Supercars missed a huge opportunity in 2019 to re-shape how the sport is viewed, according to Triple Eight part-owner Jess Dane.
With Craig Lowndes retiring as a full-time driver at the end of 2018, Triple Eight came within days of signing Simona de Silvestro as his replacement, in what would have been a ground-breaking move to put a female in a front-line seat .
Dane, who is an ambassador for the FIA’s Girls on Track program, says de Silvestro’s aborted move to Triple Eight would have changed the sport.
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“Simona unfortunately never had the opportunity with the best equipment. It was a massive shame,” she told Wide World of Sports.
“At Triple Eight we tried to get the budget together to run Simona in a third car for the 2019 season, alongside Jamie (Whincup) and Shane (van Gisbergen).
“Unfortunately at the last minute we lost a third of the budget, and you can’t find that kind of money in two days.
“We came very close to making it happen, but unfortunately it fell through.”
De Silvestro spent three years as a full-time driver in the Supercars series, driving a Nissan Altima, with a best result of seventh in New Zealand in 2019. Prior to that she had enjoyed success in IndyCars, including a second place finish at Houston in 2013.
Simona De Silvestro at the 2021 Indianapolis 500. (AP)
“She wasn’t given the chance to perform at her best when she was in mediocre machinery,” Dane explained.
“Definitely more could have been done to give her the chance to perform. If she had been given that chance who knows how the landscape would have changed.”
With de Silvestro’s Supercars run having come to an end, all 25 full-time seats are once again filled by men. Female participation has never really been taken off, despite women having competed at Bathurst since the 1960s.
Christine Gibson is remembered for her involvement in the crash that brought a premature end to the 1981 Bathurst 1000, of greater significance is the fact she finished sixth that year.
Christine Gibson, pictured here in 1980, finished sixth in the 1981 Bathurst 1000. (Fairfax Media)
Dane concedes that even though women have been a fixture on the grid at Mount Panorama for decades, it’s still seen as an oddity, rather than the norm.
“It’s a great shame that women seem to have stalled, and I can’t pinpoint the exact reason,” she explained.
“If we look at how motorsport has evolved over the years, it’s a massive budget thing.
“You can have the most talent in the world, there are so many drivers who haven’t had the opportunity because of money.
“If you’re one of the best teams with five drivers chasing two seats, you’re going to chose the person with the most money and the least risk. And unfortunately, women are still seen as the risky option.”
Simona de Silvestro drives the #78 Team Harvey Norman Nissan Altima during qualifying for the 2018 Bathurst 1000. (Getty)
Female representation on the Formula 1 grid is even more scarce, one of the reasons behind the FIA’s creation of the W Series in 2019, aimed at creating opportunities for women in open-wheeler categories.
But Dane admits the fate that has befallen its two-time champion, Jamie Chadwick, is evidence the W Series hasn’t quite established itself as a pathway to more established open wheel series.
“I’m split on the W Series,” she said.
“On the one hand it’s excellent that it provides a platform for women to get seat-time, who otherwise would find it very difficult to find a seat.
Jamie Chadwick in action in the W Series. (Getty)
“Then we look at Jamie Chadwick, massively talented driver, she’s part of the Williams Academy, now she’s doing a third year in W Series.
“The point of this series is to help women move up the ladder, if Jamie can’t get a drive, you have to wonder if it’s doing its job.”
That’s one of the reasons Dane is so passionate about the Girls on Track program, which is designed to encourage girls to pursue a career in motorsport, even if it’s not behind the wheel.
“It’s a program aimed at girls from 8-18, it’s a global program and in Australia we’re actually expanding it to include those up to 22-years-old,” she explained.
“It’s to introduce girls to motorsport and show them that careers within motorsport are an option for them.
Jamie Chadwick has won the W Series twice, but hasn’t been able to move up the motorsport ladder. (Getty)
“We did a day at Phillip Island recently where the girls learned about drag and aerodynamics using Lego cars, and we took them for a tour of the Triple Eight garage, so they could get up close and personal with the tires and computer screens and the cars.
“It gives them a broad range of exposure to different forms of careers available to them.
“At the Grand Prix weekend it was aimed at girls aged 15-22 who have a bit more of an idea of what they want to do, getting to meet women who are doing what they might want to do and ask questions and hopefully have a mentor for the next few years while they find their feet.”
Dane said motorsport needs to be more conscious of the way the sport is presented, noting there’s already a large number of women in roles that don’t necessarily have a high profile.
“It really only appears to be male-dominated because that’s what the visuals show,” she said.
Triple Eight Engineering part owner Jess Dane with team principal Jamie Whincup. (Supplied/Edge Photographics)
“We need to be better as a sport at showing that there are plenty of women working in the sport. Of course there’s more men than women, and unfortunately many of the women are working in areas you don’t see on TV a lot.
“When you’re watching a race you see the drivers, the engineers and the pit crew, and they’re typically male. But there are so many women making things happen behind the scenes, from team co-ordination, to media, to event management, there are so many options.
“It’s up to motorsport to do a better job at showing the women who are involved in the industry already.”
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