To celebrate International Women’s Day, which has the theme of breaking the bias, we’re looking at those women who compete in a sport more famously known for its male competitors.
The history of motor racing has a long history of famous drivers, dating back to the start of the sport in the late 1800s. From the likes of Enzo Ferrari and Sir Sterling Moss to modern racers like Michael Schumacher, Lewis Hamilton, and Sébastien Loeb, many men have been applauded for their skills behind the wheel, but what about the women, who while racing on the same tracks in similar vehicles, haven’t received the same level of fame.
To help break that bias, we’re celebrating the famous female racing drivers who have pushed the pedal to the metal throughout the history of motorsport.
#1 Hellé Nice
Hellé Nice, born Mariette Hélène Delangle in 1900, did it all – on and off the track. She was a French model, dancer, skier, and an incredible pioneer of pre-war women’s motor racing.
Loving the thrill of high-speed racing, Nice performed at racing events and the annual fair in Paris as well as women-only championships in her late 20s.
She was given the chance to mix with the men in 1931 when she drove a Bugatti Type 35C in several minor Grands Prix events including the Monza Grand Prix.
Loved by fans across the world, Nice earned hundreds of thousands of pounds in race fees and endorsements across her career.
#2 Louise Smith
Known in the US as the ‘first lady of racing’, Louise Smith was one of the first women to race in the top level of NASCAR back in 1949.
Two years earlier, bored of just watching the racing, Smith had entered her family’s own Ford coupe into the race, but it wasn’t quite the start to her motor racing career she’d hoped for. She rolled the car and photos of the wreckage soon spread around her town.
Despite this initial setback, she went on to race and promote NASCAR racing and won 38 races in her career, and became the first woman to be inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1999.
#3 Michèle Mouton
Michèle Mouton is arguably the greatest female driver of all time. Starting her rally career in 1974, by 1977 she was already competing at the top of European and World Rally.
Mouton won four WRC events during her 12 years of rally racing, becoming the first and only woman to win an event. She also won the German Rally Championship as the first female driver to win a major championship in rallying.
Since her retirement, Mouton has been lauded as motorsport’s most successful ever female driver and in 2011 she received France’s highest order of merit, a Knight of the Légion d’honneur.
#4 Lella Lombardi
When it comes to Formula 1 as we know it today, Lella Lombardi is the most successful female racer in the history of the sport.
Starting out in 1974, Lombardi became the first female driver in almost twenty years to successfully qualify for a Grand Prix and a year later became the first and only female driver to finish in the top six and score points in an F1 race.
After three years in F1, Lombardi went on to have a successful stint in sports car racing, becoming the first female racing driver to qualify and compete at the Race of Champions and winning two endurance races. Plus she finished 9th in the 1976 24 hours of Le Mans.
#5 Danica Patrick
For most modern racing fans, Danica Patrick is the go-to name for female racers. Holding her own against her male counterparts, Patrick was a mainstay of the US racing scene for over a decade.
In 2008 she became the first and only woman to win an IndyCar series by winning the Japan 300. A year later she claimed a podium place in the world-famous Indianapolis 500.
In 2010 Patrick switched motorsports to compete in the NASCAR series. During her time in NASCAR, Patrick finished 4th in the Las Vegas Motor Speedway and 10th overall in the 2012 season.
Retiring in 2018, Patrick has been an inspiration for young female drivers in the US and across the world.
For more information on how you can support and get involved in International Women’s Day 2022, visit the IWD website here.