Sarah Moore becomes first ever female race winner in Indian Racing League
At her very first race in the series and at her return behind the wheel, Sarah Moore became the first female race winner in Indian Racing League - after a hectic race in extreme weather conditions where Moore and Gabriela Jílková were the stars of the field.
Sarah Moore made an outstanding debut in Indian Racing League by taking victory at her first race, becoming the series' first ever female race winner following an action-packed weekend at Madras International Circuit.
Moore was back in a racecar after a year hiatus, following the demise of the all-female W Series championship – where she had claimed several top five finishes and, famously, a historic podium in Austria, where the British racer became the first ever openly LGBTQ+ driver to stand on the F1 podium.
The Indian Racing League contested its first racing weekend of the 2023 season – the second of its history – at the permanent racetrack just outside of Chennai, after moving the location of the opening round due to elections in Telangana that prevented the event to be held at the Hyderabad Street Circuit.
Pre-season tests were held at Madras International Circuit ahead of the season opener and drivers got the opportunity to get up to speed in the Wolf GB08 Thunder machines – although adverse weather slowed down the process.
On Saturday, the first official practice, qualifying and race were scheduled - with one of the two drivers sharing the same car elected to drive. Godspeed Kochi's Ruhaan Alva – who shares the #5 machine with Fabienne Wohlwend – was the fastest in both practice and qualifying, as the young local talent secured the first pole position of the season ahead of Raoul Hyman and Jon Lancaster. No female drivers took part in the opening day activities, as Wohlwend, Jílková, Havdra, Moore and Camps were to enter Sunday's competitions.
The first race, though, was moved to Sunday morning after a heavy downpour stopped on-track activities in the afternoon. From pole position, Alva survived a crazy race to take the first win of the season, despite pressure in the closing minutes from Hyman (Goa Aces) and Jon Lancaster after a safety car restart. On the first lap, in fact, a contact between 2022 champion Akhil Rabindra and Alister Yoong took both out of the race, as well as Akash Gowda in an unrelated incident.
Their teammates were then ready to take over for the second practice, as well as the 10-minute Q2. Sohil Shah (Goa Aces) found some incredible speed and claimed pole position by the unbelievable margin of 1.3 seconds, beating Mitchell Gilbert (Speed Demons Delhi), Nikhil Bohra (Godspeed Kochi) and Akhil Rabindra (Hyderabad Blackbirds).
Fabienne Wohlwend – who had helped the Godspeed Kochi squad to the team's title in 2022 – rounded out the top five with a 1:33.569, just ahead of another highly competitive female racer, Gabriela Jílková (Goa Aces).
Jílková's 1:33.723 was three tenths clear of Sanjay, while Sarah Moore completed her first ever qualifying in the car and at the track in eighth place. Back for her second season in IRL, Nicole Havrda was tenth; the Canadian preceded Laura Camps, 12th fastest, at her very first race in cars: the former Ferrari Academy Driver had in fact completed a testing programme in F4 machinery, but continued to race in karting until her debut in Chennai, where she represents Hyderabad Blackbirds.
Just as the cars were lining up on the grid for the final race of the weekend, another heavy downpour made for extremely challenging conditions: in a few minutes, the track was almost flooded and race control opted for a safety car start.
The safety car pulled in the pitlane after 2 laps and the race went underway in still heavy rain; Shah had a good start but behind him, a cloud of water spray submerged the whole pack, as Mitch Gilbert tried to get ahead of Shah. Fabienne Wohlwend had a sterling start and passed several cars before aquaplaning had the best of her #5 Godspeed Kochi car at the exit of turn 1: the driver form Liechtenstein went off in the grass and spun in the most tricky conditions.
Datta also spun, while everyone was just fighting their cars to stay on track. The star of the field was undeniably Gabriela Jílková, who made her way from sixth to second in a matter of corners, passing all the front runners including Goa Aces' teammate Sohil Shah, who made a mistake and dropped to seventh.
As the Safety Car was deployed once again after one lap, Nikhil Bohra led Jílková, Gilbert and Sanjay. A few cars took the way of the pitlane at the restart due to the almost undriveable conditions, but the green flag was once again out one lap later. Bohra went off and Jilkova took the lead in spectacular fashion, pulling a gap on Akhil Rabindra and Sarah Moore, who also was making huge progress through the field. From last, Laura Camps kept it on track and was up to sixth in her first ever car race.
Shah crashed out on lap 5 as well and cars were all over the place – except Gabriela Jílková, who was flawless and kept chipping away. Rabindra also made a mistake and Sarah Moore moved up to second. Akash Gowda emerged as the fastest on track, climbed the order up to third and started to put pressure on Moore with 2 minutes to go. Sarah responded with the fastest lap of the race and pulled away - also closing in on Jílková ahead.
Gowda and Bohra – who had rejoined after his accident – battled for third and the Godspeed Kochi driver made a move stick on the final minute of the race. Bohra caught Moore and Jílková on the final lap – and found a way past the British racer, before he sent a desperate move on Jílková with three corners to go: Bohra hit and spun Jílková around in a heartbreaking moment for the Czech star.
From the chaos, Sarah Moore emerged unscathed and took an outstanding win in Race 2, becoming the first ever female winner in Indian Racing League.
After spending one full year out of a race car, Sarah Moore was immediately back in the rhythm and, in a new car and with minimal running at the track, she claimed a stunning win for Bangalore Speedsters.
"That was a very tricky race, I've never driven this car in the wet before so I knew it was going to be tricky. The visibility was really bad, so to be honest I was just trying to stay on the track and finish", Moore commented after the chequered flag, when she discovered she had actually won the race.
"I was P2 before the last lap - I don't know who it was that took Gabi off but it was quite an optimistic move. As soon as that happened, I knew I had a podium but I didn't know it was a win! Amazing."
"It was a new track for me this weekend, so I've been trying to chip away all weekend. I was praying for the rain because I knew that it would make it level for me – and the rain came."
Akash Gowda was second, ahead of Sai Sanjay. Nikhil Bohra, initially second across the line, was demoted to fourth after a post-race penalty for the last lap incident with Jilkova.
Completing her first ever race in cars, Laura Camps was fifth – in a heroic effort for the young Spaniard, who survived the most challenging conditions and made no mistakes, unlike several more experienced colleagues.
Camps' fifth place gained her and her team 10 valuable points, after her teammate Anindith Reddy had finished sixth in the morning. A very unfortunate Gabriela Jílková was classified seventh, ahead of Akhil Rabindra and Fabienne Wohlwend, who eventually managed to rejoin albeit a few laps down.
The Indian Racing League will now return to Madras International Circuit on 30 November – 1 December, for a double header at the permanent track before the season finale at the new street circuit in Chennai.