Having missed out on the automatic entry by just one point in 2019, Caitlin Wood was "super grateful for the opportunity" to join the W Series pre-season test at Anglesey last month. We caught up with the Aussie, ahead of the upcoming season.
A little over three weeks ago, the all-female W Series returned to the track one year and a half after its last official session. The five-day pre-season test at Anglesey, North of Wales, was the first occasion since the selected drivers were back reunited after a meeting in London held in March 2020, a few days before the global health crisis changed everything as we knew it.
In London, the six newcomers met the 12 confirmed drivers that had gained automatic entry at the 2019 season finale. Abbie Eaton, Ayla Agren, Belen Garcia, Bruna Tomaselli, Nerea Marti and Irina Sidorkova were officially set to join the W Series grid after the assessment tests in Almeria, Spain, which were held just a month after the final race of the inaugural season.
It wasn't clear if drivers not finishing in the top-12 - thus not gaining a direct entry in the next season – would have received another opportunity to qualify.
After the 2020 season was called off – for the obvious difficulties of planning an international championship, still in a start-up mode, and with drivers from 12 different countries in the midst of a global pandemic – W Series announced that the qualified drivers would have been confirmed for the 2021 season. Yet, it remained uncertain if new hopefuls – or returning drivers – would have been given the chance to prove their worth ahead of the championship's sophomore season.
As the global crisis persisted and travel restrictions remained in place, testing was moved from the Ricardo Tormo circuit, Valencia, to the scenic location of Anglesey: a remote coastal venue in Wales that provides fast sections, technical corners and elevation changes.
All but one of the drivers made it to the UK, with South African Tasmin Pepper being denied the chance to enter the UK due to a change in the country's red list.
Nevertheless, the cars hitting the 3.4km circuit were 20: on the first day, in fact, it was announced that Gosia Rdest, Caitlin Wood and Abbi Pulling had been invited to join the test.
W Series has since then confirmed that Gosia Rdest will enter the first two rounds, with Tasmin Pepper dropping to reserve driver due to travel restrictions. Caitlin Wood, together with Abbi Pulling and Naomi Schiff, will be part of the reserve drivers pool.
Caitlin Wood, 24-year old from New South Wales, Australia, had moved to Europe in 2016 to pursue a professional racing career. As part of the Reiter Engineering Young Stars program, she entered the European GT4 championship in a KTM X-Bow GT4 – a racecar that she also drove around the famous Mount Panorama circuit for the 12H of Bathurst in 2018 and 2019.
At the wheel of Lamborghini machinery, then, Wood entered both the Blancpain GT Sprint and Endurance series in 2017, before switching to the Italian brand one-make series Super Trofeo Europe in 2018. One of the most interesting upcoming female talents in GT cars, Wood had her eyes on a career in endurance racing – until the launch of the first all-female Formula 3 championship in 2019.
Despite the little single-seater experience, Caitlin passed the inaugural selection process and gained a spot among the 18 race drivers for the 2019 season. In Hockenheim, Wood had a remarkable debut as scored points, finishing tenth. She then was just outside the point-paying positions on three occasions, but bounced back in Assen where she finished fifth after a brilliant performance.
As several drivers battled for the final places in the top-12 at Brands Hatch, Wood was again 11th and missed out on the automatic entry – by one point.
Polish racer Gosia Rdest was also in a similar position, having scored a ninth and a sixth place finish that would leave her 2 points short.
Then, approximately two weeks before the W Series return to the racetrack, the call.
"It was a little last minute - maybe 2 weeks before Anglesey and I got the call." – she told us. "Obviously I was delighted that I was able to participate in pre-season testing with everyone and get back into the swing of things."
The test marked the first time that Wood had been lapping in the Tatuus F3 car since her last race in 2019, but the young Aussie was quickly back in the rhythm.
"It was great to have the chance to be able to get comfortable." – added Caitlin.
"It took maybe the first session to find my feet again but after that you definitely find a rhythm and are ready to crack on with it all!"
"I am super grateful for the opportunity - it was a great week with all different weather conditions which has been super helpful to gain as much experience in these cars as possible. We gained lots of information and kept improving as the week progressed. It was a load of fun and really great to get back doing what I love."
Just like most of her colleagues, Wood mainly used the sessions to get reacquainted with the car and was happy about her improvements.
"My main focus was mainly to get adapted back to the W Series car as quickly and best I could. It has been awhile since the season finished at the end of 2019 so it was all about gathering as much information as I could, getting comfortable with the car again and just progress throughout the week."
"We were given such quality track time at Anglesey so I feel we were able to do what we set out to do and we were happy with my progress and pace."
"I had been to Anglesey before for work so it was nice to know the track layout." – said Wood, who is also a driving instructor and is now living in the UK.
"It is such a great little circuit and has a bit of everything - plus a nice view!"
"I think it was a great circuit to prepare us for Red Bull Ring, as they are both quite undulating with braking zones that are uphill and downhill - which will be great preparation for turns 2 and 3 at Red Bull Ring".
The five-day test also gave the opportunity to the drivers that were forced to put their racing plans on hold during the Covid pandemic to get back up to speed ahead of the first round of the season.
"Obviously the girls who were able to do some single seater racing and testing over the past year were quicker out the gate but it definitely gave everyone the chance to get back up to speed and by the end of the week it was exciting as to how close we all were." – observed Caitlin. "I think it will be some really great racing this season."
If indeed Caitlin Wood will get the chance to take the start of a W Series race in 2021 – like has happened to Sarah Bovy and Vivien Keszthelyi in 2019 – we can be sure that the likeable, charismatic and determined Australian driver will be ready to deliver.