Future of motorsport? Extreme E showcases power of providing equal platform to male and female drivers

Future of motorsport? Extreme E showcases power of providing equal platform to male and female drivers

Both drivers are part of the Veloce team, one of ten male-female pairings that race in Extreme E. The humour and respect between them is apparent, with women proving a key part of their journey's into motorsport.

Taylor's mum Coral is a four-time Australia Rally Champion co-driver. She navigated the route to success for rally driver Neal Bates and Toyota.

"When I was at primary school my dad was doing the school runs and making the school lunches and my mum was off in rally. So that was my normal," said Taylor.

"As young kids we're so impressionable, and it's not that someone ever said you can't do this, but you're so influenced by what you see. I probably didn't appreciate how much it had an impact on me then, and now I can look back at it and see that much more clearly."

Kevin Hansen is part of the Hansen motorsport dynasty. His father Kenneth Hansen the most successful rallycross driver ever with 14 European Championship titles, and brother Timmy a World Rallycross Champion in 2019.

But it's mum Susann who is the real pioneer. The only woman to ever win a European Rallycross title in 1994, and now Team Manager of Hansen World RX, the 2021 World Rallycross Champions.

"My mum was racing back in the day, and she was all on her own. It was very rare to have a female that was really good back then and she won the championship, the only girl to win the rallycross championship," said Hansen.

"It's very close to my heart and I'm very proud of my mum for doing that."

The unique thing about Extreme E is that it forces complete equality between the male and female drivers.

There's only one car, and points are awarded to the team as a whole, not the individuals, so each drivers' performance is just as important as the others.

Taylor and Hansen have noticeably different ways of working, with Taylor honing in on the details and data, and Hansen taking a more instinctive approach. This has been a combination for success, not least because of their full trust in each other.

"We can really share a lot of different sporting qualities and put that together. So that relationship really works well for both our developments," said Hansen.

"I think that is something that not many other teams have, and also just the big respect and the joy of spending time together.

"We have to understand each other, to know that whatever we'll be there to support one another. I'm not just racing for myself, I can only do the 50 per cent of the actual performance out on track."

This talk of collaboration and admiration between male and female drivers feels like a new dawn of motorsport.

The question of when F1 will have it's first female driver since the 1970s has been asked repeatedly in recent years - with motorsport a rare opportunity for gender neutrality in sport, and F1 seen as it's pinnacle. Italy's Lella Lombardi was the last female to race in a grand prix, in 1976.

By widening the gaze away from single-seater racing, you find female drivers, despite the odds, matching the men.

"What's interesting with Extreme E, the male drivers, we have the best of the best across pretty much every motorsport discipline there is. We've got a nine-time World Rally champion, Dakar champions, World Rallycross champions, the absolute top.

"So that is an incredible opportunity as a driver to be put in that pool and you learn super-fast when you're in that environment," says Taylor.

"Then the real success of it is if you're given the opportunity can you rise to the occasion, and that's what's been really encouraging over the past few years, is we're seeing the rate of development is going in such an upward trajectory."

The drivers receive equal resources and seat time, resulting in substantial improvement among the women year on year.

In Extreme E's inaugural 2021 season, the average time difference between the male and female drivers was 5.8 per cent. Last year that dropped by almost a third to 4.5 per cent, with the gap down to 3.1 per cent at the final race in Uruguay.

Lewis Hamilton's X44 team won the 2022 championship, with their female driver Cristina Gutiérrez crucially setting the fastest overall lap time at the penultimate X Prix in Chile.

"When you put the helmet on, it's the lap times, it's what you're doing out on the track, the stopwatch doesn't have gender bias. It is what it is, and it's good enough or it's not," said Taylor.

Equally important as the gender neutrality in Extreme E, is the fact that it produces great racing.

Electric SUV's are thrown around the elemental tracks, often finishing with several pieces missing as drivers collide but continue racing.

This thrilling product reaches an audience that often wouldn't voluntarily enquire into gender equal racing.

As more women are inspired, encouraged and supported to pursue motorsport as a career, the performance of female drivers will continue to rapidly increase.

Currently, men and women racing alongside each other is not the norm, but it could be.

"It's just like with any change in motorsport, everybody's always sceptical [at first]," says Hansen.

"I've heard the talks behind the scenes, like 'but she's the female, she shouldn't be as good', or in any sport really, the way they speak about that in football as well, looking down at female performances.

"I must say this championship has really revolutionised women in motorsport. There's so many more that now can dream of getting to a top level and that wasn't the case before, now there's such a desire for great females.

"It's just athletes on the grid, it's not 'here are the girls, here are the males'. It's really a close competition and if you have a mixed grid on the race, it's always going to be a challenge to race against any of them."

Extreme E harnesses the strengths and differences of the male and female drivers to create blockbuster motorsport and showcase equality to it's global audience.

The paddock is absent of egos, replaced by teams advocating for greater causes and greater racing.

Taylor and Hansen carry their families legacy's through their on track success, but what's most memorable is their passion for change and ability to self-reflect. This feels like the future.

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