Extreme E burst into the off-road motorsport world with a clear mission last year: to help raise awareness of climate change.
But it has also been making a positive change in another way too, boosting female participation in motorsport.
While female drivers have been welcome in all championships and disciplines, no series had ever made it mandatory for half of its grid to be reserved for female competitors until XE did last year.
Molly Taylor, Cristina Gutiérrez, Sara Price, Laia Sanz, Catie Munnings, Christine GZ, Emma Gilmour, Jamie Chadwick, Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky, Jutta Kleinschmidt, Claudia Hürtgen, Tamara Molinaro and Hedda Hosås have all been the beneficiaries. Klara Andersson will join that list in May too.
I would say it's getting better and better. Just a few years ago I wouldn't be able to get any female team gear and everything but now that's always the case.Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky on how widely motorsport is changing for women
“It’s fantastic, it’s great for women in motorsport, even just for sport in general,” Gilmour says.
“There’s no other sports that are putting women on the same international stage, platform, equal opportunity as the guys anywhere so for me I see it as an amazing opportunity to learn, having a team-mate like Tanner [Foust] with how much experience he has, I’ve got the opportunity to learn from him.
“The data that you get out of the racing with all the split points, looking at [Sébastien] Loeb’s times and thinking how on earth does he do that in the same car we’re driving, it’s an amazing opportunity to learn and to spotlight the talent that is there with women drivers.”
Åhlin-Kottulinsky explains: “It’s ground-breaking what they are doing, it’s the first championship where we are 50:50 male and female drivers.
“It’s really showing that motorsport can be as good and as exciting with female drivers as well as male drivers and what’s great is we showcase it’s all about the teamwork and having a good team, and it’s so important that both drivers are quick.
“We’re racing against top-level drivers and highlighting female drivers like this, showcasing that it’s not a non-normal thing to be a female in the motorsport world is what it’s all about.”
Sanz agrees: “It’s really good because it gives us a good opportunity to show we can do it and we can do a good job, and we can be fast,” she says.
“Also I think now women in motorsport it’s growing a lot and having this chance it’s really nice because we are as important as the male driver and this is really cool.
“I think it can help [encourage more women into motorsport], also for the brands to see that women in motorsport can be competitive. And of course, some other series can copy this format somehow, it’s something really nice.”
Taylor, last year’s champion alongside Johan Kristofferson, knows this better than most having become the first female to ever win her native Australian Rally Championship outright in 2016.
Accolades like this don’t mean a lot in isolation. As Taylor puts it: “Just winning the Australian Rally Championship meant a lot, being the first or the 10th or 50th woman to do it I don’t think that changes your desire to do it.”
But the trade-off is that the recognition females now have in motorsport today is immeasurable compared to that of only a few years ago. And Extreme E has been a big player in that.
“It’s been an amazing opportunity, the opportunity for all of us to be competing alongside the very best in every motorsport discipline in the world here in this paddock is a pretty incredible opportunity and then again from the visibility side it’s really important that we show that message,” Taylor says.
“It’s about helping the grassroots naturally become more equal and then we will naturally then see that progression. That’s where we need to really be better in that instance so we can have more at the top.”
“I would say it’s getting better and better,” adds Åhlin-Kottulinsky. “Just a few years ago I wouldn’t be able to get any female team gear and everything but now that’s always the case. With things like this like we do in Extreme E and other initiatives, FIA Women in Motorsport, it has really taken a big step forward in the last three years.”
It really can’t be underestimated the role all of the voices you’ve just heard can play in the future for your sister, daughter, niece or granddaughter. There have been trailblazing women in motorsport before – not least DirtFish’s guest editor this month Michèle Mouton plus Lella Lombardi – but never have females been able to relate to motorsport as much as they can now.
With 10 teams on the 2022 Extreme E grid, 10 female drivers have been given a pathway to compete on an international stage, and the knock-on effect is enormous, helping to nurture the careers of the current generation while also encouraging the stars of tomorrow.
No female racer on the planet wants to just be the highest-placed female. They’re competitors; they want to win. But in Extreme E they all win, even if that victory isn’t secured for over a decade when their contribution has helped inspire the latest breed of talent to rise up the motorsport ranks.
As Gilmour says: “if you can see it you can dream it”, but standing still is not enough. More can still be done.
“I think a series like this, for the next generation to look up to, is a starting point,” says Gilmour.
“Motorsport is always going to be a difficult sport to get into because it’s expensive but young people seeing that that could be them – if you can see it, you can dream it, kind of thing.
“The reality is we probably need to share women’s stories for all of motorsport, not just the drivers because obviously there are the navigators. You’ve got Rhianon [Gelsomino] in America doing great stuff; you’ve got Leena and Tina [Gade] as our head engineers in the team and they’re amazing to work with.
“So showcasing all those bits of motorsport, because it’s not just the drivers. We have the spotlight on us but there are so many people that make a motorsport event work and are really crucial to a team environment, making girls aware of that because that isn’t the money side, you don’t need the big bucks behind you to get there.”
Åhlin-Kottulinsky believes: “[We need] to keep pushing for things like this and also in the end to get drivers to the very top level you have to start support from a very young age and that’s what it’s all about.
“I would say also for teams out there and for sponsors to also give the girls a chance when they are young.”
And that brings us back to Taylor’s earlier point about focusing on the grassroots level to help sustain and improve the current interest at the top.
“There’s always more to be done, things like this investment [from Extreme E] and opportunities for females to develop is really important because [in] motorsport, it’s not an easy sport to get everything together and the budgets and funding to be able to develop. So [we need] investment in that side so that we can put our best foot forward. That’s really important.
“And then the more things we do like this that have good visibility, good sponsorship, we can keep growing that and from the grassroots the programs like the Girls on Track program, all the things the Women in Motorsport commissions are doing, they’re some really, really good initiatives as well to help gives those opportunities at a younger age.”
There’s always more that can be done, but the strides that have been made over the last year through Extreme E are clear for all to see.