Female drivers aim to impress at Bathurst

From near misses to Miss Austria, women drivers have a long history of turning heads at the Bathurst 1000. But sadly never from the podium.

All that could change on October 11.

More than 30 women have competed in the Great Race’s 55-year history, including Australia’s Christine Gibson who survived an horrific crash to finish sixth and former Miss Austria Mercedes Stermitz’s ill-fated 1987 campaign.

But few have arrived with the resume of Swiss driver Simona de Silvestro.

She is a former Sauber F1 test driver and one of only three women to have notched an IndyCar podium.

De Silvestro, 27, will team up with Queensland youngster Renee Gracie in a wildcard entry for the 2015 Bathurst 1000, becoming the first all-female driver pairing in the race in 17 years.

Considered one of the best female drivers in the world, de Silvestro will also be entrusted on her touring car debut with the car that has dictated terms in the V8 Supercars season.

De Silvestro and Gracie, who competes in the second-tier V8 development series, will pilot a Ford Falcon run by Bathurst 1000 defending champions Prodrive Racing Australia.

All the ingredients are there for de Silvestro and apprentice Gracie to improve on the best placing by a woman at Mount Panorama – sixth – and make the podium.

“I have always been a fan of the Bathurst 1000,” de Silvestro told speedcafe.

“It was a no brainer. In terms of goals, it is hard to say because I have never been to the track or raced in the cars so I can’t say we are going to win or anything like that.

“We have to be realistic, but if we can do our job correctly then I think we can have a good result.

Anything can happen. Just ask the 31 women who previously set out to scale the mountain in the Great Race.

The best result by a female driver at Bathurst is shared by homegrown talent Gibson and France’s Le Mans 24 Hour race participant Marie-Claude Beaumont who was sixth in 1975.

Gibson holds the record for most Bathurst starts by a female driver (nine) and also entered folklore when involved in the McPhillamy Park bingle with a second-placed Bob Morris that began a chain reaction of crashes that forced a premature end to the 1981 Great Race.

Arguably the most glamorous entry came in 1987 when the Bathurst 1000 was part of the world touring car championship (WTCC).

Former Miss Austria Stermitz teamed up with Annette Meeuvissen for BMW to finish seventh in the Calder Park WTCC round before a horror Bathurst stint which featured a crash at practice before pulling out of the race prematurely due to clutch failure.

The last woman to tackle the mountain was Leanne Tander, finishing 18th in 2009.

De Silvestro and Gracie will be the first all-female pairing to tackle Mount Panorama since Melinda Price and Kerryn Brewer in 1998.

De Silvestro – who will also race for Andretti Autosport in the looming second season of the FIA Formula E Championship – and Gracie have signed a two-year deal to race at Bathurst as wildcards.

Gracie makes her V8 debut at Bathurst after two previous visits as part of Porsche’s Carrera Cup series.

“You can do all the preparation but the first time you get out there is the first real chance to work out how the circuit really is,” de Silvestro said.

“For me I think everything is going to be overwhelming because I don’t know the car and the track looks difficult. It is a challenge but I look forward to it.”

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