The W Series: More than just a new motorsport formula

Since the W Series was launched, mixed opinions have been floating about. Some said it was a sad day for motorsport, whilst others jumped at the chance of getting to go racing again. But, to put it quite simply, the W Series has been much, much more than just a new motorsport formula.

This is a different post to our usual style – this isn’t an interview – instead, it’s saying thank you to all of the boys and girls at the W Series who have given drivers, fans and an even further reach of people a chance to smile, succeed, create memories, and try something new.

Matt Bishop, head of communication for the series, invited me – Helena – down to the season finale at Brands Hatch, Kent. I gladly accepted the invite and it was a day were endless fond moments were formed and I shall cherish them for a long time to come.

At the beginning, it was easy to dismiss the idea of a female-only series. Why on earth would it be needed? Can’t they just compete in the series already available? Well, quite frankly, the answer to both of those points is yes. But, in order for women to be able to have the budget to go racing in the first place, a foundation and a platform such as the W Series was needed. Of course, an academy could’ve been set up where girls were supported from karting to the higher formulas and there’s been numerous other alternative ideas. But, essentially, a movement was founded which has given 20 formidable ladies the opportunity to do what they love – compete on a world stage.

The 2019 field for the W Series consisted of a plumber, a baker, university students and those who had very nearly given up on achieving their dreams. Those ladies had always been talented, just they’d never been able to showcase their immense ability due to lack of funding. Alice Powell is a prime example and, after winning the season finale, she will be racing in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. Not only is it richly deserved, but without the W Series, she wouldn’t be heading to America to compete on an international level.

There was a standout moment for me on Sunday and that was before the race. I’d spoken to many of the women throughout the day and I’ve been following their journeys throughout the year – some I’ve been following for a lot longer. 20 women were in front of a huge crowd that had gathered and they were about to go racing…for free. They were there on merit and talent and they had girls and boys and every age under the sun cheering them on. It was a moment of unity and that was why the W Series was created.

It’s been clever in every single aspect – from marketing and PR to sponsorship and its funding. Everyone has been talking about it – whether you agree with the ideas or not, it has been discussed. This is just a part of the reason why it’s such an immensely powerful tool. And then you have the racers who are some of the kindest people you could ever meet. All their lives they’ve just wanted to race. Some have been away and had children, others had returned to full time work with racing just a dream. The W Series allowed their hopes to become a reality while getting millions of outsiders involved.

It’s impossible to deny that the W Series has been an unprecedented success. Households round the globe have been talking about a group of women racing. It’s been on the television, in magazines, and talked about on every media form imaginable. While it’s been an omnipotent marketing tool, the fundamental element of the W Series has remained apparent – it’s created fair and equal opportunities. Now, at the end of the inaugural season, we have a well-deserved champion in the form of Jamie Chadwick. In addition, we have another 19 women which have all displayed skill, nerve and a raw ability to compete.

It’s been an amazing journey and I for one can’t wait to do it all over again. But, for now, we have 20 women who have bright futures ahead of them and I’m extremely excited to see their careers evolve.

On a more personal note it’s given me my mojo back. Being a woman in a male-dominated industry means you have to have tough skin. Yet, the W Series came along and there was this rush of excitement. There was something new, unique and I wanted to be a part of it. So, I am incredilby thankful for the opportunties it’s given me. I have a spark that’s been ignited because I’ve watched 20 women fight for their dreams and I’ve met friends for life!

Sarah Moore: “To be on the grid is an amazing achievement for myself”

“I can’t wait to get back out in the car,” Sarah Moore tells Females in Motorsport. “I’m really looking forward to it.”

And, Sarah has great reason to be excited.

This weekend, the 25-year-old is heading to Hockenheim to compete in the inaugural round of the all-female W Series. She describes it as the “biggest opportunity in her career to date” and hopes that it’ll take her to the “next level of professional racing”.

Sarah grew up with racing being engraved in her everyday life with her three brothers and sister all involved in motorsport. Naturally, Sarah took to racing at an early age by starting out racing karts. She says herself that racing feels normal to her as she was “born into it”.

“I’m lucky enough to have grown up within a racing family on an airfield with a karting Circuit and a race team,” she says. “So it was easy for me really, it’s all I knew growing up. It’s in my blood!”


Alice Powell and Sarah (Credit: W Series)

After karting, Sarah climbed the ranks to become the Ginetta Junior champion in 2009. This success was recognised in the industry, and she was named Autosport’s young driver of the year.

Fast-forward to the present day, and ahead of the W Series selection process, Sarah hadn’t set foot in a single-seater formula car since 2011.

“To get back in a formula car is so important for me to gain knowledge and further my driving skills to help achieve my goals and dreams,” she says. “I’d say the F3 cars we’re lucky enough to be racing is probably the best car I’ve driven to date. I’m just learning more and more about the car and improving my driving with every lap.”

The W Series drivers will all compete in identical Tatuus Formula 3 cars, to allow an equal playing field from the get go.

Over 100 women applied for the first season of the series, and now only 18 successful competitors remain. Sarah is one of five British drivers to have made it to the starting grid, something she sees as a representation of how strong the talent from the UK is.

“Just to be part of the 18 chosen to be on the grid is an amazing achievement for myself, but it also opened our eyes as to how much more work we need to be putting in,” she says. “For all five Brits to get through just goes to show how strong our drivers from the UK are on track. It’s definitely going to make for an interesting battle at some point!”

Sarah with her fellow W Series British drivers: Alice Powell, Esmee Hawkey, Jamie Chadwick and Jessica Hawkins (Credit LAT Images/W Series)

With the weekend fast approaching, Sarah is targeting a top eight finish in the series’ first outing.

Supporting the DTM calendar, the W Series will also be broadcast live on Channel 4 throughout its racing year. Viewers will also be able to catch the action on demand.

“My main focus going into the first race weekend is to finish inside the top eight, but as with all drivers our ultimate aim is to win so I will always be giving it my all,” she says. “A win at this level would definitely be the highlight of my career, but as always it’s all about consistency.”

In terms of her main competition, Sarah is adamant that there isn’t one particular person at this stage.

“All the drivers on the grid are there for a reason, they are all fantastic drivers and I think it’s going to be some really good, close racing,” she says. “I’m looking forward to the lights out on the first race!”

And, thankfully, Sarah won’t have to wait much longer. The first qualifying of the W Series season will get underway on Sunday at 10:55 (BTS).

W Series action to be shown live on Channel 4

The W Series has announced that all six of their inaugural championship races will be shown live on Channel 4, promoting women in motorsport.

The series will be shown on the free-to-air channel in high-definition, marking a landmark partnership between the ground-breaking racing championship and one of the leading broadcasters in the UK.

The women-only series recently confirmed its 18 drivers, including five British contenders for the 2019 campaign.

Now, audiences in the U.K. will be able to watch the action lap by lap, as the drive for equality in motorsport continues.

Race build-up, interviews and qualifying will all be available to watch live and on-demand, as well as full coverage of the race itself.

“We’re thrilled to be bringing live coverage of W Series to terrestrial audiences,” said Joe Blake-Turner, Channel 4’s commissioning editor of sport.

“Women have been under-represented in motorsport for far too long and who knows, this exciting format could be the first step towards producing a female Formula 1 champion in the not-too-distant future.”

W Series CEO Catherine Bond Muir added: “This is a historic moment for us. The U.K., with its incredible love of motorsport, is a cornerstone market for W Series, and what better way to engage and entertain than with live coverage of our all-female single-seater racing?

“Channel 4 is the ideal broadcast partner and we’re delighted to be working with them as we introduce the world to this exciting new concept.”

The first round of the season will take place at Hockenheim, Germany next weekend.

News of the W Series’ international coverage will be announced soon.

Megan Gilkes: “I want to be a Formula 1 driver”

From a town in Canada to being on the brink of making it in the motor-racing history books, Megan Gilkes’ career currently hangs in the balance. Girls like her, simply haven’t had this shot before.

As one of the 28 remaining hopefuls in the all-new women-only W Series, Megan’s working all hours of the day (and night) to make the final cut.

With the prospect of an all-expenses-paid-for drive in one of racing’s most exciting new adventures, 18-year-old Megan is pushing harder than ever before.

“I want to be a Formula 1 driver one day,” she says with certainty. “It’s always been my dream to race at the top of motorsport.”

She fell in love with life in the fast lane thanks to her dad who was a semi-professional driver in America. Megan used to cheer him on at the track when she was “just a little girl”, and she quickly got hooked on the adrenaline.

“Growing up, I used to see some of his races and when I was nine, I had the chance to try out a kart for the first time,” she says. “As soon as I drove, I loved it.”

From that point on, there was no stopping an enthusiastic Gilkes.

She admits that compared to other racers she’s inexperienced. Although that doesn’t mean that she hasn’t had success. In her first year of single-seater racing, Megan walked away with two second place finishes in two separate championships in a male-dominated environment. Not bad for someone who’d driven nothing other than a kart until this point.

“In 2017 I was second in the Sports Car Club of America and the South East Majors. Last year I was runner up in the Canadian F1200 series, despite not having done all of the rounds,” she says. “I’ve won five races in single seaters.”

Now, Megan continues to chase the motorsport dream thousands of miles away from her hometown, where she’s studying towards a degree in Aeronautical Engineering. If she doesn’t make it as a professional driver, then the brown-eyed youngster is insisting that she’ll still call F1 home.

“My degree is challenging, especially trying to balance everything with the racing as well,” she says before admitting that she still hasn’t got used to the dreary British weather. “I find it quite difficult, but I keep pushing. Engineering is applicable to the racing but I don’t have too much trouble at the moment with balancing the two. Let’s hope it stays that way.”

Until that chance is ruled out, Megan is putting her all into the W Series selection process. At the end of January, she and 53 other qualifiers from around the world headed to Austria to participate in 10 intense challenges.

She found out about the new initiative from her brother, while travelling to university lectures in London. With the W Series’ aim to promote women in the industry, Megan eagerly jumped at the chance.

“He gave me a call and told me to look on the internet at a new European series that was only for women,” she says. “It was going to be a free ride for anyone that got into it, and he said that I’d be interested in it. When I saw it, I knew it was for me. I applied as soon as I could and they accepted my application. They mostly asked about my racing experience to date, and my results to see who would be qualified to race a Formula 3 car. I got an email from them to say that I’d been chosen to go through and I was so excited.”

When she received the good news, she put her head down and grafted hard to ensure that she was ready for the most “important days” of her life to date.

“The test in Austria was being carried out in road cars, so I tried to get as much seat time as possible,” she recalls. “All of my racing so far has been done in single-seaters so I spent two half days at a race track in the U.S. just getting some laps in.

“One day it was wet and one day it was dry, so it was good to get some experience in different conditions. I also drove my mum’s Mini Cooper at a local circuit while I was back in Canada for the Christmas holidays and I actually wore out the new winter tyres that she’d just had put on.”

In Austria the hopefuls were judged by four giants of the sport, including ex-F1 driver David Coulthard, Le Mans winner Alex Wurz and – Megan’s ultimate idol – female IndyCar racer Lyn St James.

Megan will head to Spain in March for the final part of the W Series tests, where she has her heart set on a race seat for 2019.

“St James was talking about how the passion for racing comes from deep within all of us and that really stood out,” she says fondly. “It’s absolutely true. I was there because I love racing and it’s what I want to do for the rest of my life.”