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On the fast track

A major initiative undertaken in Britain in 2003 is slowly changing the face of motorsport there. GEETHA BALACHANDRAN looks at `Formula Woman'.

Motoring journalist and presenter of Channel 5's "Fifth Gear", Vicki Butler-Henderson (left), helps promote "Formula Woman", a unique motor racing initiative.

WITH Narain Karthikeyan's recent debut in Formula One racing in the Australian Grand Prix at Melbourne, motorsport has captured the imagination of vast numbers of sports enthusiasts in this country. It's joy for especially those who have been closely following the fortunes of the enterprising young man from Coimbatore who is now driving for Team Jordan.

There is already speculation about India hosting a Formula One Grand Prix in a few years' time. F1 supreme Bernie Ecclestone said in a BBC interview in February that India would "definitely" have an F1 race within three years. "It's just a case of where," he said. It would "probably end up in Mumbai."

`Formula Woman'

Meanwhile, a major initiative taken in Britain in 2003 is slowly changing the face of motorsport in that country. "Formula Woman", launched at the Autosport International Show in Birmingham, marked a new era for the sport with the introduction of the first racing series devoted entirely to women drivers. It was conceived and created by Graeme Glew, an industry consultant who has been involved in racing team management, a racing drivers' school and latterly in Formula One.

"`Formula Woman' is realising one of the ideas that I had a few years ago when I ran a racing drivers' school," he said. "In nearly every other sport around the world, there is a platform for women to compete against each other. We have made history by launching this championship solely for women, and we are attracting nationwide attention as this unique concept becomes reality."

Formula One got off the ground with the support of the car makers Mazda, with the new Mazda RX-8 being used for the championship. The cars were identically prepared race-tuned versions of the new road car launched in Britain in September 2003.

First season

The first season of "Formula Woman" racing culminated with the Privilege Insurance Formula Woman Championship held at Brands Hatch, south England, in July 2004 (the championship had been launched a month earlier at the Oulton Park race circuit). The winning champion was Natasha (Tish) Firman, whose brother Ralph is an accomplished driver himself, racing for Jordan F1. Besides motorsport, Natasha enjoys horse riding, swimming and skiing.

Natasha firman

Juliette (Jules) Thurston, who was one of 16 drivers to have been chosen from more than 10,000 applicants to compete in the racing series, finished fourth in the final race last year. A talented horse rider who represents the Royal Air Force, she is more used to high speeds in the airspace over Wales as a combat pilot instructor flying fast jets. Even so, she found the preparation for the motor race challenging.

Former F1 driving star Mark Blundell, a consultant to "Formula Woman", is delighted to be associated with the championship. "As a consultant, I have been involved since the beginning of the project, and it's been a privilege to be part of a concept which is breaking new ground in such an exciting, high-profile sport. I'm really looking forward to playing a role in the future development of `Formula Woman' and contributing to its undoubted success," he said.

"Formula Woman" also gained support from Mr. Richard Burden, MP, parliamentary adviser on motorsport to the U.K.

Juliette Thurston

Sports Minister, Ms. Tessa Jowell, who commented, said, "The common perception of motor racing is often one of `boy with their toys'. `Formula Woman' challenges that in a very direct way... . By creating this competition to find the woman motor racing champion of tomorrow, `Formula Woman' has the potential to raise the profile of women in motorsport as a whole."

`Formula Woman' is open to women aged 18 or over on January 1, 2004 who hold a full U.K. driving licence but have not held a Motor Sports Association competition licence. Preparations are well underway for this year's championship, to be held in the summer.

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