W Series announces 7 potential new entries, Juju Noda added to the shortlist
Ahead of pre-season testing, W Series announced its driver line up for the Barcelona 3-day test, which includes seven potential new entries, returning drivers and a few surprises.
The first ever all-female single-seater championship announced 15 new drivers for last month's selection tests at Inde Motorsports Ranch, Arizona, US, who were assessed after a 5-day evaluation to potentially enter the 2022 W Series season. The series has pioneered an innovative approach which sees the top classified gaining automatic entry into the following season, and a series of selections to determine how many new entries or returning drivers complete the grid. In 2019, the top-12 gained entry into 2020 - with 6 new candidates being promoted. The series was then cancelled for the challenges of the pandemic and on-track action resumed in 2021 - with all drivers being confirmed plus the addition of Abbi Pulling as reserve driver. At the end of the second season, the top-8 qualified for the following year - with Nerea Martí and Irina Sidorkova also making the cut as part of a 2-year deal thanks to the W Series Academy project. Sidorkova, who finished ninth after being forced to miss a few rounds in 2021, will therefore bring the number of automatic entries to nine for 2022. The surprise return of two-time champion Jamie Chadwick with newly-founded team Jenner Racing means that all nine drivers are expected to return to the series. After testing in Arizona, six drivers have been invited to the pre-season test at Barcelona - plus two new additions: Japanese sensation Juju Noda will join the field, as well as Megan Gilkes - who had raced full time in the all-female series in 2019 and was the youngest on the grid at the time. The drivers advancing from the American test are Tereza Babickova, Léna Bühler, Bianca Bustamante, Chloe Chambers, Emely De Heus. But there will also be some familiar faces returning to the paddock, as Belén Garcia, Marta Garcia, Jessica Hawkins and Bruna Tomaselli will be back in a F3 Regional car after finishing outside the top-8 in 2021 and will have a deserved second chance. The total drivers hitting the track at Circuit de Montmelo will therefore be 20, with the racers looking to earn a spot on the grid having to confirm their speed in the F3 car after impressing in the US-spec F4 cars. W Series historically lined up 18 race driver plus a few reserves. "As interest in W Series grows, so does the competition for places, and I am expecting – and very much looking forward to – an intense week in Spain as the drivers put everything on the line." - commented Catherine Bond Muir, W Series' CEO, who has pushed for the expansion of the championship outside Europe. Tereza Babickova (18) is one of the most exciting female karting prospects in Europe, coming from a fast sister-trio. The Czech driver has competed in the most important karting competitions and would target her single-seater debut. Bianca Bustamante (17), from the Philippines, is also a formula rookie and was part of the FIA-sponsored Girls on Track Rising Stars programme in 2021. She would be the second Asian hopeful, together with Noda. Juju - daughter of former F1 and Indycar driver Hideki - is the youngest on the shortlist and comes from two seasons in Danish F4. Chloe Chambers, 17, was arguably the most experienced of the American candidates, having entered the 2021 US Formula 4 Championship - where she scored points - and having completed testing in a F3 Regional car in the US. With similar experience is Dutchwoman Emely De Heus, 19, who made her single-seater debut in 2021 in the Spanish F4 Championship and won the Female Trophy. After the season, she tested in the Formula Regional European Championship collective tests with MP Motorsport, as she prepared for a potential W Series selection. She would be the fifth driver to graduate from F4 Spain to W Series, after Marta Garcia, Belén Garcia, Nerea Marti and Irina Sidorkova. And Léna Bühler, 24 from Switzerland, could potentially be the sixth; Léna had an impressive formula debut in 2020 and moved up to FRECA in 2021. She was therefore the only candidate with previous racing experience in F3 machinery, and in a highly competitive championships. Most recently, Bühler raced in the last two rounds of Formula Regional Asian Championship, where she was close to a point finish in Abu Dhabi. Megan Gilkes returns on the W Series' radar after racing mainly in National Formula Ford 1600, as well as in the Canada-based F1600 in 2020. She famously won the W Series reverse-grid race in Assen, Netherlands, after a photofinish ending beating Alice Powell by three thousandths of a second. "For those who are familiar with W Series and have already qualified for 2022, the pre-season test is about getting back up to speed as quickly as possible" - said W Series racing director Dave Ryan. "Those new to W Series and looking to earn a seat for this year, need to impress by being consistent and showing that they are willing and capable of learning from their engineers." As reported by Formula Scout, W Series is expected to continue operating all its cars centrally, despite teams being created in 2021 to maximise sponsorship opportunities - but still with the aim of guaranteeing the same equipment to all competitors. The championship is set to start in May, in support of the first ever Miami F1 GP.