The Heart of Racing reveals winners of drivers selections
Hannah Grisham and Rianna O'Meara-Hunt have been announced as the two winners of the Heart of Racing's driver shootout: the all-female duo will share the wheel of an Aston Martin GT4 in the SRO GT4 America SprintX season. Annie Rhule, 17, will complete a testing programme after impressing in her first GT outing.
Over 100 racing drivers sent in their applications for what was one of the most interesting opportunities in sports car racing dedicated to female racers: a two-day shootout to select the next official drivers for leading racing organization The Heart of Racing in a GT4 championship in 2023.
From the applications, nine drivers were selected to hit the track at Apex Motor Club, in Arizona: Sara Misir, Rianna O’Meara-Hunt, Chelsea Herbert, Chloe Chambers, Annie Rhule, Nicole Havrda, Hannah Grisham, Jem Hepworth, Jessica Bäckman.
Each one of the finalists had a proven resumé of international successes and would have been a competent candidate - which made the job of the jury even harder.
Team members Ian James, Paul Charlsley, Alex Riberas, Roman De Angelis - as well as SRO GT World Challenge America ProAm champion Ashton Harrison were in fact in charge of assessing the candidates throughout the two days, evaluating both on and off track skills.
The nine finalists had extensive track time in the Aston Martin GT4 cars, learned the platform and how to make the most out of the Pirelli tyres; runs included qualifying and race simulations, as drivers showed their approaches and abilities behind the wheel despite their different backgrounds.
“It was important for us to see growth over the two days, someone who was willing to take in the feedback and apply it on the track - and all of the drivers did this exceptionally well." - Ian James explained.
At the end of the shootout, Hannah Grisham, 22, from the United States, and Rianna O'Meara-Hunt, 20, from New Zealand, emerged as the two best candidates for the 2023 seat. They will therefore compete in the upcoming SRO GT4 America SprintX championship, in The Heart of Racing's Aston Martin Vantage GT4.
“Both Hannah and Rianna were very open to learning, they reached out for help and feedback and were focused on the task at hand,” continued James. “We had originally intended to bring one driver on, but it was clear after reviewing everyone's performance through the event, that pairing these two in SprintX was the best solution and we are pretty excited to be able to offer both of them this opportunity to race together."
The decision to take both drivers onboard is yet another positive step for women in the world of sports car racing, with The Heart of Racing lining up an all-female crew in SRO GT4 America.
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. In WRL, Grisham has often shared the wheel with other female drivers.
“Getting this opportunity means everything to me” - Grisham commented. “The whole team has been amazing and they truly care about what they stand for."
"It really just feels like a big family and I’m excited for that. I think this opportunity is a great new step for me to enter a competitive series that will push me.”
Rianna O'Meara-Hunt was also highly impressive. The 20 year-old racer has become a big name in the New Zealand'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. She will be making her North American racing debut in 2023, having seized the biggest opportunity of her career to date.
“To be selected for this drive next year is a dream come true, I am speechless but also so proud of the achievement,” Rianna commented. “Myself and a great number of supporters back home in NZ had put in a lot of hard work before the test to prepare and it is awesome that it has all paid off."
"I am happy not only for myself, but also for all the people that really got in behind me" - she added.
“Through my karting career I made sure to have people around me who felt like family, so to now be a part of and drive for The Heart of Racing family is such a privilege - this is exactly the way they operate - it’s a perfect fit!”
O'Meara-Hunt, who was one of two New Zealanders among the candidates - highlighting the quality of some up-and-coming talents from the country's racing scene - is excited to be teaming up with Hannah Grisham, whom she felt she had bonded well over the program.
"With the experience of The Heart of Racing, we will have the right tools and team behind us to perform - the rest is up to us!” - she concluded.
Additionally, The Heart of Racing also acknowledged the remarkable progress shown by one of the youngest participants, 17 year-old Annie Rhule.
One of America's most promising karting talents, Rhule was so impressive in her first GT4 outing that the team decided to award her with a testing programme. The opportunity will in fact provide Rhule a further chance to develop her skills in race cars.
The 2023 GT4 America calendar will feature seven double-headers, starting from the Sonoma Raceway on April 1-2. The series will then visit some of North America's top racing venues, including NOLA Motorsports Park, Circuit of the Americas, VIRginia International Raceway, Road America, Sebring and Indianapolis Motor Speedway.