Want to be a female race car driver? There’s now a school for that

Formula One, Supercars and even go-karting are heavily male-dominated industries from the driver’s seats to the pits.

Yet motorsport is one sport where men and women can compete alongside each other with no age or gender barriers.

Rachelle Stirling is a passionate motorsports fan, and one day at a track meet she got behind the wheel herself.

“I was hooked and pretty much haven’t stopped since,” she says.

Being one of the few females to compete regularly at track days, Rachelle says she’s still confronted with criticism.

“A lot of people still say, ‘But you’re a girl,'” she says.

“In my experience, women are quite disconnected in motorsport. Our participation is just 10 per cent across the board.

A woman stands to the side of a car and smiles.A woman stands to the side of a car and smiles.
Rachelle is a passionate motorsports fan and competes regularly at track days.(ABC News: Chloe Hart)

With a sheer love of the sport and the backing of the Australian Racing Drivers Club, Rachelle has founded Race Chix Motorsport and launched an all-female racing school at the Sydney Motorsports Park.

The program is the first of its kind in Australia and is dedicated to training women in motorsports aged 16 and over, to give them the same opportunities as men.

“As drivers competing, we don’t want our own category or our own groups,” Rachelle says.

“We want to get out there and play with the guys.

A group of women stand socially distanced at a racetrack.A group of women stand socially distanced at a racetrack.
Rachelle’s all-female program is dedicated to training women in motorsports, with the goal of getting them out on the race track.(Supplied: Rob Annesley Photography)

Female race car drivers are rare, but they are around.

Just six have participated in a Formula 1 Grand Prix weekend, and 2015 was the last time we saw that, with Susie Wolff driving for Williams in free practice.

When it comes to Supercars, Simona De Silvestro (89 races, 0 wins) and Renee Gracie (48 races, 0 wins) have helped pave the way for women.

They paired up to compete in the Bathurst 1000 in 2015 and 2016.

Loading

“Simona de Silvestro is a fantastic role model. They’ve done an amazing job and are inspirational for other women,” Rachelle says.

An all-female W Series — a single-seater racing championship — was launched in 2019.

But there’s still a long way to go before female drivers are competing at the same level as men.

Rachelle hopes women can one day be represented equally in all areas of motorsports, not just in the driver’s seat.

“50-50 is the magic number for female participation as drivers across all motorsports genres, but also in other roles — engineers, mechanics, team owners, stewards — so many different aspects,” she says.

A dream fulfilled

A woman stands in front of her car and poses with her arms in the air.A woman stands in front of her car and poses with her arms in the air.
Julia Avico has been putting her racing skills to the test with Race Chix.(Supplied: Rob Annesley Photography)

Julia Avico has wanted to be a race car driver her whole life.

“Growing up as a young girl, I spent all my time in Dad’s garage working on cars with him,” she says.

“All I wanted was to be the best race car driver.”

The 24-year-old acknowledges she’s probably missed out on being a world champion, but she has been thrilled to sign up to Rachelle’s all-female race school.

“Getting behind the wheel lit my enthusiasm for racing,” she says.

“Once you’re on the track it gets very addictive.

Julia believes the school will be a huge advantage for women in the future.

A woman stands in front of a class and talks.A woman stands in front of a class and talks.
Julia believes Rachelle’s classes will help get more women on the race track.(Supplied: Rob Annesley Photography)

“If I could have done this as a young girl I would have been all over it … it’s a shame, but I can still try,” she says.

Julia says the longstanding belief women don’t have the endurance or physicality to compete at the same elite level as the men is offensive.

“Of course we can do it,” she says.

“It’s unfortunate we’ve got to prove ourselves, but I am up for a challenge.”

Sixty-year-old Deborah Morell has been proving herself for the past 40 years in motorsports.

“I was in demolition derbies, I drag raced my Holden, I service all my cars and spent every weekend out at the track with the touring cars since I was 20,” she says.

A woman sits in the drivers seat of a car.A woman sits in the drivers seat of a car.
Deborah Morell has worked in motor racing for 40 years and is now taking part in the Race Chix program.(Supplied: Rob Annesley Photography)

Motorsports is Deborah’s life. She’s involved in officiating in pit lane, she is a marshal and she is now also a scrutineer for the V8 Supercars.

“I saw Race Chix Race School and thought I’ve got to get behind the wheel because I am always gridding the guys up, and thought I want to do this,” she says.

But it’s not all positive, Deborah has found some men who aren’t accepting of women on the circuit.

“Some [men] are, some aren’t because we’re starting to get a lot more knowledge than what the guys do,” she says.

Despite that, she’s got a clear goal for after race school.

“I want to be able to do sprint car racing and then my dream would be door to door, full-contact competition racing,” she says.