This year’s Bathurst 1000 grid will feature an all-female driving line-up for the first time in almost twenty years.
V8 Supercars Championship organisers have announced that IndyCar and Formula E driver Simona De Silvestro and Australian driver Renee Gracie will pair up in a wildcard entry that will be run by the championship-leading Prodrive Racing Australia team.
De Silvestro and Gracie will form the first all-female driver pairing to race at the endurance classic since Melinda Price and Kerryn Brewer in drove together in 1998.
The last time a female driver contested the Bathurst 1000 was in 2009, when Leanne Tander (wife of Hold Racing Team veteran Garth Tander) co-drove with David Wall in a Paul Cruickshank Racing Ford BF Falcon. The pair finished the race in 18th.
Swiss-born de Silvestro is considered to be one of the world’s leading female racing drivers, while Gracie is currently the only woman competing in the V8 Supercars Championship’s feeder category, the Dunlop Series.
The announcement was made today by V8 Supercars CEO James Warburton and New South Wales Premier Mike Baird as the pair officially launched the three upcoming rounds to take place in Australia’s most populous state, beginning with this weekend’s Sydney Motorsport Park round and ending with the season finale at Sydney Olympic Park in December.
“The exciting all-female combination of Simona and Renee will receive worldwide attention and add even more interest to this iconic event,” Warburton said.
“Bathurst is one of the world’s top five motor races, sitting comfortably alongside Le Mans, Monaco and the Indy 500 and this is one of the most significant announcements in the history of the event.”
Twenty-six-year-old de Silvestro has earned a fearsome reputation racing in the IndyCar Series, and will shortly contest a full season of the 2015/16 FIA Formula E Championship with the Amlin Andretti squad.
After becoming the first woman to earn an IndyCar podium finish on a road or street course (a feat she achieved at Houston in 2013), de Silvestro embarked on an affiliate driver program with the Sauber F1 Team in 2014 with a view to fast-tracking her into a full-time Grand Prix race seat.
That sadly fell through thanks to a failed sponsorship deal, but she has since managed a couple of outings in 2015 with the Andretti IndyCar squad, finishing a superb fourth at New Orleans.
“The Bathurst 1000 race was actually the first V8 Supercars race that I ever watched and it looked amazing,” she said.
“The track looks great from what I have seen on TV. It looks really challenging and I can’t wait to see it for real and to drive around it.”
Twenty-year-old Gracie is currently Australia’s highest-profile female racing driver, currently contesting her maiden season in the Dunlop Series after graduating from the Porsche Carrera Cup championship.
Driving for the Paul Morris-run Fujitsu Racing team, she currently sits 19th in the Drivers’ Championship standings.
“To be paired up with a high-profile international female like Simona, who I really look up to, is incredible,” she added. “So to say I am excited would be a complete understatement.”
The pair will drive a fifth Ford Falcon FG X being prepared by the championship-leading Prodrive Racing stable, which will put them in good stead for a possible surprise result given the outfit is aiming for three Peter Brock trophies on the trot.
Last year, the team ran a fifth Ford for the newly-formed New Zealand-based Super Black Racing team ahead of its full-time entry in this year’s championship; rookie drivers Andre Heimgartner and Ant Pedersen finished an outstanding eleventh on debut.
Russell brothers get second wildcard drive
The de Silvestro / Gracie wildcard is one of two wildcard entries announced for this year’s ‘Great Race’, with Newcastle-born brothers, Aaren and and Drew Russell also set to join the field.
The pair have both been regular drivers in the Dunlop Series for the last decade, and their family-run Novocastrian Motorsport team will enter a Holden Commodore VF that will be prepared by Garry Rogers Motorsport. The car was last raced by GRM in 2013 prior to the outfit’s move to becoming a factory Polestar Racing Volvo squad in 2014.
Australian-owned gym franchise chain Plus Fitness will sponsor the team’s entry, continuing the company’s association with the brothers in the Dunlop Series.
Twenty-three-year-old Aaren Russell has impressed in this year’s Dunlop Series, with podium finishes in Adelaide, as well as rostrum visits in 2014 at Queensland Raceway and Sydney Olympic Park. His older brother Drew, 27, made his Dunlop Series debut as a teenager in 2007.
The siblings will follow in the footsteps of their father (now team manager) Wayne Russell, who made four Bathurst 1000 starts between 1994 and 1997.
The duo will join brothers Will and A;ex Davison (Erebus Motorsport V8) and Todd and Rick Kelly (Nissan Motorsport) as the third pair of siblings on the grid; this marks the first time since 1984 that three sets of brothers have competed in the race at Mt Panorama.
Images via Dunlop Series, FIA Formula E Championship, Fujitsu Racing, IndyCar Series