Monday, April 24, 2017

Musings From the Weekend: The Next Wave

Josef Newgarden won in his third Penske start at Barber Motorsports Park. Indy Lights hit a milestone. Rain hit Bristol and postponed the NASCAR Cup race until this afternoon. MotoGP wasn't shown live in the United States even though the race was in Austin. A streak was extended and an Italian remained on fire. There was a change a top the Supercross championship. There was a red flag at Monza. A Penske driver took the championship lead. The Super Formula Championship started its 2017 season. Global MX-5 Cup is my new favorite series. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

The Next Wave
Last Thursday marked the ninth anniversary of Danica Patrick's lone IndyCar victory, a surprise victory at Motegi in the wee hours of a Sunday morning in the United States. While being the first race victory for a female driver in IndyCar it was just the start of a progressive period for IndyCar. Hours after Patrick's victory, Simona de Silvestro won at Long Beach in Atlantics, the start of what would end up being an ascension to IndyCar for the Swiss driver. Sarah Fisher's own team would debut later that season. Ana Beatriz would finish third in the Indy Lights championship that year on the back of a victory at Nashville.

All four of those drivers and Milka Duno would start the IndyCar race at Chicagoland Speedway on August 28, 2010, setting the record for most women to ever start one IndyCar race at five and the following weekend would see Pippa Mann win the Indy Lights race at Kentucky and she would finish fifth in the championship despite missing one race. Fisher would retire from driving at the end of the 2010 season but Mann would make her debut in 2011 and Fisher would end up winning a race as a car owner at Kentucky with Ed Carpenter. Katherine Legge would return to IndyCar competition in 2012.

However, things have changed in the last six years. Patrick has moved to NASCAR. De Silvestro chased a Formula One dream only to return to IndyCar for a handful of races in 2015 and is now a Nissan-factory driver in Supercars. Beatriz is gone. Fisher merged her team with Ed Carpenter Racing only to have to withdraw from ownership after her associate Wink Hartman had to pull out for financial reasons. Mann is the only one remaining and her schedule has been reduced to just the Indianapolis 500.

Currently, there are two women in the Road to Indy, Ayla Årgen and Bruna Tomaselli, both race in U.S. F2000. Mann is the most recent woman to debut in IndyCar and Indy Lights. Pro Mazda hasn't had a female driver since 2014 when Argentine Julia Ballario ran a full season, Michele Bumgarner ran majority of the season and Vicky Pria ran a handful of races. Patrick is still the most recent American woman to debut in IndyCar.

Women appeared to have become a norm on the IndyCar grid. Now the entire ladder system let alone the top series appears to have regressed to what motorsports has looked like for 85 of the previous 100 years. What happened? Where is the next generation of female drivers entering the series?

Danicamania started 12 years ago and we have yet to see a descendent from that era and that is disappointing. How is it that no ten or 11-year-old girl who started karting after seeing Patrick's breakout party at Indianapolis in 2005 is now on the cusp of getting into IndyCar? Colton Herta was eight years old when Patrick won at Motegi and he is now in Indy Lights. Where is the female equivalent to Herta? There had to be a few eight-year-old girls who went to her parents after finding out Patrick had won an IndyCar race and wanted to follow in her footsteps and started karting soon after.

It feels like IndyCar has dropped a ball it once had a firm grasp on. There could still be girls, inspired by Patrick in the early years of karting a few years away from breaking into the Road to Indy system but there has to be some successors to the Patrick-era to deem it a success. More and more girls are growing up with female athletes as role models. The U.S. women's soccer team is arguably the most popular soccer team in the United States and more girls are playing the sport each year and the National Women's Soccer League has entered its fifth season and is providing girls a chance to aspire to one day be professional soccer players.

Patrick proved women could compete at the top level of IndyCar and there had to be a fair number of girls that aspired to followed in Patrick's footsteps but that next wave of female drivers has yet to come in and because we are so accustomed to motorsports being a place full of white, heterosexual males I am afraid that in a few years there could be no women across any of the four Road to Indy series and plenty will just shrug their shoulders and accept it.

There has to be a handful of young women out there, whether they are American, Canadian or from somewhere in Europe, Asia or Australia good enough to be in the Road to Indy system and it should be a norm to have at least two or three or four women full-time in each series. In 2017, motorsports grids should start looking more like the actual world with men and women from multiple races on the grid. A diverse grid can only attract more fans from different demographics to the race track, the television, tablet, computer screen or however they view a races. As more series struggle to remain relevant and try to keep the bottom from falling out on television ratings, you would think all series, not just IndyCar, would realize something has to be done to make the motorsport fan base more diverse in order to survive.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Josef Newgarden but did you know...

Nico Jamin and Colton Herta split the Indy Lights races from Barber. Herta won the 400th Indy Lights race. Oliver Askew swept the U.S. F2000 races.

Marc Márquez won MotoGP's Grand Prix of the Americas. Márquez has won 11 consecutive races in the United States. Franco Morbidelli made it three-for-three this season in Moto2. Romano Fenati won in Moto3, his second consecutive victory at Circuit of the Americas.

Erik Jones won the NASCAR Grand National Series race.

Kazuki Nakajima won the Super Formula season opener from Suzuka.

Fabian Coulthard and Chaz Mostert split the Supercars races from Phillip Island and DJR Team Penske's Coulthard now holds the championship lead.

The #63 GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini of Christian Engelhart, Mirko Bortolotti and Andrea Caldarelli won the first Blancpain Endurance Series race of the season from Monza.

Eli Tomac won the Supercross race at Salt Lake City and has taken the championship lead by three points over Ryan Dungey with two races remaining.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar crosses the country for a Saturday night show at Phoenix International Raceway.
Formula One heads to Sochi.
The Pirelli World Challenge runs the first SprintX round of the season at Virginia International Raceway.
World Superbike heads to Assen.
NASCAR will be at Richmond.
Monza has another date this weekend with the World Touring Car Championship coming to town.
World Rally crosses the Atlantic for Rally Argentina.
Supercross heads to its penultimate round of the season in East Rutherford, New Jersey.