By Lewis Franck
INDIANAPOLIS (Reuters) – A new era in motor racing begins as the green flags fly on Sunday with the first-ever predominantly female team taking on the Indy 500 for the first time.
“Women didn’t know it was for them and the few who did didn’t have a lot of opportunity,” Paretta Autosport team owner Beth Paretta told Reuters, when asked why it took more than a century for a team like hers to even reach the starting line.
“Hire hard-working women,” she added. “End of story.”
Women comprise 70% of the team’s lineup – both in competition and commercial roles – with the female-owned and driven group standing in contrast to the rest of the field in the 105th running of the crown jewel of IndyCar racing in an overwhelmingly male sport.
Days after qualifying for the race on “bump day”, driver Simona De Silvestro, the so-called “Swiss Missile”, told reporters she believed her team had immense potential.
“If we’re able to be really successful on Sunday I think it will change a lot of mindsets of a lot of people out there to just give opportunities,” said De Silvestro, 32, five times an Indy 500 starter herself.
“That’s what I’ve fought for my whole career and it’s also finally happening.”
The Brickyard has seen its share of headline-grabbing female drivers in the past – from Janet Guthrie, the first to qualify and drive the 500 in 1977, to Danica Patrick more recently – but progress for women in the sport overall has been slow.
Four women featured in the 33-car starting grids in 2010, 2011 and 2013, but there were no female drivers last year for the first time in two decades.
“Ten years ago I would have loved to be in this situation but it didn’t happen,” said De Silvestro, the Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year in 2010.
“But I think it’s cool to see and for me also to be involved in it, it’s super special.”
(Reporting by Lewis Franck; writing by Amy Tennery, editing by Ed Osmond)