Menstuff® has information on Auto Week's "Five of the fastest women you will ever meet"
Ana Beatriz might not be the next Danica Patrick, but she'd gladly accept becoming a driver in the mold of Andre Ribeiro, the former Indy-car race winner who manages her career.
Beatriz, a 23-year-old native of São Paulo, Brazil, is in her first season in the Indy Racing League's Firestone Indy Lights series. She made series history by winning the most recent race, at Chicagoland Speedway. After 10 of 16 events, she is third in points, 39 points out of first place. She is the fifth woman to compete in the series. Her best previous finish was third, on three occasions earlier this season.
She's "excellent," says former IRL driver Sam Schmidt, whose championship-winning team employs Beatriz. "We went into this season with a goal of top five in points and a win, but we were conservative, because she'd never seen the tracks.
"She clearly has the speed and the talent, and more important, she's 120 percent com-mitted to being a professional race-car driver."
Beatriz's experience is on road courses, including a stint last year for Team Brazil in the A1 Grand Prix series. She also has driven in her country's Formula Renault and Formula Three divisions. But Beatriz still finished third on Iowa Speedway's short oval.
"I'm learning," she says. "And improving, I hope."
Her career path figures to include another season in Lights before
trying to move up to the IndyCar Series in 2010. "She's like a sponge
soaking everything up," said Schmidt. "I look for her to be a
championship contender next season."
Simona De Silvestro
After a promising 2006 season in the Formula BMW USA series--she won at Lime Rock, earned 11 top-10 finishes and finished fourth in points--Simona de Silvestro seemed ready for the Atlantic Championship for 2007, especially since she landed a two-season ride with Walker Racing.
But her presence in the series turned out to be mostly ornamental, as the 20-year-old Switzerland native ended up with just two top-10 finishes, a 19th-place finish in the points and too many DNFs. At the end of 2007, she was without a ride, as Walker Racing turned its attention to the well-financed debut of Nigel Mansell's two sons.
De Silvestro ended up at Newman Wachs Racing, the Atlantic team Paul Newman and Eddie Wachs field, where her teammate would be rookie Jonathan Summerton, the only American driver to win an A1 GP race last season.
Lo and behold, at the Atlantics season opener at Long Beach in April, de Silvestro qualified on the front row, passed leader Jonathan Bomarito on lap 24 and was never challenged, giving Newman Wachs its first win since 2006. Unfortunately for de Silvestro, that win came the weekend Danica Patrick, won her first IndyCar Series race in Japan, relegating de Silvestro's win to an "in other news" story. Back-to-back ninth-place finishes, at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and Mont Tremblant, put her fourth in points after three of 11 races.
The soft-spoken de Silvestro knows that comparisons to Patrick are inevitable.
"It's only natural," she says. "But I just need to work with my team and run up front."
Also inevitable, perhaps, is her interest in racing. Though she now lives in Indianapolis, her family home in Switzerland is located near the residences of several professional drivers. She's hit the ski slopes with racers such as David Coulthard and Jacques Villeneuve. Her journey to the Atlantic Series began with stops in the Formula Renault 2000 Championship, the French Formula A championship and the Bridgestone Cup in Switzerland.
Her convincing win at Long Beach with a clearheaded drive helped earn de Silvestro some deserved attention, and her poise at the press conference afterward proved that she's a professional.
Another "next Danica"? She is undeniably talented, but it's far
too early to tell-after all, this year is her first year in any
series when she has not been a rookie. Another win or two, and a
top-five points finish, and she'll be impossible to ignore.
Natalie Fenaroli raced her first kart six days after her fifth birthday. Now 12, she's finally taller than some of her trophies, the latest of which she collected on June 8 in her new series with her new "factory" ride.
We noticed Fenaroli in 2006 at a breakfast of Kansas City's Age and Treachery Racing Team. What was this bright-eyed girl-child doing among these curmudgeonly guys besides charming them with her composure and her locked-in eye contact as she drank in every word? Her T-shirt explained it: "Age and Treachery Racing Team, Youth and Skill Division." One particular photo of a seven-year-old Fenaroli was gratifying: Sitting in a sling chair in the pits, fully garbed for racing, including a bulbous helmet that makes little kids look fresh from space, she was reading a book.
She writes them, too. Well, not books yet but stories. "I don't know where that comes from," her father, Matt, says.
He says it about her competitiveness, her maturity, her knack for planning passing moves and her patience in executing them. He offers her support and backing, without pushing. "If she wanted to quit tomorrow, it's over," he says.
Don't bet on such an outcome. The Kansas City, Missouri, native
finished 2007 with enough points to win the Novice Championship in
the Central States Super Series. That led former Indy-car driver Lyn
St. James to accept the driver into her expanded development program
for Women in the Winner's Circle. Fenaroli needs to be older (and
taller) for the program's track phase and move to a car instead of a
kart. She scored a ride for 2008 with PGRacing, importer of the
Italian WildKart. She opened the TAG Jr. SKUSA season with a WildKart
Jennifer Greenberg has grouped her business and marketing classes at the University of New Mexico midweek so her weekends are free for hands-on professional experience. Perhaps that's not unusual for a career-minded recent high-school graduate, but the experience the petite 18-year-old from Albuquerque is racking up involves racing a midget at tracks in New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona.
Greenberg discussed this career path with her father, Lyle. A sometime drag racer himself, he wasn't about to be a "Get a real job" dad, but he had to be impressed with the detailed thinking of his eldest daughter.
"I realize that the chances of making it as a driver are pretty slim," she says.
But she wanted to be part of racing no matter what. So she designed her academic program to acquire skills attractive to race teams, sponsors, ad agencies or anyone in the business of the sport.
Not that she slights driving. She chose racing to express her competitive spirit when, at 14, she found herself a gymnast with blown-out knees. Lithe and precise of movement, with a dark ponytail and large eyes, she is, like Danica Patrick, five feet, one inch tall, but she weights less at 87 pounds. Much of that small mass is determination. Stir in natural poise and a knack for being self-assured without being self-impressed.
Greenberg started in quarter-midgets, then mini-sprints. In 2007, she was the Rocky Mountain Midget Racing Association's rookie of the year and finished fourth in points. She's benefited from the Lyn St. James women's program. Despite her limited experience, she was selected from a Ron Sutton program to race Late Model stocks, mostly at Irwindale Speedway in California. Luck ran out with a wreck on May 24. And money ran out, too. She returned to midgets.
Like Tony Stewart, Greenberg has an open-wheel heart, but she'll
If you ever need to understand what racing at the Nürburgring means to Sabine Schmitz, you need only visit the Hotel am Tiergarten's basement restaurant. Its walls are covered with photos of heroic drivers in heroic cars doing heroic things. And it is where Schmitz grew up.
Born beneath the shadow of the Nürburg Castle, she began her racing career by driving the family car around the track, then became a BMW factory driver in 1993. A powerful force after winning the German endurance racing championship in 1998, she won the famed Nürburgring 24-hour race in 1996 and '97 and has, by her own estimates, done 23,000 laps of the circuit.
But this is not why Schmitz is famous. In Europe, she has transcended motorsport for two reasons. First, she's the driver of BMW's famous Ring Taxi, where tourists can pay the 39-year-old to frighten them senseless in an M5. Second, she made Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson look slow when she made an appearance on his popular show, lapping a Ford delivery van around the Nordschleife in 10:08.
"I definitely get more attention from Top Gear than for anything else I have done," she admits to AutoWeek.
"I tested the van and made a long list of what to change to do a fast lap there. Ford prepared it, and it was not too bad, just eight seconds too slow," she says, laughing.
Too slow or not, her whimsical put-downs of Clarkson made her a TV favorite in Britain, and then her fame spread around the world on YouTube.
While she has raced all over Europe, Schmitz's mastery of the world's most dangerous racetrack has earned utter respect from her peers.
"It changes all the time. They put new asphalt down sometimes, and it's always a little different every year. I know it so well. I know the weather quite well here, because I grew up here. You have always the same places where it gets wet first and stays wet last."
But over such a long lap--more than 13 miles--is it even harder to perform perfectly?
"Oh, I've driven the perfect lap here," she says, as though surprised that anybody would doubt it. "Not many, but yes. The main problem is that you are never on your own out there. When you are on a perfect lap, there's always something very slow in the wrong place to stop you."
Schmitz still races, finishing third in this year's 24-hour race at the 'Ring, driving the famous Meatball Porsche, but she isn't the only woman with a big reputation on the German endurance-touring-car scene. BMW Z4M Coupe driver Claudia Hurtgen won the German endurance championship in 2006 and has won a series race this year, but there are not many others.
There were 450 drivers in this year's 24-hour race, Schmitz says, "and there were maybe six or seven women. It's not so many.
"They are not crazy like the men in cars, and they don't take
risks that are so big," she explains. "Then when they get to their
first race, they are maybe straight away in trouble with somebody,
and it's tough at the front, and you have to be tough in return. The
big problem, I think, is that the basic level of interest in
motorsport from women is not so great."