The Heart of Racing announces 9 finalists for GT4 seat shootout
The Heart of Racing announced the 9 finalists that will be assessed next week in a 2-day test for a seat in the team's GT4 program in 2023. Discover the candidates.
American racing team The Heart of Racing announced one month ago a driver shootout that will reward one female driver with a GT4 seat with the team in a 2023 program.
“We are pleased to announce this new initiative, and our ambition is to find a deserving female racer and establish the opportunity for her to go racing with us,” said The Heart of Racing Team Principal Ian James at the launch of the initiative.
Female drivers from all over the world were invited to submit their applications, after which the organization selected the finalists for a two-day test next week at the Apex Club facility, just outside Phoenix, Arizona.
Almost 100 applications were submitted, the team said - and nine contenders have been chosen. Some high profile names appear among the finalists that will be assessed on various aspects - from performance, experience and attitude outside the car.
The jury includes The Heart of Racing drivers Roman De Angelis, Alex Riberas, Ian James, as well as Paul Charsley and Ashton Harrison - 2022 GT World Challenge Pro-Am champion.
The nine candidates will have access to extensive track time, with practice sessions, qualifying and race simulations in Aston Martin GT4 machinery.
The selected finalists are:
Sara Misir, 24, from Jamaica
Rianna O’Meara-Hunt, 20, from New Zealand
Chelsea Herbert, 23, from New Zealand
Chloe Chambers, 18, from the United States
Annie Rhule, 17, from the United States
Nicole Havrda, 16, from Canada
Hannah Grisham, 22, from the United States
Jem Hepworth, 21, from the UK
Jessica Bäckman, 25, from Sweden.
Jessica Bäckman is arguably among the candidates with the most international resumé, having raced at the highest level of touring cars in the world. After a promising karting career, Bäckman decided in fact to focus on touring cars and the young Swede collected podium finishes in TCR UK as well as the highly competitive Scandinavian Touring Car Championship on home soil. In 2019, Bäckman made her debut in TCR Europe and soon clinched a podium position at Hockenheim, becoming the first woman to do so.
A member of the Swedish National Team, Bäckman represented her country at the inaugural edition of the FIA Motorsport Games in the TCR competition.
In 2021, she reached the top of the TCR-sanctioned series, as she entered the World Touring Car Cup and scored her first points at the mighty Nürburgring Nordschleife.
After more podiums in one-off appearances in STCC, Bäckman contested the 2022 season in ADAC TCR Germany, where she dominated the first part of the championship, scoring four victories and 9 podiums that eventually resulted in the Vice-Champion title.
Another driver with a strong CV is also Chloe Chambers, who despite her young age had the chance to make her debut in the all-female F3 W Series championship in 2022. As the only American in the series, Chambers was selected after one single season in single seaters, in the F4 US, where she had collected a top-10 result and won the PMH Powering Diversity Scholarship.
In her W Series rookie season, Chambers scored points in her first race weekend, at the Miami street circuit second race.
But Chambers' experience is not only limited to formula cars, as she has already raced in Porsche GT4 machinery in the endurance series World Racing League - and currently holds the Guinness World Record for the fastest vehicular slalom, onboard a Porsche 718 Spyder.
Shift Up Now athlete Hannah Grisham started to pursue her passion for motor racing at a very young age, competing in motorcycles as well as karting. Grisham - a California native - then moved to spec Miatas at 16, winning championship titles.
She was part of the second W Series drivers selections at the end of 2019, before she focused on GT and endurance racing.
With Round 3 Racing, Grisham drove the Hagerty Drivers’ Club Porsche Boxster to World Racing League Eastern Championship title in the GP3 class last weekend at Sebring.
More drivers that entered W Series selections include Hepworth, Havrda and Herbert.
Jem Hepworth is a well known figure in the British racing scene, having raced in karting before stepping up to race cars in 2020, winning the Britcar championship in the Praga R1 prototype. After a second season in the series in 2021, she continued to race Praga machinery in 2022, in the Praga Cup UK.
In the same year, Hepworth was part of the W Series selections at Inde Motorsports Ranch - when the drivers were assessed in F4 cars - as well as at Circuit de Catalunya, where the British driver got behind the wheel of the Tatuus T318 F3 Regional car.
An all-round athlete with competitive swimming and skiing in her resumé, Nicole Havrda is the youngest driver on the shortlist. The 16 year-old Canadian 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, in a testing program in F4.
Havrda was part of the W Series selections in Arizona in 2022, has contested a 3-hour endurance race in a Mercedes AMG GT4, as well as F3 races in the US.
Kiwi talent Chelsea Herbert has experience of a wide variety of racing cars, from touring cars to single seaters; she became the first woman to win a New Zealand Touring Car Championship in 2017, battling for the championship in 2018. She would then move to the BNT V8 championship, attracting the attention of W Series that invited her to the Almeria tests in 2019.
In 2020, Herbert entered the Toyota Racing Series - at the time one of the most competitive winter single-seater championships in the world, in a field of F3 and F2 racers chasing FIA Superlicense points. Unfortunately, her season was cut short by a back-breaking injury that required a long recovery. She returned behind the wheel in 2022, in the Toyota 86 Championship under the banner of The Heart of Racing.
Another driver that has been part of The Heart of Racing sponsorship program in New Zealand is Rianna O'Meara Hunt. The 20 year-old racer has become a big name in the New Zealan's karting scene, with several history-making victories that brought her to represent her country in European's top karting competitions.
In 2022, O'Meara Hunt graduated to the Toyota 86 Championship, as part of the inaugural The Heart of Racing Academy. Furthermore, she has completed a series of testing days in Aston Martin GT4 machinery.
Sara Miris, from Jamaica, was part of the "Formula Woman" selection, also aimed at discovering female talents for GT4 competitions in the UK. Miris became the first Caribbean to earn a spot in the McLaren Customer Racing program and contested the GT Cup Championship, with entries at Snetterton, Oulton Park and Silverstone.
American 17 year-old Annie Rhule collected several wins in national karting in the KZ category. She recently finished third in the SKUSA Winter Series and had the opportunity to test a F4 car. Rhule was also part of the 2021 Mazda MX-5 Shootout.
The two day test will be held at Apex Club on November 7-8.