Feature: The 2019 W-Series revelations
One week from the title decider, we look back at the first racing season that launched new names to the international arena.
One week has already gone by since the race that awarded the inaugural W-Series title, the first all-female championship in the history of motorsport.
In this past week we had the time to reflect on the 2019 season, surely with a bit of nostalgia for the many memories that in less than four months this series has been able to create. But this is also the time to start evaluating the drivers' performances, in a season that certainly confirmed well-known names but also launched very talented outsiders.
If many would have placed their bets on a title battle between Jamie Chadwick, Beitske Visser and Alice Powell on the eve of the opening round at Hockenheim, predicting the performances of the drivers that eventually completed the top-12 turned out to be anything but easy.
With the experienced Alice Powell hitting bad luck during the mid-season weekends and having to surrender her title chances, drivers such as Marta Garcia and Fabienne Wohlwend emerged. When Emma Kimilainen made her return in spectacular fashion at Norisring, she immediately presented herself as one of the top drivers with commanding pace.
Although Emma, Marta and Fabienne certainly had extraordinary seasons, anyone who had been following their careers before will hardly define them as "revelations".
The results of the thirty-year-old from Finland, a versatile driver and eclectic personality, are impressive but not surprising given her proven talent in both formula and touring cars.
The same applies to just-turned 19 year-old Marta Garcia, undisputed star of international karting, as well as for the Ferrari Challenge champion Fabienne Wohlwend.
We have therefore selected our 'true revelations' of the 2019 W-Series season.
The American from Grand-Junction, Colorado, finished her first European campaign in eleventh place in the final standings, gaining the sought-after automatic access to the 2020 grid. After she struggled a bit in the first part of the championship to finish in the points, Sabré Cook was protagonist in Misano of a memorable comeback through the field that eventually unlocked her potential. In fact, positive weekends followed, as Cook spent solid races in the points with sporadic appearances in the top-3 (Norisring FP1 and the extra-championship race at Assen).
A mechanical-engineer, 25 year old Sabré Cook ended on a positive trend her 2019 campaign in Brands Hatch, showing her ability to quickly learn the all-new European tracks and the secrets of the Tatuus F3 car.
After Norisring, Sabré told us that she rated her season as a "7 out of 10". We would rather say a solid 8.
This was also the first racing season outside of native borders for young Miki Koyama, with Japanese Formula 4 being her only previous experience of single seaters.
A Honda-supported driver, Koyama had a veteran-worthy season: her stunning first half of the championship meant she scored in four rounds, always on the edge of the top-5.
Koyama was unlucky in the last two weekends of Assen and Brands Hatch, where she collected a DNF and a 20th place, but most importantly she arrived at the iconic British venue with the mathematical certainty of a grid slot for next year, crowning a highly competitive season often defined by her breathtaking overtaking skills.
Those who had the opportunity to speak with the 21-year old from Yokohama were certainly amazed by her strongly self-critical character: "Everyone tells me that I had a good season, but it's not true. I finished seventh in the standings while I am here to win. If you don't win it's not a good season."
"Next year I will come back and I have to start finishing on the podium and winning races. I have to prepare better and improve especially in qualifying, to start at the front."
For South African Tasmin Pepper making it into the 2019 grid had been a challenge in itself. This wasn't only her first big international opportunity: for twenty-nine year old Tasmin the F3 car was, in fact, quite a big difference from the front-wheel drive Volkswagen Polo Cup she used to race nationally.
"Going into it, I struggled to even get into W-Series; it all went down to the last day, and I think I was 12th or 14th trying to fight for those last 6 positions. My last testing day was really good and I made a big step in order to secure my position in the W-Series. Going into it I knew I had to work really hard: obviously all the drivers I was driving against are really talented and fast and do have already a lot of experience in single-seaters." - Tasmin told us after the race. "I think the championship started off pretty well for me, I finished in the points straight away, which helps quite a lot in being consistent throughout the season and ultimately helped me to get into the top ten overall."
"The last two rounds weren't the best, not making it into the points and making mistakes. But you've got to learn from mistakes. Driving a single-seater isn't as easy as everyone thinks it is, but overall I think it's been a pretty good season and it's something to work on for next year."
"I had to learn the car and learn the tracks, which made it really difficult, but I always wanted a top 10 position and I'm really happy that I got that. Now going into next year I just have to work really hard in the off-season and I'll try to get some testing to be ready for next year and hopefully going for a top-5 in the championship. That'd be good."
"I still think I need to progress a lot as a driver, to be fair: I'm too cautious. When I learn a new track I don't go 100% initially. I'm kind of scared of making mistakes, so going into next year I'll definitely have to work on that. Even if it is that I make mistakes, I'm going to learn from those but I've got to give myself that opportunity. So, I think I had that in the back of my mind the whole time: don't make mistakes, don't crash. But I've made it now, and I'll just try to be as competitive as I can from the first free practice."
Despite a very different racing background, Tasmin Pepper has been a constant presence in the top-10, making proud her still under-represented country in motorsport:
"There are very few South Africans racing internationally. Some have done really well, like my brother [Jordan Pepper, currently racing in the Blancpain GT Series for Bentley] and the Van der Lindes. I think the exposure I've received just gives more people an opportunity to try to aim for something internationally. Who knew that at 29 I'd be racing at this level. It just gives people hope that there's something to work towards. That's a really big thing for South Africans."
Ph credits: Racers-BehindTheHelmet.com