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Indian Racing League: 2023 preview

Seven female drivers are set to race in the second edition of the upcoming Indian Racing League - which gets underway next week. Discover the format, the teams line ups and the women of a series that has brought gender equality to the forefront.


Indian Racing League 2022, Hyderabad Street Circuit
Photo credits: Shameem Fahath

The Indian Racing League is set to return to the racetracks of India for an intense month of racing, as the series that put the country back on the motorsport's map will also be paired with the first edition of Formula 4 India. 2023 has in fact been an important year for motor racing in the country and series promoter Racing Promotions is aiming to carry momentum with two championships that are expected to bring together international and local racing talents. The format of Indian Racing League has especially proven to be particularly interesting: teams of four drivers each two local racers, one international male driver and one female driver will team up for the second edition of the series, after a promising first year in 2022. The six teams are representing Indian biggest cities, in an attempt to drive Indian communities to root for their respective cities and further develop India's motorsport interest – as well as the combination of drivers that allow the local talents to work closely alongside some established, world-class racers. Rebranded from the previous X1 Racing League which ran in 2019, IRL made a good step forward in becoming the racing series that India needs to establish a flourishing local motorsport scene; this is also highlighted by the return of several drivers, as the 2023 field will be a mix of returnees and new entries. With Indian Racing League being one of the few championships in the world requiring the presence of at least one female driver per team, seven women will join the series. Having won the team's championship last year, Fabienne Wohlwend makes her Indian return to Godspeed Kochi, in an unchanged quartet of drivers - who will therefore attempt to defend the title. Wohlwend joins Ruhaan Alva, Nikhil Bohra and Alister Yoong. The 25 year old from Liechtenstein was the first ever female driver to win the Ferrari Challenge World Finals in 2018 before being selected for the first ever edition of W Series. In the all female championship, Wohlwend claimed a pole position and a podium, finishing sixth in the championship.


Fabienne Wohlwend, 2022 Indian Racing League
Photo by: Shameem Fahath

She would return to W Series in 2021, having spent another season in Ferrari Challenge in the cancelled 2020 season where she was second with one win and three podiums in the Ferrari one-make series as well as runner up in the World Finals. In the following two seasons in W Series, Wohlwend continued to be one of the most consistent drivers, scoring in almost every race and with two further podiums to her name. With previous experience in both formulas and GT cars, Fabienne often competed in the Nürburgring-based NLS series, where she was third in class in last year's edition of the mighty 24H of the Ring. She then moved to the uber competitive ADAC GT4 Germany championship in 2023, where she teamed up with Célia Martin in an all-female crew. In the Indian Racing League, Wohlwend soon found herself at ease in the car and secured a pair of second place finishes at Chennai, in both the sprint and feature races; with an additional top five and more solid results, she helped Godspeed Kochi to the teams' title in 2022. Also returning to the series will be Czech star Gabriela Jílková. "Quick Gabi" will team up with Raoul Hyman, Amir Sayed and Sohil Shah at Goa Aces. After winning the GT Winter Series championship in 2021, Jílková entered the ADAC GT4 Germany series in the same year, where she collected podium finishes. Towards the end of the season, she made her first appearance in the European GT4 championship, where she would contest a full campaign in 2022, again combined with a program in ADAC GT4.


Gabriela Jílková, 2022 Indian Racing League
Photo by: Shameem Fahath

She then took part in the Matmut GT4 selection which she won, securing a seat in the FFSA GT Championship in an all-female squad that went on to finish third in the championship standings with four class podiums to her name. At the same time, Gabriela made her debut in LMP3 machinery in the Prototype Cup Germany, where she first drove the Duqueine D08 prototype. After a superb season, Jílková consistently battled for the top five and secured her first podium and first win at Zandvoort. In October, Jílková completed her first GT3 test with Porsche and was then selected to take part in the FIA Formula E pre-season test at Valencia, where she drove for the first time the Porsche 99X Electric car becoming the first woman to drive a Formula E car in an official session since 2020. In the Indian Racing League, Jílková collected two second place finishes and finished in the points every race she completed having struggled with some reliability issues towards the start of the season. Chennai Supersonics - which was rebranded from Chennai Turbo Riders will rely again on international drivers Nicole Havrda and Jon Lancaster, while lining up two new Indian entries: Mohamed Ryan and Sai Sanjay. Havrda, 17, was the youngest of the field last year; the Canadian driver has made a name for herself from karting competitions to single seater racing having contested in 2023 a double campaign in Formula Pro US Championship as well as in Formula Regional Americas, both at the wheel of the Ligier Formula 3 Regional car.


Nicole Havrda, 2022 Indian Racing League
Photo by: Shameem Fahath

Nicole Havrda began karting in 2018 and was named Rookie of the Year at the West Coast Karting Club in 2019. She stepped up to formula cars in 2021, and completed a testing program in F4 machinery. She was part of the 2022 W Series selections, then contested a 3-hour endurance race in a Mercedes AMG GT4 before focusing her efforts on the F3 Regional competitions in the US. With 8 wins and 12 podiums, Havrda was crowned 2023 Formula Pro USA Champion and was the first woman to do so. At her debut in FR Americas, Nicole collected three top five finishes out of six races in a highly impressive season for the young Canadian. Her year is not over yet, as she will now return to India to pick up where she had left off: Havrda was one of the few drivers to complete every race in the points in Indian Racing League and, having scored 65 points, she was tenth in the championship standings. The fourth female driver to return for the second consecutive year to IRL will be F1 Academy driver Lola Lovinfosse, 18. Having just completed her season in the F1-promoted all female championship in Austin, the Frenchwoman will be reunited with Hyderabad Blackbirds in the team that secured the drivers' championship last year with Akhil Rabindra, Neel Jani, Alvaro Parente and Anindith Reddy. Portuguese GT star Parente will start the season and will be replaced by Jani for the second half.


Lola Lovinfosse, 2022 Indian Racing League
Photo by: Shameem Fahath

Lovinfosse has been a big name in European karting competitions, where she contested the World and European championships, the WSK Euro Series and WSK Champions Cup before she moved to single seaters in the Spanish Formula 4 in 2021. Lovinfosse had a learning oriented rookie season with glimpses of promising speed - including an encouraging P13 in Portimao. One year later, she returned to the series but unfortunately had to halt her campaign after only 4 rounds due to a lack of funding. Lola was back in the F4 car for a one-off round in Formula Winter Series at Barcelona where she scored a P8 before joining Campos Racing for the inaugural season of F1 Academy. After a podium at the opening weekend at Red Bull Ring, Lovinfosse went on to score 13 top-10 results as well as two more podiums - in a remarkable home race at Paul Ricard. She was tenth in the championship standings, having often shown great recoveries and daring passes. While she had an overall unfortunate debut year in Indian Racing League, Lovinfosse was still able to climb on the podium at Chennai and will be eyeing to build on her F1 Academy experience to bring home more silverware. Also coming from F1 Academy, Chloe Chong will make her IRL debut in 2023 with Speed Demons Delhi, where she joins Mitchell Gilbert, Akash Gowda and Sandeep Kumar. Just like in F1 Academy, Chloe will be the youngest driver on the grid, having turned 16 this year and having just graduated to cars from karting.


Chloe Chong, F1 Academy
Photo by: Racers - Behind the Helmet

Chong was in fact the only driver to make her race cars debut in F1 Academy, having previously been selected as one of the four finalists for the FIA Girls On Track- Rising Stars programme in 2022. Despite her lack of experience, Chloe showed impressive pace in testing and was soon up to speed with the top drivers; the British-Canadian athlete kicked off her season with an outstanding P6 in Austria, followed by another sixth place in Valencia. Chloe made great improvements in all aspects of racing throughout the season and, while she was unlucky in certain rounds, she had a superb final part of the season, where she claimed 4 consecutive top-10s in the final 4 races including a stunning finale at COTA, where she doubled her points and helped Prema Racing to the teams' title. The Indian Racing League will be her first experience in Asia and her first time in a non-F4 car. Chloe is set to join the championship from round 2, as she will replace Bélen Garcia at Speed Demons Delhi. Garcia, 24, will in fact only contest the opening weekend at Hyderabad. From karting, the Catalan racer made her debut in F4 in the Spanish series in 2019 making history with a breakthrough victory on her debut weekend that became the first ever female win in F4 in Europe.


Belén Garcia, Michelin Le Mans Cup
Photo credits: Sergey Savrasov

After a very solid season in F4, Garcia was selected for W Series where she would debut in 2021, having also raced part time in Formula Regional European Championship in the same year. In W Series, Belén almost claimed a podium at debut, then finished 11 times in the top ten out of 15 races - including a podium at Paul Ricard in 2022 where she was 5th at the end of the season. Garcia then made her debut in sports car racing, where she has quickly developed into one of the most promising drivers in LMP3 machinery following races in Le Mans Cup, Ultimate Cup where she won her second ever race in prototypes Asian Le Mans Series and Prototype Cup Germany. She recently completed her first full year in endurance racing with a third consecutive top five in Le Mans Cup. Making her Indian Racing League first start will be also Sarah Moore, 30 year old from the UK. Moore will represent Bangalore Speedsters in a vastly different line up from the previous season: she will in fact share the garage with Ashwin Datta, Kyle Kumaran and fellow Brit Oliver Webb who had raced part time last year. Mostly known for her three seasons in W Series, Moore was the first female driver to win a TOCA-sanctioned race and the first to win a junior mixed-gender national-level series in the UK: the driver from North Yorkshire in fact made history by claiming the 2009 Ginetta Junior title, in arguably one of the most competitive junior series globally. With five wins and ten podiums, Sarah secured the championship in her second full season in cars.


Sarah Moore, W Series 2021, Red Bull Ring
Photo by: W Series / Zak Mauger

Part of a racing family, Sarah took another championship title in the 2019 Britcar Endurance Championship, before being selected by W Series for her single seater debut. Moore did remarkably well at the wheel of the Tatuus Formula Regional car, claiming four top-5 finishes and, famously, a podium at the 2021 season opener in Austria. She would finish fifth in the championship. In the series' final year, she completed all the races in the points, showing again great consistency. A lack of funding has prevented her from returning to competitions after the series' demise but the Indian Racing League will be a good opportunity for the British driver who is also a Racing Pride Driver Ambassador - to showcase her talent and versatility. All the new drivers will in fact have to get to grips with the Wolf GB08 Thunder prototype used in the series; the car is a lightweight almost formula-like single-seater powered by a 220hp engine that is also raced in the Italian Sport Prototype Championship, where its success and low-cost formula always resulted in packed grids. The IRL format is a unique mix of sprint races and endurance: while the four drivers share the two team's cars, both will alternate behind the wheel of the Wolf GB08 in the feature race with driver change, while each driver will contest a sprint race. This format proved to be successful in the past year, as young drivers collected valuable track time. A success story might be represented by Bianca Bustamante, who had just made her car debut in W Series and went on to make great improvements in IRL before switching to F4 and eventually F1 Academy. Part of what is designed to be a new Indian motorsport pyramid, Indian Racing League has in fact the potential to become a good platform for young and emerging talents in the region as well as internationally; certainly, it continues to be a great opportunity for female drivers as the championship is one of the few globally that has taken equality to the next level. Indian Racing League likes to be innovative also with its calendar and introduced the first ever street circuit in India last year which ended up being a training ground for Formula E's Hyderabad round. Although not without its logistical challenges to address, IRL will return for a four event calendar in 2023, starting from the Hyderabad Street Circuit on 4-5 November.

A double header at Madras International Circuit will then follow, with round 2 being contested on 30 November to 1 December, and the second round on the following days on 2-3 December. The season finale is scheduled for 9-10 December on a new street circuit in Chennai, around Island Grounds. With a double program that includes the newly-born Indian F4, there's clearly potential for great racing action.


Célia Martin, Gabriela Jilkova and Lola Lovinfosse, Indian Racing League 2023
Photo by: Shameem Fahath

TEAMS

Bangalore Speedsters

Sarah Moore

Ashwin Datta

Kyle Kumaran

Oliver Webb


Chennai Supersonics

Nicole Havrda

Mohamed Ryan

Sai Sanjay

Jon Lancaster


Goa Aces

Gabriela Jílková

Amir Sayed

Sohil Shah

Raoul Hyman


Godspeed Kochi

Fabienne Wohlwend

Ruhaan Alva

Nikhil Bohra

Alister Yoong


Hyderabad Blackbirds

Lola Lovinfosse

Akhil Rabindra

Anindith Reddy

Alvaro Parente / Neel Jani


Speed Demons Delhi

Belén Garcia / Chloe Chong

Akash Gowda

Sandeep Kumar

Mitchell Gilbert



Calendar

R1. Hyderabad Street Circuit / 4-5 November

R2. Madras International Circuit / 30 Nov-1 December

R3. Madras International Circuit / 2-3 December

R4. Chennai Formula Racing Circuit / 9-10 December

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