Laura Hayes wins MX-5 Cup Scholarship for 2021 Women's Initiative
3 talented female racing drivers were among the 21 candidates for the 2021 Mazda MX-5 Cup scholarship: Laura Hayes, Michele Abbate and Jillian Fichter.
After an exciting shootout, the winner of the Women´s Initiative was Laura Hayes.
The Mazda Shootout was created in 2008 to give upcoming drivers the opportunity to contest a full-season in the Mazda MX-5 Cup, one of Americas´s closest racing series with equal cars for all driver and several tough battles for victories – that have historically resulted in many photo finishes throughout the years.
Alongside the top prize for the shootout, a runner-up and a female prize are awarded to three finalists, with at least one woman among them. Out of 31 nominees ,12 finalists were chosen and among them three female contenders: Laura Hayes, Jillian Fichter and Michele Abbate. Because of her significant experience, Michele Abbate was only able to contend for the Women in Motorsport scholarship, but not for the other two awards.
After the women scholarship had been awarded the first time to Savannah Little, she made her debut in the Mazda MX-5 Cup in 2021 with Hixon Motor Sport. Little has been improving every race weekend and shows how the Mazda initiative continues to be important and necessary to support women in motorsport.
“Earning the scholarship from Mazda Motorsports was the kick start I’ve been needing for years to begin my career in professional sports car racing," said Savannah Little.
Who are these three women aiming for this year's scholarship?
Michele Abbate has some experience in motorsport as she has been racing in the Trans-Am Series' West Coast Championship TA2 class for GRR Racing, but also in Sports Car Club of America and had a one-off in NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
She started in karting and then competed in supercross events where she got a podium in her first national event in 2007. Abbate became the first female driver to be given the Lindley Bothwell Memorial Cal Club Driver of the Year Award as she won the SCCA Western Conference Majors Tour in 2015.
In 2021, Abbate made her debut in NASCAR Camping World Truck Series with On Point Motorsports at Circuit of the Americas, impressing in her first outing.
"This is such a rad opportunity and I am super stoked and honored to have been selected despite my previous professional racing experience." – she wrote. "Very thankful for the efforts from Mazda USA and Mazda Motorsports to continue to provide a ladder to pro racing for all racers and to provide an amazing avenue and opportunity for women to be included in this sport."
Jillian Fichter began driving on track at the age of 14 and filled her free time with a lot of skiing, dirt biking, boats and gymnastics, as well as kart tracks of course. She was Rookie of the Year in SCCA as the Southeast Division in 2017.
In 2021 she competed in the Spec Miata championship and aimed for one of the scholarships in the Mazda Shootout.
"I’m so honored and thankful for this opportunity! I have been working on this goal since I started racing and it’s crazy that I’m a FINALIST!"
"Mazda Motorsports has been so supportive and they’ve created an amazing ladder system to help drivers reach the professional level of racing. Thank you to everyone who has supported my racing and especially thank you to my family, Turn 7 Motorsports. I couldn’t have done it without you."
Laura Hayes started racing at the age of 8 and was quickly into motorsport. She became the first female to win an IKF Shifter Kart National Championship.
Today she works at the BMW Performance Center as a full time driving instructor in South Carolina. She aimed for one of the three scholarships in order to improve her driving skills and continuing her involvement behind the wheel.
"I’m thrilled to announce I’ll be participating in the MX-5 Cup Shootout in Sebring in a couple of short weeks! It was a complete surprise and honor to be chosen by the panelists as a finalist. I know some good words were put in, and I can’t thank the judges enough for taking a chance on me. The list of nominees included an impressive amount of talent and I know it could not have been easy to narrow it down to the final 12."
The Shootout 2021
The selections of three Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires scholarships and the two members of the factory team in the Spec MX-5 Challenge Series presented by Toyo Tires followed two days of on and off-track evaluations at Sebring International Raceway.
21 drivers – 12 for the Mazda MX5-Cup scholarship and 9 karting stars of the future for the Spec MX-5 Challenge team – were judged by lap times, understanding and applying data analysis and improvement in general.
Winner of the champion scholarship of $110,000 to join the field in Mazda MX-5 Cup next year was Connor Zilisch, while Runner-up winner of the $75,000 was Bryce Cornet.
Laura Hayes will succeed Savannah Little as the latest recipient of the Women
"I’m excited and honestly surprised to be standing here,” Laura Hayes said. “I’m thankful for the opportunity to work with Mazda", said the Women´s Initiative winner Laura Hayes. She and the two other winners will race in the 2022 season of Mazda MX-5 Cup aiming for the championship title and Rookie of the Year award.
"I was honestly surprised to hear my name announced as the winner of the Women Initiative Scholarship because the other ladies, Jillian Fichter and Michele Abbate are both extremely talented behind the wheel, and they deserve this as much as anyone. We’re all so passionate and try so hard, and I’m honored to have shared the past two days with them", Laura Hayes summed up the event.
The 2022 season for the Mazda MX-5 Cup will start from 27th to 30th January at the Daytona International Raceway, followed by six more events with one of the closest racing in the world.
But let's not forget that the last race weekend of the 2021 season is still to take place: from 10th to 11th November at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta, Loni Unser and Savannah Little will return behind the wheel of their Mazda by Hixon Motor Sport.