Last (Wo)Mann Standing

From Indycar, news that the sort of last lady left from the heretofore golden age of women Indycar drivers is not done yet with The 500.

Mann will return to Dale Coyne Racing for a fifth consecutive year to pilot the team’s third entry in the 101st Indianapolis 500. The British driver will once again be paired with Ridgely, who was her engineer when she scored her best Verizon IndyCar Series finish in 2015 (13th), as well as her best Indy 500 result (18th) last year.

“I’m very happy to be rejoining Dale Coyne Racing for my fifth consecutive year with the team at the 101st Indy 500,” Mann said. “Dale has invested heavily in the team over the winter, and it’s an exciting time to be part of his organization. I’m looking forward to working with the same familiar faces from my 2016 campaign, like my race engineer Rob Ridgely, as well as working with the new members of the team, including my teammates Sebastien (Bourdais) and Ed (Jones). I’m thrilled to be getting back on the race track this May for my sixth Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

Mann will continue to raise awareness for the Get Involved Campaign alongside her racing program. Over the past two Indy 500s, the campaign has raised more than $135,000 for Susan G. Komen.

Yes, here highest finish at Indy was 18th last year, but after the exceptional performance of Sebastien Bourdais in a Coyne entry at St Petersburg it would seem 2017 could provide her with an equipment upgrade. Insert your own debate here about whether Mann’s record is lacking talent or equipment, because this post is heading in a different direction.

Rewind the calendar about six years, to when the series regularly included drivers such as Mann, Sarah Fisher, Ana Beatriz, Simona De Silvestro, and Danica Patrick. Did it not seem like races with multiple lady drivers was going to be the new normal? Sure, Danica mania drove a lot of that, as no doubt teams were looking to woo sponsors with “the next Danica”, but there never was a “next Danica” in terms of impact on the sport. In the aftermath of her departure we enjoyed a few seasons of racing featuring the aforementioned quartet, but by 2014 it was few and far between for the ladies not just at the Indycar level but seemingly throughout the Mazda Road to Indy ladder.

Which is not to disparage women, because there have been plenty of competent gentlemen racers who have piloted Indycar entries and then moved to something else. But it did seem like a decade ago the sport was including several women drivers at all levels of the Indycar ladder, but the last few years include just a race here and there by Mann or De Silvestro.

Is this a chicken and egg scenario? Did Indycar give up on women, or did women give up on Indycar? OK, that’s an oversimplification. Instead let me ask: was that sudden influx of women drivers driven by sponsors that saw potential in having a woman behind the wheel, and if so did those sponsors eventually decide it wan’t worth the investment? Or were the drivers carried up the Indycar ladder, being shown sponsors? I honestly don’t know.

One last potential hypothesis: did young women racers observe that the driver who had the longest lasting career was Danica Patrick and then subsequently decide they didn’t want to do cheesy GoDaddy ads to perpetuate their career?

Final Lap: Whatever you think about her driving, Pippa can be exceptionally pleasant in person. And yet, every time her surname is mentioned my very first thought invariably involves Austin Powers shouting at me.

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