Rising New Zealand based motorsport racer Alexandra Whitley has been picked amongst the world’s top female drivers to try out for a spot in this year’s W Series – a fully professional series featuring Formula 3 type open-wheel cars.
Later this month the 25-year-old will join 60 others at a week-long selection programme in Austria before 18 are chosen for the series, which kicks off in May in Germany.
The W Series is designed to break down barriers for women in motorsport.
All of the women competing already have, or aim to have, fulltime careers in the sport.
“It’s an amazing opportunity and it’s going to be tough but I am doing all I can to make sure I am prepared and can give it everything I have got when I am there,” Whitley said.
“As well as stepping up my fitness I have been working on my driver training and media training.”
The programme includes on-track testing, simulator appraisal, technical engineering tests and fitness trials.
All costs for the trip are met by series organisers, there is a top prize of US$500,000 ($736,000) for the winner and a total prize pool of US$1.5million ($2.2m).
The 18 women will all be provided identical Tatuus T-318 Formula 3 cars and powered by identical Autotecnica Motori inline four-cylinder 1.8-litre turbocharged engines.
If she makes the top 18 Whitley will go through a training programme centring on driving techniques, simulator exposure, technical engineering approaches, fitness and media skills carried out by a group of experts with decades of Formula 1 experience.
Experts include multiple Grand Prix winner David Coulthard, top Formula 1 chief design engineer Adrian Newey and top managers and media experts.
Whitley, who was Australian born but lives in New Zealand, said one of the best things about the series is the ethos that women can compete equally with men in motorsport.
Just weeks ago Whitley became the first woman to win a race in the first round of the New Zealand V8 ute series at Pukekohe Park Raceway.
She was the only woman in the 12 strong field of older, experienced drivers with big budget sponsors.
She hoped the future of motorsport would include more women.
“The W Series is one way to break down barriers and get more women into motorsport,” she said.
“I’m all for competing equally against men, we are all the same when we put our helmets on, but this is a way to promote the sport to more women.”
On the W Series website, the message is clear.
“Successful racing drivers have to be skilled, determined, physically fit, brave and competitive,” it stated.
“But they don’t have to be men.”