On the afternoon of May 29th, 33 cars will line up behind the row of bricks for the 100th time at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. A race that was originally run as a showcase of innovation in the auto industry has become a Memorial Day weekend tradition for millions of race fans across the globe. In all of those 100-plus years of innovation, this year will see something that has yet to be done in auto racing — that is, if things go according to plan for Beth Paretta and Grace Autosport.
Paretta plans to bring the first racing team that's run completely by women to the Indianapolis 500. Having women in the paddock isn’t a new concept in racing, but something of this magnitude has never been done.
“Women have been in racing for a long time, so this isn’t something that is new,” says team Principal Beth Paretta.
What’s different in 2016? “We are gathering many women to form a team."
Aerodynamicist Catherine Crawford, motorsports engineer Lauren Elkins, junior design engineer Jessica Rowe, and Barbara Burns of BurnsGroup PR will join Paretta and Indy 500 veteran driver Katherine Legge to make this happen.
The team's story begins in the middle of 2014. Driver manager Adrian Sussmann was looking for a ride for his driver Katherine Legge.
Sussmann is a seasoned veteran in racing. He has worked with IndyCar favorites Dan Wheldon and Dario Franchitti. His management company, GP Sports Management also manages current IndyCar driver Sage Karem.
Legge brought up to Sussmann that she worked with Girls Scouts of the USA as a liaison to promote STEM majors in America. This planted a seed in Sussmann’s mind.
Later that year at an F1 test in Europe, Sussmann was watching a group of women with iPads looking over a car. At that moment, Sussmann decided to do a little research — and eventually discovered that there has never been a women-led racing team.
That fall, Sussmann called Paretta (who was working with Chrysler at the time) looking for NFL tickets for their annual game in Europe. It was at the end of that conversation that Sussmann said the “magic words in sales: 'By the way...'”
Originally, Sussmann was just looking for Paretta’s opinion on the idea. Paretta saw something much bigger. She eventually quit her job at Chrysler to take on running Grace Autosport full time.
After the official announcement was made in May of 2015, offers of support began coming in. Grace then formed a partnership with the Motorsports Engineering program at IUPUI. In an effort to help keep costs low, the program will be supplying interns to the team.
IUPUI was the first college in the United States to offer a bachelor's degree in motorsports engineering.
It’s a story that has the potential to resonate with potential sponsors that might not have previously considered investing money in racing. In order to help cover the high costs of fielding an Indy Car team,
Grace is looking for sponsors that have an interest in supporting STEM education for young women.
Track-time is only a small part of the story for Grace Autosport: Their goal is to captivate the imagination of the young girl who goes to the track, the young girl who could go on to become a race engineer or work in a technical field.
Grace wants to set an example for young women, to prove that there are opportunities for women in racing beyond just the driver’s seat.
The women involved in Grace Autosport are all veterans in racing. Their hope is that they’ll be able to reach out to girls — even at the elementary age — to show that a career in engineering is possible.
While the 500 is clearly the biggest stage on the IndyCar schedule, Grace is not going to be just a one-off team for Indy. Although there’s nothing official, the team would like to run races later in the IndyCar season and there are hopes of running a full schedule in 2017 — and even running races in other series.