It took 61 years before we finally had a woman be able to qualify for the Indianapolis 500. SIXTY ONE YEARS. The first Indy 500 took place in 1911 and other than both World War’s, the race has always been around here in the Circle City each Memorial Day or Memorial Day weekend.
But, it wasn’t until 1977 to when we finally saw the first female join the ranks of ‘500 participants. After a year without a female competitor in 2020, now we have one back this coming May.
Paretta Autosport, a new NTT IndyCar Series race team spearheaded by female automotive and motorsport executive Beth Paretta, has announced its entry for the 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge.
2010 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year Simona De Silvestro has been announced as the driver for Paretta Autosport, which will utilize Chevrolet power and run the No. 16 for this year’s legendary “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” The 32-year-old from Switzerland is a veteran of five Indianapolis 500 starts.
Before we look ahead, we first have to look back to really come to grips with how big of an announcement Tuesday was.
Janet Guthrie was the pioneer to pave the path for females that auto racing wasn’t just a mans sport, women should be included too. There’s a great documentary about Guthrie and her racing career, but the historic 1977 race was big for not just Indy, but for all women across the board.
Unfortunately, the list of females to have been able to race in the biggest sporting event in the world is limited. As we sit here today, 777 drivers have ever raced in the Indy 500. Unfortunately, only nine of those drivers are females. That’s right, only nine women in the history of entire of the world has ever strapped herself into an Indy Car on Memorial Day weekend here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
That number didn’t grow last year and so far for this year, won’t grow again. De Silvestro has raced in this race before and doesn’t add to the number. But, today’s unveiling is opening a path now for that number to finally grow in coming years.
See, last year we took a step back. For the first time since 1999, no women drivers were in field of 33. Guthrie started it in 1977 and raced in 1978 and 1979 too. It took 13 years before we’d get another female in Lyn St. James. She’d race six straight years but 1998 and 1999 were the only years after that we’d not have a female participant.
St. James and Sarah Fisher were here in 2000 as it was St. James’ seventh and final Indy 500 start but Fisher’s first. Fisher, ran in all five years between 2000 and 2004, then was back four more between 2007 and 2010. In 2005, it was Danica Patrick’s turn and like Guthrie, she really put more attention for females and racing.
Danica, became the first woman to lead a lap in that race and gave us the best results out of a female erasing the stigma that females aren’t fast enough. I’m glad she shoved that narrative back to the 20th century and was damn fast here in all eight of her Indy appearances.
That led a path for Milka Duno, Ana Beatriz, De Silvestro, Pippa Mann and Katherine Legge to Indy.
In 2007, we saw multiple females in this race with Fisher, Patrick and Duno. It would stay that way for 2008 and 2009 too. In 2010, it was three, but Duno was out and Beatriz in.
For 2011, the 100th anniversary of the first ever Indy 500 in 1911, we saw a record four female drivers in the field of 33. Patrick, Beatriz, De Silvestro and Mann all joined. 2012 was back to three, but Danica went to NASCAR, Pippa out for a year but Beatriz, De Silvestro and Legge came into the mix.
Mann, kept the dream alive for females the last several years and Danica didn’t come back until her one off in 2018. De Silvestro went overseas after the 2015 season. Legge, ran twice in 2012 and 2013. Mann, stayed for six races in a seven year span between 2013 and 2019.
Last year, there was no one left to carry the torch. Mann, would have been the only one, but with a pandemic, there wasn’t enough time and money to secure funding for her to keep this streak going.
Now, there’s a blueprint and it’s being spearheaded by a great group of women as well as Roger Penske.
The team is an extension of INDYCAR and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s “Race for Equality & Change” announced last July. Team Penske will provide technical support to Paretta Autosport in assisting in the preparation for competing in the race Sunday, May 30.
Paretta Autosport will integrate women in the team to ensure that it provides opportunities, including competition, operations and administrative roles such as logistics, marketing and public relations.
“Today is the beginning of a commitment to gender equity in sport, to encourage women to work hard so they can earn their seat at the table or spot on the grid,” Paretta Autosport Team Principal Beth Paretta said. “INDYCAR has been a leader and a welcoming place for women for many years because of the hard work of many women and men before us, but now we have a stronger commitment with INDYCAR’s ‘Race for Equality & Change’ to make sure opportunities continue in the future.
“Our team, along with our technical alliance with Team Penske, will work hard to give Simona the best car we can provide so she can achieve her best results. Competition drives us. The Indy 500 is the greatest race in the world, and one day soon we hope to have a woman’s face on the Borg-Warner Trophy.”
Said Mark Miles, president and CEO of Penske Entertainment Corp.: “We are pleased to welcome Beth and her Paretta Autosport team to INDYCAR this year. Her team’s addition to the INDYCAR ‘Race for Equality & Change’ program this year will ensure that INDYCAR and the Indianapolis 500 continues the legacy of having a female driver qualify for the 2021 Indy 500. Of course, it will be up to Simona and the team to qualify the car for the grid, but knowing Beth, I know that her team will be up for the task.”
This is hopefully just the start of an initiative that hopes to open more doors for women in motorsports. With the people behind it, I think this is going to pave a foundation for a nice future.
This ride has a chance now to succeed. It’s essentially a fifth Penske car as the team will operate in North Carolina near Penske’s shop.
“With the right equipment, she can win the Indianapolis 500,” said Doug Boles.
The team also has eyes forward to potentially more races in 2021 with a goal of being full time come next season.