W Series is heading to Austin, Texas, USA, this weekend and, after a seven-week break, the drivers could not be more excited at the prospect of a season-ending double-header and racing on the same day as Formula 1's United States Grand Prix.
Of the 18 women on the grid this weekend, only the two US-based drivers have previously been to the 3.426-mile (5.513 kilometres) Circuit of the Americas. Sabré Cook (Bunker Racing, USA) has raced there three times, while Ayla Agren (M. Forbes Motorsport, NOR) – who lives 150 miles east of Austin in Houston, Texas – has driven on the circuit but not raced there.
Austin is a vibrant city that lives up to its billing as the 'Live Music Capital of the World'. W Series will add its own splash of colour this weekend when the drivers will wear pink PUMA boots and gloves, and the liveries of their racing cars will receive a pink update as part of a programme of initiatives in support of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. There is nothing conventional about the city where 'Keep Austin Weird' is emblazoned on souvenirs, and a trip across the Atlantic will feel a little strange for W Series. Almost three years since the international single-seater motor racing championship for female drivers was born, these will be the first W Series races to be staged outside of Europe.
Since the start of the Formula 1 World Championship, the 59 Grands Prix in the United States have been hosted by 10 different circuits – the most of any country that F1 has visited. COTA is a relatively new track and this year's will be just its ninth Grand Prix, but it has already become an iconic event on the F1 calendar, with the steep run – an 11 per cent gradient – up to the first corner often resulting in plenty of wheel-to-wheel racing and getting the vocal crowd out of their seats.
After six rounds this season, Alice Powell (Racing X, GBR) and Jamie Chadwick (Veloce Racing, GBR) are level on 109 points at the top of the W Series championship standings, with Alice one place higher than the defending champion by virtue of having one more race victory than Jamie this season (three wins to two). Emma Kimiläinen (Ecurie W, FIN) is the other driver still in with a chance of winning the title and the $500,000 and 15 FIA Super Licence points that come with it. The Finn is 34 points behind Alice and Jamie with a maximum 50 points available from the two races at COTA.
With the top eight drivers at the end of the season guaranteed a W Series drive in 2022, the competition is sure to be fierce throughout the field. All 18 drivers on the grid will have the chance to secure their seat for next year, as just 22 points separate the eighth and last-placed drivers in the standings. Among those looking to force their way into the top eight is Jessica Hawkins (Racing X, GBR), fresh from her big screen appearance as a stunt driver in the new James Bond film, No Time to Die, which was released earlier this month. Jessica scored the best result of her W Series career (fifth) at the previous race at Zandvoort, Netherlands, on 4 September.
There will be plenty of support for Sabré, W Series' sole American driver, for whom the site of her home race will always hold fond memories. The 27-year-old from Colorado won the 2018 Renault Infiniti Engineering Academy competition at COTA and, on the same weekend, raced in the SCCA Formula 4 U.S. Championship there. Ayla is also familiar to US audiences. The 28-year-old was born in Norway but has lived in Houston, Texas, for several years, racing on the Road to Indy programme, driving the IndyCar safety car and working as a spotter at numerous events, including the Indy 500.
Abbi Pulling (PUMA W Series Team, GBR) will occupy the second PUMA seat alongside Marta Garcia (PUMA W Series Team, ESP) at COTA. The 18-year-old impressed on her second W Series appearance of the season at Zandvoort where she finished seventh, one place higher than her result on debut at Silverstone in July.
W Series' schedule for this weekend starts on Friday 22 October with two 30-minute practice sessions at 10.20 (local time, CDT) and 16.25. Saturday 23 October will begin with qualifying from 11.10 to 11.40. The drivers' best time will determine the starting grid for race one – which is at 17.25 on the same day – and their second-best time will determine the starting grid for race two, which begins at 11.05 on Sunday 24 October. Both races will be 30 minutes plus one lap.
British fans can watch the seventh round of the 2021 W Series season live from the Circuit of the Americas on More4 from 23.05 BST on Saturday 23 October. The eighth and final round of the season will be on Channel 4 from 16.30 BST on Sunday 24 October. The action can also be seen across W Series' digital and social channels, as well as being broadcast in more than 175 territories with a full list available at https://wseries.com/where-to-watch/.
Dave Ryan (Racing Director, W Series) said:
"After the longest break between races this season, it's great to be in the USA for the final round and W Series' first races outside of Europe. The team has done a great job to get everything prepared and it's all set up perfectly. The drivers should be recharged and ready to go after seven weeks out of the cars and there are close battles all the way through the field, none more so, of course, than the one at the top between Alice [Powell] and Jamie [Chadwick] who have been rewarded for their consistency this season.
"Having two races on the same weekend is a new challenge this year, but the drivers have learned a lot over the course of the season and it's time to put that into practice and take this final opportunity to deliver. COTA only opened in 2012 but it has quickly become a favourite among drivers and fans. It is an anti-clockwise track with 20 corners and there are none better than the opener – a sharp hairpin after a very steep uphill start-finish straight – where I'm sure there will be plenty of action as the drivers give it everything."
Alice Powell (Racing X, GBR) said:
"After Zandvoort, the final round of the season seemed so far away, but it's flown by and here we are at COTA. The past seven weeks have been busy for me with coaching, working with my dad, TV work and a break in Cornwall with the family. It was nice to get away, even though we filled the holiday with lots of activities, including some karting! I'm desperate to get back in the car and get on with the job now.
"Before the 2019 season, I'd had a few years without racing so that year was about blowing off the cobwebs. Coming into this year, my approach was clear – to take it one race at a time – and that has helped me. There's still a long way to go, a quarter of the season over the final weekend, with lots of points to be won and lost so I will treat it like any race weekend because if you change too much you can lose your way. With the extra practice session at COTA, we'll have longer to develop the race set-up. Qualifying will be more important because it will determine the grid for both races, so you need to be on the pace throughout the weekend.
"I've only driven COTA on the simulator but it seems to be quite similar to the sweeping, flat-out sections at Silverstone in the first sector. That's obviously a track I enjoy driving having won there earlier this season, so I'll try to draw on that because nailing the first sector is going to be important. The other key is getting a good run on to the really long back straight. If you're battling in the race, you don't want the car behind you getting your tow, and that could have a big impact on qualifying too.
"I've known Jamie [Chadwick] for a long time. I knew her when she was in Ginetta Juniors, and we played hockey together when we were younger because her family home is not far from mine. We get on well and have respect for each other. I know how talented and fast Jamie is and I'm looking forward to a good fight at COTA.
“Whatever happens, my journey won't end at W Series. W Series exists to create opportunities for talented female racing drivers and it's done that for me. I'd like to think that winning the title would propel me into a good career in motorsport which, after running out of funding a few years ago, I didn't think I would have. I owe W Series a lot and to become the champion, on a huge weekend when we will support F1's United States Grand Prix, would be very special."
Jamie Chadwick (Veloce Racing, GBR) said:
"I can't believe the final round of the season is here already. I've been quite busy in the seven weeks since Zandvoort, really getting stuck into my training and preparing hard for COTA. I'm happy to be going into the last weekend in the position I'm in because, after the first race of the season in Austria, I wasn't sure that was going to be the case. Alice [Powell] and I are going toe-to-toe, so I need to up my performance level this weekend. The last few weeks have been spent working out how best to do that to make sure I go to COTA with best chance of winning.
"This is the first time I've been in this position, level on points going into the final round, but I kind of like the fact that I'm neither ahead or chasing because, mathematically, there's nothing to think about. The focus for me is simply to outscore Alice and the easiest way for me to do that is to win both races.
"My only experience of COTA has been on the simulator at Williams over the past few weeks. It's intense, technical and the surface seems to be getting bumpier so it's going to be tricky. But having two practice sessions this weekend gives us a good chance to get up to speed.
"It's great that Alice and I have been pushing each other so hard this year. I've got an enormous amount of respect for her and she's proved this season what she was capable of doing in 2019 when she had some misfortune. It's great to be fighting with her and I know she'll come out strong at COTA, so I'm looking forward to the fight and it's great for W Series to have this championship battle between us.
"It would mean everything to defend my W Series title, especially this year when I've been really hard-pushed for it. You can't underestimate the opportunity we have with W Series, particularly this year being on the Formula 1 support bill and the Super Licence points on offer. So the stakes are much higher and I definitely need to do the business at COTA, but that's a nice pressure to thrive on and a massive incentive for me to go out there and try to win."
Sabré Cook (Bunker Racing, USA) said:
"The Circuit of the Americas will always hold a special place in my heart. I raced in the SCCA Formula 4 U.S. Championship there, gaining 25 places across two races, on the same weekend in 2018 when I won the Renault Infiniti Engineering Academy competition. I love the people at COTA so it will be great to go back there again.
"COTA can be quite a tricky circuit to get right because lots of sections are very rhythmical. If you start a section incorrectly, you're in a bad spot for the next few corners so maintaining good track position and rolling speed is key to putting a good lap together.
"W Series is the biggest opportunity I've had in my career and this season, supporting Formula 1, has been amazing, so to have the final round at home is very special. I'm extremely proud to be the only American on the W Series grid. It's a great honour to represent the USA and doing so at COTA will be incredible. Lots of my friends and family will be coming or watching on TV and I'm excited for them to see what W Series has achieved in just its second season.
"Having W Series here is massive for the series and women's motorsport in the USA. So many young American girls have started following W Series and lots of them have been in touch with me to say they are planning to go to COTA, and I know families who are taking their daughters to see W Series that weekend too. For those girls to see us on track is going to be really special and I hope we'll inspire them to stick with it and continue to climb the motorsport ladder."
Ayla Agren (M. Forbes Motorsport, NOR) said:
"I'm very much looking forward to W Series racing at COTA, just a couple of hours' drive away from Houston which has been my home for the last five years. Putting on a show is what it's all about in Texas, so I know that W Series will have great fun this weekend and that everyone here will embrace the series and what it stands for.
"Racing with W Series at COTA in support of the Formula 1 United States Grand Prix will be the highlight of my career so far. It will be a real pinch yourself moment and I can only compare the excitement and rush I'm feeling in the build-up to 2014 when I was fighting for the F1600 Championship Series title. Prior to this season, I'd never been to an F1 race before, so to now be part of that show and sharing the stage with them at COTA, a home race for me, is incredible.
"Qualifying will be really important this weekend. There are some overtaking opportunities around the lap, but the longer corners make it difficult to get by, so I think we'll see some more aggressive driving, particularly as it's the last round of the season and we all want to go out on a high.
"This could be a huge moment for women's motorsport in the USA. Every time I come home, people ask me about W Series and everyone is open-minded and intrigued and by it. Racing outside of Europe for the first time will be a big boost for the series, and for the fans here to be able to engage with it, see the racing up close and see that it is proper racing will amplify the support for the series and women's motorsport which already exists here. We can't wait to put on a show!"