Gosia Rdest to race in W Series season opener, as reserve drivers are announced
W Series announced its reserve driver pool for the 2021 season, including returning drivers Gosia Rdest, Caitlin Wood, Naomi Schiff and newcomer Abbi Pulling. Rdest will enter the Austrian double header, with Tasmin Pepper being held up by travel restrictions.
Three weeks after the Anglesey test, we were left wondering about the W Series final driver line ahead of the first round in Austria: with three extra drivers invited to pre-season testing, 18 confirmed racers and an absence due to international travel restrictions, it remained unclear if the grid would be extended to 20 cars and if indeed the three invited guests were being considered for a spot on the grid or for a reserve driver position.
Today, the first all-female single-seater championship did clear up on the situation and announced its reserve driver line up: five drivers will be available at the races – starting from the Styrian Grand Prix on June 26th – and will include both returning drivers and a rookie.
The 28-year old from Poland finishes 14th in the 2019 standings, just two points short of an automatic entry for the following year. In the W Series inaugural season, Rdest proved that she belongs to the field by scoring a ninth and a sixth place, topped the Norisring free practice and was battling consistently in the top ten.
Gosia, who has become a brand ambassador for French manufacturer Alpine and has been racing in the Alpine Elf Europa Cup since 2020, entered the virtual W Series Esports League on a regular basis and was among the most followed drivers on her iRacing streams during lockdowns.
Her performance at the Anglesey test convinced W Series to give the fast Polish racer another opportunity and she will return to the all-female F3 championship in a reserve-driver role. Gosia is scheduled to race at the Austrian double-header at Red Bull Ring.
"This is another proof that it is worth fighting to the very end and being determined." – commented Gosia after the news.
"This is for me a huge opportunity, which I hope I will take advantage of. However, I must approach it responsibly." – she added.
"I was away from single-seaters for over one year, when some of my rivals regularly tested or even competed in them. For example, my neck muscles weakened and I started to actively train myself for the overloads that I will have to face."
Nevertheless, the Austrian track is a familiar one for Rdest, who now looks forward to the challenge: "The Red Bull Ring is a special place for me - it was there that I first raced in a closed-wheel car, after I was invited to compete in the Polish Volkswagen Cup. I am very happy that it will be two races back-to-back on the same track, it will certainly be helpful. I will do my best!"
Caitlin Wood finished the 2019 season in a very similar situation to Rdest: two point-scoring weekends and three eleventh-place finishes – that would cost the 24-year old Aussie the qualification for one point.
"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." – she told us after the Anglesey test.
"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."
Wood was also quickly up to speed in testing, having sat out one year and a half from competitions. But she felt happy with her progress – and clearly W Series shared the same opinion: "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."
We caught up with Caitlin after her return to the track and you can read the full interview here. She is also set to travel to the Red Bull Ring in two week's time, where she will take on the role of reserve driver.
The driver from Rwanda is also a returnee from the 2019 season: Naomi scored points in Zolder and Norisring, with two tenth places that would leave her 16th in the drivers' standings. Schiff, who previously raced with German licence, was born in Belgium and grew up in South Africa, is a truly international personality.
In 2020, Schiff was appointed Diversity and Inclusion ambassador at W Series and was reserve driver in the Esports League. With several other competitors having to miss rounds to to real-racing commitments, though, Schiff took part in the full virtual season and finished tenth after the 10 rounds.
At Anglesey, Naomi was part of the W Series media staff and was later announced as analyst in the team of commentators and presenters for broadcaster Channel 4. She will thus combine her new role for the television coverage with reserve driver duties.
"W Series is definitely an amazing platform for women and I think it would be a huge opportunity, because the seat time that is on offer there is so valuable" – told us 18-year old Abbi Pulling in an interview prior to the start of her second season in British Formula 4.
Coached by fellow W Series racer Alice Powell, Pulling is currently focusing on her title hunt in the UK-based F4, where she had a remarkable debut in 2020 and immediately presented herself as one of the most promising female talents worldwide.
Having scored podiums at her debut, Abbi opted for a second year in the series, with the clear aim of clinching the title.
At the season opener at Thruxton, the changing weather denied her first win, but the young Brit's pace showed what she is capable of. The W Series test at Anglesey was just one more testament of Pulling's momentum: she will join the championship as the only newcomer for the 2021 season and will take on the reserve driver role from the second race of the season at Spielberg on July 3rd.
Pepper's situation is a more challenging one. The 30-year old South African performed amazingly in the first season, despite coming into the inaugural year as one of the dark horses. With little experience of international racing – albeit with many years of national competitions in touring cars under her belt – Tasmin was competitive from the get go and remained a regular point-scorer throughout the season.
Finishing as high as sixth at Zolder – and with an unfortunate accident at the start in Assen after her best qualifying of the season – Tasmin Pepper directly qualified for the following W Series season. Things, though, started to go wrong ahead of the pre-season test at Anglesey, when the South African saw her chances to join her colleagues in the UK disappearing due to travel restrictions.
When South Africa was placed on the red list, she tried to reach the UK via the Maldives, but a sudden change in the red list countries meant that restrictions applied to the Maldives as well. Pepper was forced to miss the five-day test and struggled to find ways to reach Europe for the first races of the season.
At the time being, Tasmin Pepper has been dropped from race driver to reserve driver, as restrictions remain in place.
With a strong line-up of five reserve drivers, W Series approaches its long-awaited second season with plenty of talent to rely upon amidst all the uncertainties of racing in a pandemic.
"With this great squad of drivers available, we are confident that we can deal with whatever is thrown at us this season." – commented Dave Ryan, Racing Director at W Series.
"We are delighted to be able to give these drivers – all of whom have proved themselves to be very competitive in W Series’ Tatuus T-318 Formula 3 race cars – invaluable racing experience as they continue to build their careers.”
The first race gets underway on June 26th at Red Bull Ring, Austria, on the support bill of the Styrian F1 Grand Prix. It will be W Series' first event since its partnership with Formula 1.