, adapted quickly to the challenges of GT3 cars, in what is a huge step from GT4, even more so in the long-endurance format due to traffic management.
The next round was the 12 Hours of Mugello, for the start of the European season. ST Racing made leaps forward after the Dubai race and, despite no time to test in between, led most of the Italian race in a strong 40-car field, unleashing the potential of the new-generation M4 GT3 with Nick Wittmer, Bryson Morris and Samantha Tan behind the wheel.
At only her second GT3 race, Samantha Tan brought home a dominant victory – the first ever global win for the new model of the Bavarian car.
The rest of her season was less fortunate, as a crash by no fault of her own at VIRginia International Raceway took out Samantha's BMW for most of the championship, as the team struggled with shortages of spare parts due to the global logistic difficulties.
The Canadian still managed to take a few pole positions and victories in America's Ferrari Challenge, as well as entered her first 24H of Spa, running very competitive stints in the Silver Cup class in the world's top GT3 race.
Reema Juffali launches her own team, wins at GT Open debut
Saudi sport star Reema Juffali started her racing career in 2018, as soon as her country lifted the ban on women driving. Truly passionate about motorsport, Juffali soon decided to move to the UK, where she would really put her skills to test and learn in some of the best championships and teams. She would join the British F4 grid, where she contested two seasons totalling 22 top ten finishes before stepping up to GB3.
In the series formerly known as British F3, Juffali had a solid run, also scoring a fourth place at Silverstone. But the Saudi racer's career then took a different path in 2022, as she opted to switch to GT racing. And her entry onto the sportscar scene was a spectacular one: at her GT3 debut in January, Juffali showed real potential at the Dubai 24 Hours, where she was second in effectively her first ever 24-hour race.
The journey had barely started, as Reema Juffali then stepped up her involvement and founded her own racing team, Theeba Motorsport, aiming to improve opportunities, representation, diversity and inclusion in motor racing – values close to its groundbreaking founder's heart.
Theeba – a made-up word by Reema's friends when she was in school – roughly translates to she-wolf and represents a spirit willing to explore the limits and break the mould.
The team would line up Juffali herself, alongside Briton Adam Christodolou in the ProAm class of International GT Open. While the outfit would make its official debut under the new banner only at the second round at Le Castellet, Juffali and Christodolou made their first outing in GT Open at Estoril, Portugal, in a SPS Performance entry, taking a dominant double victory in class.
The Saudi team then claimed overall pole position on Saturday at Le Castellet, before taking another proAm win and overall podium in race 2. Their outstanding start of the season was put on hold at Spa Francorchamps, when an accident took out Christodolou while battling for the leading positions; Juffali though returned to the highest step of the class podium at Red Bull Ring, in a bittersweet weekend that saw the green Mercedes taken out on the following day in a massive accident that also ruled out the car from the Monza weekend.
A double class podium in Barcelona ultimately brought Reema Juffali to the runner-up spot in the ProAm championship standings – rounding out a highly competitive 2022 at both driver and team's debut in sportscar racing.
In 2021, two of the world's top single-seater championships returned to have female drivers on their grids. After competing in some of the most competitive racing series – including stints in FIA F3, FIA F2, SuperFormula, ELMS, WEC – Tatiana Calderon landed a seat at AJ Foyt in IndyCar, becoming the first female driver to enter the series outside of the Indy500 since 2013.
Calderon had the big task to learn the car and all the tracks, but made steady progress in the #11 machine, finishing in a respectable 16th place at Long Beach and then 15th in a very impressive race at the Indianapolis road course, where she almost clinched her first top ten in very tricky weather conditions, before being pushed off track in the final minutes.
Her solid rookie season, though, suddenly came to a halt mid-way through the season, when sponsor money from ROKiT stopped. The Colombian, though, found an unexpected ally in her compatriot pop singer Karol G, who stepped up and supported financially the racer in a surprise return to Formula 2.
Joining the field late in the season and after almost three years since her last appearance in the car, Calderon mainly focused on improving her performance session after session, until a contact at Monza's first chicane resulted in a hand injury. She nevertheless made full recovery and returned for the season finale at Abu Dhabi, completing the season at Charouz Racing Technologies.
Nevertheless, her presence in these championships is important for the entire movement, as representation at the top levels does matter for the younger generations.
Calderon, though, wasn't the only female racer in IndyCar, as Switzerland's Simona de Silvestro returned behind the wheel of the Paretta Autosport machine following the team's historic debut at last year's Indy500.
The organization founded by Beth Paretta is leading the way for women's involvement in North American motorsport and has focused its efforts on improving diversity and giving opportunities to women across the board, from management to engineers, mechanics and racing drivers. De Silvestro was initially signed for a three-race campaign at Road America, Mid-Ohio and Nashville, but the team managed to secure funding to return for the season finale at Laguna Seca, where De Silvestro again had a consistent run, logged laps and completed important mileage for the team's development.
Equally important is female presence at the top of World Endurance Championship, as the hypercar class gets increasingly bigger and will inevitably grow the popularity of the sport.
After a really strong debut season in LMP2, French talent Lilou Wadoux was awarded by the ACO with the opportunity to test the championship-winning Toyota GR010 Hypercar, having highly impressed at the wheel of the #1 Richard Mille Racing Team's LMP2 Oreca.
Wadoux had just made a huge leap from the Alpine Europa Cup to WEC, but the 21-year-old from Amiens never disappointed and scored four top ten in class, including her first ever running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, where she finished sixth.
At the Bahrain rookie test, she therefore became the first ever woman to drive a Hypercar.
In single-seaters, the average age of the drivers moving from F4 to Formula Regional lowered, as W Series scouted significantly younger drivers at its pre-season testing. New entries included American Chloe Chambers – who often graduated from Formula 4 US and was often the best of the rookies; Emely de Heus, from Spanish F4; 16-year-old Japanese Juju Noda, the youngest ever to enter W Series and who was voted as Rookie of the Year by fans on social media; while Tereza Babickova, 18, and Bianca Bustamante, 17, graduated straight from karting.
In the uber-competitive FRECA, Hamda Al Qubaisi stepped up from Italian F4, while Léna Buhler had a partial season cut short by funding issues. The Swiss, though, will be back in F4 UAE in 2023, as she prepares her return to the track.
Hamda's sister, Amna, had a good run in the Formula Regional Asia, where she scored a top ten at the home race in Abu Dhabi in a really competitive field.
Hamda Al Qubaisi, Abbi Pulling, Chloe Chambers and Tereza Babickova - then replaced by Nerea Marti, following an injury for the Czech driver – were awarded a test day in Magny Cours in the FIA F3 car.
Formula 4 is always a crucial level to monitor and analyze in order to keep track of the progress. 17 female drivers entered F4 races around the world in 2022, a slight decrease from the previous year. In what is arguably the most competitive F4 series worldwide, the Italian championship featured two women: Iron Dames and Ferrari Driver Academy member Maya Weug, as well as rookie Victoria Blokhina. In her second year in F4 cars, Weug showed significant improvements and scored points at every race bar one. In a 40 car field, Weug had strong qualifyings, battled hard in the wheel-to-wheel duels and claimed her first out of nine top-10 at the first round in Imola, followed by other great weekends at Misano, Vallelunga, Red Bull Ring. Weug has been confirmed in the FDA stable and will step up to Formula Regional European Championship by Alpine in 2023. Having made her race cars debut in the F4 UAE, Victoria Blokhina continued her rookie year with a full program in Italy, as well as an appearance in the Spanish series. Blokhina also had a notable development and was more than once close to score her first points. In the ever-growing Spanish championship, Lola Lovinfosse returned for a second year, moving from Drivex to Teo Martin. The 16-year-old French driver, though, had to halt her season at the summer break due to financial reasons. Two rookie drivers tackled the US championship: Uruguayan Maite Caceres and Madison Aust. Both part of the Arizona W Series selection test, they improved significantly over the course of the season, with Caceres scoring a P12 as a best finish at Road America and then a series of 15th place finishes at the COTA finale, despite having missed a few rounds in between. Aust managed to score points at New Jersey Motorsports Park, with a ninth place. Both drivers also joined selected races of the new USF Juniors, a series that employs the same Tatuus F4 cars but that is part of the Road To Indy program. Caceres was the highest placed here, with two P11 and a P12 as personal bests. W Series rookie Bianca Bustamante also raced in the two opening rounds, scoring a P10 at Ozarks. The F4 championship with more female entries was once again the Danish series, totaling five drivers participating in at least one round: Mille Hoe, Line Sønderskov, Alyx Coby, Michella Rasmussen and Aurelia Nobels. For the second year in a row, Mille Hoe was a constant presence in the top-10 in her F5 car, but the standout performance goes to Michella Rasmussen, who won in class at Ring Djursland and was fourth overall, in a career best. In Japan, TCR specialist and race winner Rio Shimono made a surprise switch to Formula 4 and spent the season adapting to the different form of racing.
The Brazilian championship made its debut in 2022, with Aurelia Nobels as the only female entry. Born in the US from Belgian parents and raised in Brazil, Aurelia proved to be a quick learner and soon scored points at Interlagos – then again on two occasions at Velo Città. Nobels maximised her track time with appearances in the Danish and Spanish series and was selected for the third edition of the Girls On Track finals. In November, she was announced as the winner and will therefore join the Ferrari Driver Academy together with Maya Weug and Laura Camps. An interesting new series that emerged in 2022, the UK-based GB4, offered an affordable alternative with the Tatuus F4 T014 and immediately attracted a significant female participation, with Jessica Edgar, Megan Gilkes, Logan Hannah and Chloe Grant. The four ladies of the championship all performed greatly, with Gilkes – a former W Series driver – winning two races and scoring three podiums. But there was success for most of them, as Hannah also won at Donington and was second in Silverstone; Edgar was runner up at oulton Park and Grant, despite missing out on a podium, was rewarded by her consistency and finished ahead of her teammate Hannah, with a highlight weekend at Brands Hatch where she was twice in the top-five. Chloe, 16 from Scotland, was then selected among the four finalists in the Girls on Track - Rising Stars in Maranello. Last but not least, Maria Perez de Arce Rodriguez raced in the Chilean F4 championship – contested with Formula Abarth cars – and represented her country in the FIA Motorsport Games, becoming the only woman in the field.
Hopefully, we'll see the number of female drivers graduating from karting to F4 rise again in the coming years, also sparked by the new F1 Academy project.
However, 2022 also proved how formulae are certainly not the only way to professional motor racing. Just like Belén García and Reema Juffali found success as they moved to sports cars, drivers that had been racing in open wheels for all their careers like Vicky Piria made their GT racing debut. The Italian – who has a wide experience in top championships such as GP3 Series, Euroformula, Formula Renault Eurocup, W Series – started a new stage of her career in 2022, as she entered the Italian GT Championship Sprint in a Porsche 991 GT3 Cup.
Firstly in an all-female entry together with her long-time friend and two-time champion Francesca Linossi, and then teaming up with two different co-drivers in the second half of the season, Piria had to learn a very different approach to racing and setting up the car but, after an unfortunate first round in Monza, she claimed her first top 10 in Misano. From there, Piria would battle for the Cup class podiums in Imola and Mugello, eventually stepping for the first time on the rostrum at the final race.
Another former W Series driver to get back behind the wheel of a GT car was Sabré Cook, who deserves a special mention. The American returned to racing after a full year off the racetrack after she sustained injuries in an accident at the first round of the 2021 W Series race at Red Bull Ring, which caused a right hip labral tear, hip impingement, herniated L5, compressed L1 and L2, spinal canal narrowing, SI joint dysfunction, and sacroiliitis. The American still completed the season in W Series and then underwent surgery, followed by a year of physical therapy.
After a full year of recovery, Cook announced her return and joined Round 3 Racing for the final two double-headers of endurance series World Racing League at Sebring and COTA, in a Porsche Cayman. Partnering fellow Shift Up Now athletes Loni Unser – and with Erin Vogel joining them at Sebring – Cook swept both weekends, winning all the races in the GP1 class and helping secure the team's title. Cook's phenomenal return also included the victory in the Kelly Moss Racing's selection, as the driver from Colorado landed the 2023 seat in Porsche Carrera Cup North America.
Loni Unser and Hannah Grisham also had amazing seasons in WRL; across the GP1 and GP3 classes, they sealed Eastern Championships as well as National titles under the banner of R3R.
In Europe, GT3 specialist Carrie Schreiner continued to impress on German soil and was crowned GT60 by Pirelli champion in the GTC series. Despite her young age, Schreiner has already experience of several brands in some very competitive GT3 championships; in 2022 she drove the steer-by-wire equipped Mercedes AMG GT3 to the title in the 1-hour format, fought for the class championship in the Porsche Sportscup Endurance, stepped on the podium in the 12H of Hockenheim. Additionally, she tackled the Nürburgring Nordschleife in the top class of NLS, finishing fourth overall and on the class podium.
The Green Hell also saw female success at the legendary 24 Hour race: in an action packed 50th edition, Laura Kraihamer took victory in the Cup-X category after a masterclass in determination and perseverance, coming back from a clutch issue in the opening hours that was about to put her KTM X-Bow GTX out of contention, to win one of the most demanding races on the planet.
In GT4, Gabriela Jílková continued to make headlines in ADAC GT4 and, for the first time, she entered the European GT4 championship. Particularly notable were her performances at Zandvoort - where she was fourth in the German series – and at Spa Francorchamps – where the Czech racer showed strong nerves to bring home a fourth place in the ProAm class.
Unfortunately, her seasons were halted mid-way through, but Jílková managed to bounce back stronger and returned to the track for a couple of NLS rounds and for the Indian Racing League. Furthermore, Jílková was part of the all-female selection Le Volant Matmut 100% Féminin – a project by Akkodis ASP that will bring a fully-female crew to next year's FFSA French GT4 next year. Gabriela Jílková and Lucile Cypriano emerged as the winners.
Stateside, Sheena Monk was twice on the podium in the GS class of the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge. After a dramatic start of the season, marked by a big accident for her teammate at Sebring, which resulted in a switch to different machinery, Monk really got in the rhythm once she understood the new car and started to deliver really strong performances: she would claim her first podium of the season at Lime Rock Park. At Road America, Monk was on an impressive run to hand over the #877 Mustang in yet another podium position to Kyle Marcelli, before she was pushed off track and into the gravel. But revenge arrived at VIR, when the duo survived a drive through and late fuel drama to finish second overall.
TCR also remains a popular platform around the world. Besides the already mentioned IMSA Pilot Challenge TCR champion Taylor Hagler, Swedish racer Jessica Bäckman had a brilliant season in ADAC TCR Germany, where she was crowned Vice-Champion.
Bäckman hoarded race victories at the start of the season and continued to collect podiums in the second half of the year, even after a team and brand change.
Anna Inotsume was also runner-up in the Japanese TCR championship – in both the Sunday and Saturday's classifications – as she secured victories in both series, at Fuji and Suzuka. She would finish the year with two wins and 8 podiums.
W Series podium-finisher and Aston Martin F1 Team development driver Jessica Hawkins combined a double racing programme, contesting the UK-based TCR. At the wheel of the FastR #21 Cupra Leon, Hawkins claimed a victory in her first weekend, holding off the competition in race 2 at Oulton Park. She had six more point-scoring finishes, including a strong run at Castle Combe.
A race winner in multiple TCR championships, Michelle Halder had a more troubled season in the highly competitive TCR Europe. After a stunning season in the Spanish championship in 2021, the Halder Motorsport driver made her way back to the continental series, but was met with an endless streak of mechanical issues. Michelle, though, still managed to show glimpses of her talent in weekends such as Monza, where she was fourth in qualifying.
In the Italian championship, Francesca Raffaele's return to the track was a fantastic story in its own: the tiny, shy lady - who becomes a fierce driver once the helmet is on - had suffered a brutal accident in testing and was forced to miss the entire 2021 season. But fighting spirit and passion brought her back in the driving seat in 2022, as the top-tens also did not take long to come.
While there were no female entries in TCR Spain, young racecar rookie Alba Vazquez had a brilliant season in CET, the Spanish Touring Car championship that shares the grid with TCR. Vazquez won her first race win at Navarra and, with great consistency, secured third in the standings.
24H Series front-runner Jasmin Preisig finished second in the European series' standings in the Wolf Power Racing #116 Audi RS3 LMS TCR, having battled for the TCE title for the second year in a row. Former W Series driver Irina Sidorkova made her TCR debut in a 4-hour race, as she is potentially exploring more opportunities in touring cars for the future.
In Scandinavia, more drivers are also exploring the opportunities of touring cars: Finnish Linda Vekka contested her second year in the Danish DS3 Cup, showing significant improvements.
The world of American stockcar racing continued to feature numerous female talents climbing the ladder to the major national series. While it wasn't a memorable year for the most popular NASCAR driver Hailie Deegan, the Californian still had some form of redemption towards the end of the season, when a one-off appearance in the Xfinity Series clearly showed her potential in a series that traditionally offers cleaner racing.
Xfinity - the second tier level of national competitions – also saw another female entry at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Homestead-Miami Speedway: Julia Landauer returned to competitions after 2020. Landauer had last contested the EuroNASCAR, becoming the first woman to step on the overall podium. After the pandemic difficulties, Landauer managed to put together a part-time program and ran solid laps at Miami, despite being crashed out early in her debut.
The ARCA platform again offered good opportunities to several female drivers, across the national, East and West championships. Toni Breidinger had 6 top-10 finishes to finish P6 in the championship, just ahead of a seriously impressive Amber Balcaen, who made the most out of her equipment and had a seventh place finish as career best.
In the West series, young Australian Bridget Burgess had by far her best season to date, with four top-10 and ran as high as fourth in an inspired race at Portland, before mechanical issues. At Las Vegas, Bridget and her mother Sarah made history, becoming the first daughter/mother duo to share the starting grid. At the same race, 15-year-old Katie Hettinger made her debut with a 9th place in qualifying, proving that she will be one to watch in the future.
In the East championship, Stephanie Moyer became the first ever female to finish in the top-5 in the championship standings.
The European NASCAR championship featured a particularly exciting battle for the Female Trophy, as four women entered the EN2 division. Italian rookie Luli Del Castello, at her first ever international season, took the championship honours with some truly exceptional performances and two overall top-ten finishes.
2022 was also a historic year for World Rally Championship, as we witnessed the first female world champion. And not just one, but two: Enni Mälkönen and Reeta Hämälainen secured the co-driver titles respectively in the WRC3 and WRC2 classes. In the year that saw Isabelle Galmiche winning the Rally Monte-Carlo alongside Sebastién Loeb, exactly 25 years after the last female victory of Fabrizia Pons, Mälkönen and Hämälainen continued the extraordinary season for female co-drivers and got the job done with several rally wins and podiums to their name. The winning trend continued also in the European Rally Championship, as Sara Fernández navigated Efrén Llarena to the ERC title and became co-driver champion for the second time in a row. Female participation has increased significantly also in rally-raid, with the iconic Dakar Rally having 52 women at the start – 19 drivers and 32 co-drivers. Among them, Extreme E stars Cristina Gutierrez, Laia Sanz – at her first participation in cars – and Molly Taylor, as well as Saudi Dania Akeel, continue to lead the way. But the incredible story of Rebecca Busi was particularly inspiring: her first ever race in rally-raid was, in fact, the toughest of all - the Dakar. And she won her personal challenge of crossing the finish line.
Last but certainly not least, 2022 was another big year for the women of drag racing.
Brittany Force joined the list of elite drivers to have won multiple championships in the National Hot Rod Association – the only fourth woman to do so.
Force, 36 from California, had a memorable and record-breaking campaign, from first to last round. The most successful year of an already amazing career included five victories in the Top Fuel class and a new all-time national speed record, breaking her own previous run by one-thousandth of a second at Pomona. The driver of the 11,000-horsepower Monster Energy/Flav-R-Pac dragster also led the classification for final rounds, top speeds and No.1 qualifying positions.
Brittany set the fast run ever in NHRA with 338.994 and in the NHRA Countdown she overcame an 80-point deficit with two races remaining to win it.
Also in that elite group of drag racing legends is certainly Erica Enders, who achieved her fifth NHRA Pro Stock championship in 2022. Only four other drivers in the sport's history had managed to reach such levels – and her latest year turned out to be out of the ordinary even for Enders' standards: 10 wins in 19 races and a record in elimination rounds.
At Gainesville, Enders completed the fastest run in the history of the class, but then lost on reaction time. That defeat ignited Enders' motivation even more, as she would then win four out of the next finals. The rest of the season was just as momentous, with victories in the playoffs at Reading, St. Louis, and Dallas – before the decisive win in Las Vegas that definitely wrote Erica Enders' name among the greatest.
While there is clearly still a lot of work to do and the road to numerical parity is long and winding, the progress made over the past five years or so are a clear indication that the we are on the right track and that push for equal amount of investments in sponsorship money towards female athletes – as well as steady incentive from ASNs to develop grassroots levels and grow the base of the pyramid – is what will ultimately make the difference.
To an even more successful 2023.