Motorsport is dominated by men, but that hasn’t stopped two young women making history in the toughest motorsport of all – BriSCA F1 stock car racing.
Phoebe Wainman is the first female driver in 25 years to qualify for the sport’s biggest race, the World Championship Final, held at the Adrian Flux Arena in King’s Lynn this evening, while last month Courtney Witts became the first woman to win a major BriSCA F1 stock car final since 1995.
And make no mistake, this sport is not for the faint-hearted. It is full-contact, and with reinforced bumpers front and rear, these purpose-built cars, powered by 700bhp V8 engines – as much as Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes F1 car – are built to withstand huge hits.
And on a quarter-mile shale oval with the best 36 drivers in the world from Britain, Holland and New Zealand out on track for 25 highly-charged laps tonight, that is what Wainman will be facing in her quest for glory.
But the 23-year-old legal secretary from Silsden in Yorkshire, who races a pink-coloured car (and uses a pink-coloured steering wheel) is unfazed by the rough, tough, macho nature of stock car racing.
She is the daughter of the sport’s most successful driver, Frankie Wainman Jnr, and raced successfully in junior stock car formula from the age of 12. And while she is aware the knocks can take their toll, it doesn’t put her off one bit. “My dad has been racing for more than 30 years and he’s still in one piece,” she said.
In only her second full season, Wainman qualified for the World Final by finishing in the top ten in her World semi-final qualifying race at Owlerton Stadium, Sheffield, although she was convinced after the race she had failed to qualify.
“I thought I’d finished 11th or 12th and I was absolutely heartbroken,” Wainman said. “Last year I wanted to make the World semi-final, which I did and I was ecstatic. But this year I wanted to get into the World Final, so I was so relieved.”
Earlier in the year Courtney Witts, from Coppull in Lancashire, had been offered a drive in an F1 stock car by top race car owner and sponsor, Jamie Davidson, as an 18th birthday present.
And the youngster, who had won every major title racing against the boys in the junior Ministox series, proved she was a natural from the moment she sat in the car.
Having won in her very first race, Witts gathered enough points through the season to qualify for the second World semi-final at Buxton, juggling her racing with A levels studies in law, psychology and history.
Witts had been running in 10th place in the race until the very last bend.
“During the last five laps I’d completely lost my brakes,” said Witts. “I had to go in for the hit on the two cars in front of me on the last bend and they both crashed out as a result.
“I got round them and would have crossed the line in eighth, but a parked car near the finish line meant there was nowhere to go as I came out of the corner.
“I just went straight into the back of it and my car just cut out and cruised to a stop just six feet before the line.
“I was devastated and crying like a baby. I went out in the consolation race and I won that, but I was still crying afterwards!”
But Witts, who will soon be heading to Sheffield University to study for a law degree, bounced back in no uncertain fashion later in the day by winning the meeting’s Grand Final.
“To be the first woman to win a final after so many years was amazing,” Witts said. “It was definitely a bitter-sweet day, but it was good to end it on such a high.”
A week later she repeated the feat, winning the big race of the night at Birmingham.
Both Wainman and Witts have proved that women can beat their male counterparts on a level playing field.
“I think it is great to be one of the women racing in a male-dominated sport and be able to show that we can be competitive alongside them,” said Wainman.
“People tell me I am an inspiration to young girls, so to be that person is incredible.”