Irina Sidorkova denied US visa, Caitlin Wood to step in at COTA season finale
Russian racing sensation Irina Sidorkova has been denied the United States visa and will therefore miss the final two W Series rounds at COTA. She will be replaced by reserve driver Caitlin Wood.
W Series racer Irina Sidorkova just announced via her social media profiles that she will not be part of the 2021 final double-header at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, as she has been denied the visa to travel to the United States. The driver, who has a National Interest Exemption status as international athlete, chased the visa with a series of incredible travels around the Middle East, before finally securing an appointment at the US Embassy in Muscat, Oman. The US Embassy in Russia is in fact currently closed. "I've had a 3-year US visa, but it expired in 2019, and getting a new one in 2021 is a real quest!" – she wrote a few weeks ago. Sidorkova tried to apply for visas to several other countries' embassies, with no success or with appointments being arranged no sooner than in 2022. "There are also countries where documents for student and work visas are accepted, but this is not my case. I have invitations from the US organizers of the F1 race at COTA (Austin) and W Series, as well as valid UK and EU visas, but getting to the race in the USA on October 23 is now like a lottery for me." – she added. The meeting in Oman, though, was met with more challenges. Firstly, a tropical storm hit the Middle Eastern capital and her appointment was delayed. Then, Sidorkova was denied the visa, and will thus miss the final two races of the season. Racers Behind the Helmet has asked the US Embassy for an official statement on the matter. The 18-year-old driver had already missed the Belgian GP at Spa Francorchamps, due to a positive Covid test on Friday which meant that Sidorkova was quickly isolated in her hotel room as per regulations. She tested negative two days later. Nevertheless, Sidorkova currently sits in seventh place in the drivers' standings with 34 points, strong of a second place in Austria and a fourth place at Hungaroring. With W Series announcing that the top-8 drivers will get automatic entry to next year's season, the visa issue would have likely cost Sidorkova the seat in the championship. Luckily, Irina is part of the W Series Academy project – together with Nerea Marti – which means that the two youngest drivers on the grid already have their entries secured for 2022 regardless of their 2021 standings. "I was denied a visa to the United States, although I have a status of a National Interests Exemption as a professional athlete" – wrote Sidorkova on Wednesday. "First I was refused by US embassy at an interview, and later nothing worked out when W Series, F1 and Congressman McCaul's Office from Texas till yesterday tried to make it work somehow." "I appreciate this help a lot and I'm very thankful for that", she added. "This happens for the first time in my life and race career. I am deprived of racing and opportunity to fight for the good points and the prize that I planned to invest in my training." Since the beginning of the season, W Series has personnel specially employed to help take care of the challenges of pandemic-travelling, but the visa situation goes beyond the travel restriction issues: according to Sidorkova, "the State Department is not sure that my visit to the United States will be temporary" – which would highlight the absurdity of the decision. As confirmed by W Series, Australian reserve driver Caitlin Wood will step in the second W Series Academy car this weekend. Wood has already made two previous appearances this season, scoring a fifth place at Spa Francorchamps. With 10 points – and 50 still on the table – Caitlin therefore has the chance to fight her way into the 2022 grid.