As the green flag dropped for the 98th Indianapolis 500, driver Pippa Mann stood out from the rest of the field—and not just because of her car’s highlighter-pink hue.
The 30-year-old Brit was easy to single out for a more troubling reason: Mann was the only female driver to cross the Yard of Bricks, the first time in eight years the race hasn’t fielded multiple female competitors.
“It makes me a bit sad,” Mann said before the race. “I wish there were more than one of us out there.”
In recent years, it’s been common for numerous women to start the race—including Sarah Fisher, a fan favorite, and Danica Patrick, a media lightning rod and former face of the sport. But Fisher is retired and Danica is in NASCAR.
The checklist of absent women continues. Simona De Silvestro: a test driver in Formula One. Ana Beatriz and Katherine Legge: unable to find a ride.
Only Pippa, who made her third 500 start, remained.
“It’s a tough situation for everyone,” she says. “Sponsorship is very difficult to find.”
But scouring for funding is an issue all teams face, regardless of driver gender. During the economic downturn, the stormy financial conditions rained on everyone.
Fisher, owner of Sarah Fisher-Hartman racing since 2008, understands the race for funding as much as the race for first.
“Whoever (the sponsor) is, you have to meet their goals to be justifiable,” Fisher says. “It’s not necessary for a corporate entity to have to be on a racecar. We have to prove we’re just as good a marketing outlet for them as their other ventures.”
Fisher, whose team headquarters are located on Main Street in Speedway, was spurred to pursue the managerial side of the sport after a personally draining 2007 season with Dreyer and Reinbold. She dealt with “chauvinism” and butted-heads with members of management.
“I didn’t know how much work it was going to take,” Fishers says. “I did all the bookkeeping for the first three years. But the only way to get things done the way you want them is to do them yourself.”
Mann claims she’s never experienced sexism in IndyCar. Her male counterparts view her simply as another competitor.
“And, yes, I realize I’m saying that while driving a pink car,” she says.
But respect among drivers must be earned, man or woman. “I don’t think anyone should just be able to roll up and expect respect, whether you’re male, female, or have two heads,” Mann says. “[They] have to go out there, [they] have to do a job, not only be fast but run consistent lines, make smart decisions. I think if [they] do that kind of stuff on a consistent basis, they’d be welcomed.” Mann started in 22nd position for today’s race and finished 24th.
The gender issue is a particularly notable one for IndyCar, a sport which is three years removed from Danica-mania and always contemplating ways to grow the sport. Does the series need a woman to be viable?
“I want them to have one,” Fisher says. “Do they need one just to have one? No.”
Thanks to everyone for the kind messages! For those of you asking, loose wheel after stop, then wheel nut on that wheel got stuck!!