Fri 08 Mar 2024

Representation and role models the key to greater female participation

As we celebrate International Women’s Day today (8 March), three of rallycross’ leading lights have underscored the importance of representation and role models in the sport, in the drive to boost female participation.

In Norway last year, 40 per cent of the FIA RX2e Championship grid for the series’ Hell curtain-raiser was female. Two of those racers – Sweden’s Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky and Spain’s Cristina Gutiérrez – advanced to the final, with the former impressively reaching the rostrum on her series debut, while Catie Munnings turned heads with the third-fastest time and a race win in heat three.

The British driver was at it again a fortnight later at Höljes, chalking up another heat race victory ahead of home hero Åhlin-Kottulinsky, who was increasingly establishing herself as a bona fide title contender. Indeed, the Team E ace would go into the season finale at Germany’s Estering towards the end of the summer embroiled in a tight three-way fight for championship glory. That visibility, she argues, is vital.

“I heard a podcast about a kid who had said to her mum she thought football was just for females, because that kid was surrounded by female football players,” Åhlin-Kottulinsky revealed. “This is why it’s so important, and why I’m so grateful for all the teams, partners and organisers pushing to give female drivers the environment and possibility to grow, learn and fight for their dreams.”

Australian Rally Champion Molly Taylor similarly joined the RX2e field in Belgium and Germany, competing for #YellowSquad, the junior arm of multiple world championship-winning outfit Hansen Motorsport, whose team manager is former ERA 1400 Cup European title-winner Susann Hansen.

“Having someone like Susann as a mentor is incredibly special,” the Sydney native acknowledged. “She is such a trailblazer and knows what it takes to succeed and all the dynamics at play. I really value that.

“To me, as with most of the other female drivers, we are there because we want to be a driver and compete at the top, so I don’t think about it when it comes down to business, but I do think visibility is important to inspire more young girls at a grassroots level. Given the opportunity and support to develop, we have shown we can compete in equal arenas – and I think there are definitely more opportunities coming up.”

Klara Andersson was handed her big break in RX2e in 2021, making her bow in the all-electric single-spec series at Spa-Francorchamps, where she got the better of champion-elect Guillaume De Ridder in an enthralling duel in one of the heats and only narrowly missed out on the podium in the final.

That stellar performance brought the Swede to the attention of CE Dealer Team, who duly recruited her to form part of the FIA World Rallycross Championship’s first-ever full-season gender-equal driver line-up in 2022. She repaid that faith with interest, making history by ascending the rostrum in round five in Portugal and coming within a whisker of defeating multiple world champion Johan Kristoffersson in the pair’s progression race in the Nürburgring finale.

Building upon that, the recently-turned 24-year-old progressed to the final five times out of seven in her sophomore season in the top-flight last year, capping an impressive campaign by becoming the first woman ever to win a heat session in World RX.

“Ten years ago, I was riding around on my bike in the rallycross paddock watching many of the guys who are still racing now,” Andersson reflected. “I looked up to them and remember wanting to be just like them. That was my inspiration.

“I wanted to reach the top level and show that it is possible. I think the most important thing is to show especially young girls that it’s just as normal to be a girl racer as a boy racer, and to have some type of, I don’t know, role model to really highlight the diversity in the sport and show that we can compete on equal terms.

“I hope I can be a role model to little girls like I was then, and to little boys too. I’m excited to be here fighting against the best in the world. It’s super-cool and such a privilege, and hopefully this is the beginning of a change.”

Starts: Thursday, July 18, 2024 at 4:31:00 AM
Starts: Friday, July 26, 2024 at 7:00:00 AM
Starts: Saturday, July 27, 2024 at 6:00:00 AM