W Series, the all-female single-seater series, concludes its six-race inaugural season at Brands Hatch on 11 August, with British pre-season favourite Jamie Chadwick in pole position to claim the title and the impressive US$500,000 first prize. But happily for the series it’s closer than it might have been.
There was a suspicion that Chadwick, a former race winner in British F3, could dominate, but it’s been far from a walkover. “I wouldn’t say I’m pleasantly surprised, but yes, it’s been tough,” she says. “Normally you’ve got your team, your data and your own set-ups, but here the cars are all the same and you switch each weekend, so you’ve never got a performance advantage and you share all your data. To give yourself a buffer is much harder than I’ve experienced and as the season has gone on the competition has got closer.”
So far, Chadwick has won twice, at Hockenheim and Misano, to hold a 13-point lead over title rival and Zolder winner Beitske Visser. Spaniard Marta Garcia, who won at the Norisring, lies third ahead of Briton Alice Powell and Assen victor Emma Kimilainen, who missed two rounds through injury after a crash at the Hockenheim opener. A non-championship reverse-grid race was also run at Assen, with 17-year-old Canadian Megan Gilkes winning from pole.
“Definitely as a championship it has exceeded my expectations,” says Chadwick. “Obviously from a personal results point of view I’m happy, but in the back of my mind going in I had no idea how it was going to be perceived.” The concept received a barrage of criticism at its launch for segregating women drivers. Chadwick herself admitted doubts, but was won over by the opportunity: drives are fully funded and then there’s that bulging purse for all entrants, amounting to US$1.5m (£1.2m).
Live TV coverage on Channel 4 in the UK has broadened the audience, and with women’s sport in general enjoying a long-overdue boost in popularity W Series has caught the zeitgeist. “I’ve been surprised by the amount of people who have changed their opinion,” says Chadwick. “There were quite a few who didn’t originally have the best things to say about it, but have now changed their minds.”