This past week it was announced that Tatiana Calderon will be racing with AJ Foyt Racing in the NTT IndyCar Series for the 2022 season. The announcement came as something of a surprise, but that was mostly due to how far along in the off-season the confirmation came. The presence of a woman on the grid in IndyCar is not as rare of a sight as it is in other top levels of motorsports, and this latest news ensures that it will remain a common occurrence.
Calderon’s deal is not for a full time entry, but rather for the season’s street and road course events. That doesn’t diminish the significance of the arrangement, however, as over two-thirds of the season’s 17 races are going to be run on non-oval settings. These include almost every aspect of the diverse IndyCar calendar, and feature notable tracks such as Belle Isle and Laguna Seca.
Calderon has proven herself in many different series over the past decade, including a three-year stint in GP3 and a season running Formula 2 for BWT Arden. She then went on to spend a couple years in Japan’s Super Formula Championship, the same series that the current IndyCar champion Alex Palou advanced through.
Also of note, is that the #11 entry that Calderon was hired to drive for this year was essentially created just for her. AJ Foyt Racing has not run more than two cars outside the Month of May since 2002, meaning significant resources are being poured into her joining the historic team. She brings support from ROKiT with her, and she has been hired with much higher expectations than simply a seat-filler. There are other drivers that are still searching for rides that were overlooked in order to give Calderon a chance.
“I think IndyCar has always been on my radar,” related Calderon just after her announcement. “I think I’ve always been very competitive, and I want to be where the best drivers are at, and I think IndyCar is pretty high up there on the single seater ladder. Of course I don’t expect anything to be very easy, particularly at the beginning, because I’ve only done one test day in IndyCar. I can’t wait to get started and see where we end up in the first race, but obviously build up to it step by step, and I think as long as we improve every time we’re on track, then I’ll be happy.”
The fact that this deal came together at all speaks to the inclusive culture in IndyCar that allows women to compete on a level playing field. It may seem like this wouldn’t be a difficult thing to achieve, but women have long been plagued with negative connotations when it comes to competing in sports directly alongside men. America’s top open wheel series has consistently worked to minimize those issues, however, and continues to prove that it is one of motorsports’ leaders in equal opportunity.
Drivers such as Danica Patrick and Simona de Silvestro became household names on account of their full time driving duties in IndyCar in the past 15 years. They had limited success in their time on track, but still held attention from many people both inside and outside the paddock. Fair or not, women in motorsport garner a lot of extra attention from the media and fans alike simply because of their presence in a male-dominated sport.
That extra attention is almost entirely of a positive nature, however. There are many people that cheer for their success at every opportunity, and only a minority who think their presence is not deserved. There are a large number of fans that might never have been interested in the sport at all if they didn’t hear about a woman competing. Even the marketing side of the sport benefits, with many sponsors coming onboard to be a part of what is still a rare situation.
The last time a woman competed in a race other than the Indianapolis 500 was in 2015, when Pippa Mann ran the season’s oval courses with Dale Coyne Racing. The ensuing seven-year gap comes to an end this year, with Calderon becoming the next female driver with a chance to make a name for herself on IndyCar’s stage.
It’s not just women drivers that have a continued presence in the series, but some areas of series management and entire racing teams are female-led as well. Last year, Beth Paretta founded Paretta Autosport, a team composed mostly of women in all levels, including the pit crew. De Silvestro drove the team’s car in the 2021 Indy 500 and has intentions to do so again this year.
Paretta has an agreement for an ongoing technical partnership with Team Penske, and is firmly part of IndyCar’s Equality and Change initiative. She also made clear during the launch announcement that she is well aware of the stigma against women in motorsport, and that the existence of her program will help to inspire even bigger changes in the future.
There have been many attempts by racing organizers around the world to increase the numbers and visibility of women in motorsport, including the recently formed W Series. Started in 2019 specifically to address this issue, the series gives women drivers a low-barrier platform in which they can compete against each other in cars nearly identical to the current F3 specifications. The promotion and wide broadcast of the series has helped to further bring attention to a field full of talented drivers that may not have otherwise had an opportunity to show their skills.
In the two seasons run so far (the 2020 season was cancelled due to COVID complications), British racer Jamie Chadwick has taken the title on both occasions. By winning half of the eight races run in 2021, she has proven that she has real talent behind the wheel. That is, if her British GT4 championship from 2015 and her two years in British Formula 3 didn’t already prove that. Regardless, there are always questions, legitimate or not, about the significance of her latest achievements on account of the perceived competition level of the W Series.
Although the new series has been successful in bringing extra attention to many talented women drivers, it has not necessarily led to a surge of outside offers for those drivers. Chadwick, for instance, earned a development driver role with Williams Racing for the past couple seasons, but there has been little talk about her earning a race seat. Using that as just one example of many, much of the racing world still struggles to fully integrate women into the top levels of the sport.
It is this area in particular that IndyCar stands out in recent years. With a half dozen women drivers competing in the top-level series directly beside their male counterparts over the past decade, there has been plenty of opportunity for young girls in America to find a role model to look up to. And now a new face joins the grid to help keep the dream alive for the next generation of hopeful girls looking to earn their way into the racing world.
By joining AJ Foyt Racing this season, Calderon could well become the next household name all across America. The significance of her deal is not lost on her either, with the Colombian racer stating: “It’s an honour to be racing in IndyCar after I started my career 10 years ago, and I was just watching those races. Huge privilege in that sense, and I think here in America, in IndyCar, there has been many female drivers coming through, so I think there is more opportunity at the moment for us here. I will obviously make the most out of this opportunity, and I’m really hoping that I can do well and inspire even more girls to join in karting, in single seaters, and that they know this is also a great opportunity to showcase that.”