Motorsport is one of the very few sports in which members of both sexes can compete directly against each other. Yet despite this, male drivers vastly outnumber female drivers throughout the ranks, and no woman has ever won a major championship title. Look into the garages and the factories supporting their efforts and it’s the same story.
How much this disparity has to do with the age-old nature-or-nurture debate is neither here nor there. What is clear, according to those behind Motorsport UK's Girls on Track initiative (founded in 2016 by Williams Formula 1 driver Susie Wolff) is that young girls need more encouragement to follow STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) disciplines and get into motorsport than boys; and that providing an environment away from their male peers’ boisterousness is crucial to giving them confidence.
Such environments include free go-karting sessions for eight- to 18-year-olds, such as those witnessed by Autocar last week at the new Gravity track in Wandsworth (built, incidentally, inside an old Debenham’s department store and using innovative electric go-karts to reduce noise and eliminate nasty fumes in the mall), networking events and interactive sessions at schools, often involving the initiative’s multiple high-profile ambassadors.
“When we have these events with girls taking part in motorsport and STEM activities, it’s lovely to hear them saying: ‘Wow, I didn’t know girls could be engineers. I didn’t know girls could be mechanics. I’d like to try that when I’m older',” says Girls on Track UK programme manager Jenny Tcherniak.
High-profile role models are of course important to the development of all youngsters, and fortunately there are currently a number of racing drivers who young girls can look up to, thanks largely to the female-only W Series and the gender-equal Extreme E off-road racing championship. “You’ve got to see it to believe it,” says Tcherniak.