Top 10 Female Professional Racing Drivers That Competed at the Highest Level

Tags: #Racing ,   #racingcar ,   #Formula1 ,   #WRC ,   #GirlPower

Michael Wendom

Michael Wendom

Last updated:  2022-07-06 06:00:06

What makes racing so exciting is that men and women usually compete together, unlike in almost any other professional sport. Unfortunately, successful female racers are pretty rare. Still, some of them participated in the most prestigious series throughout history and even won them! Therefore, this top ten list of best female race car drivers is our way of celebrating their careers and successes. Ladies, start your engines!

10. Sabine Schmitz

Sabine Schmitz showcasing her incredible skills at Nürburgring Nordschleife in 2011

Sabine Schmitz looks like the biggest underachiever among the professional female racing drivers on our top ten list! Beginning her career when she was almost 30, she won races in German national championships. However, her most notable moments came in 1996 and 1997 when triumphing at the prestigious 24 Hours of Nürburgring. Born near the legendary Nordschleife racing track, Schmitz claimed that she drove more than 20,000 laps there! That's quite impressive, considering that the road is almost 13 miles long and has 154 turns!

""Queen of the Nürburgring" made a few more appearances on the racing track, but she spent more time on television, including the famous Top Gear show. Occasionally she would demonstrate her skills, as we imagined what else she could achieve with the proper support. Unfortunately, she passed away in 2021, aged only 51.

9. Courtney Force

Courtney Force accomplishing 100th win by a female in NHRA

Courtney Force comes from a famous racing family, including her dad John Force and sister Ashley Force who are drag racing legends. When she entered NHRA in 2011, Courtney significantly impacted the Funny Car category. Only three years later, she won her fifth event, becoming the most successful female in history!

The blonde beauty will also forever be known as the first woman to triumph at some of the most prestigious NHRA events. She also had the honor to bag a 100th win by a female in NHRA. Courtney Force always looked fearless, even though routinely reaching more than 300 mph!

8. Katherine Legge

Katherine Legge showing her skills at Sebring International Raceway

Katherine Legge is among the most versatile professional female racing drivers on our top ten list. In her decades-long career, she competed in highly-rated series, including Atlantic Championship, Champ Car, DTM, IndyCar, A1 Grand Prix, and Formula E. She also demonstrated her endurance racing skills at the 24 Hours of Daytona, coming second in her class in 2018!

Legge made her name in 2005 when she finished third in the Atlantic Championship, scoring three wins in 12 races. This allowed her to move in the Champ Car series, where she had six top-ten finishes, with her best result being sixth place at the 2007 Las Vegas Grand Prix. Five years later, Brit had her IndyCar Series debut, although driving only 11 races in two seasons. Her best result came in Fontana, where she crossed the finish line 9th.

7. Janet Guthrie

Janet Guthrie was immortalized in an excellent Fox Sports documentary as one of the best female race car drivers

Janet Guthrie was the first successful woman in NASCAR Winston Cup Series. Racing from 1976 to 1980, she had five top-ten finishes, including a sixth place in Bristol. This sounds even more impressive as she made her debut at 38. Guthrie also wrote history after becoming the first female to lead a NASCAR Winston Cup race.

Still, her crown achievement was qualifying for the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500 in 1977, becoming the first woman to do it. Racing at the Indy 500, she had a few notable results, qualifying 14th and 15th. However, her moment of glory came in 1978 when she took an impressive 9th position. Thankfully, Hollywood did recognize her story.

6. Simona de Silvestro

Simona de Silvestro was the only woman in 2019 Formula E championship

"Swiss Miss" Simona de Silvestro is one of the most experienced professional female racing drivers in history. She competed at the top division series, including IndyCar Series, Formula E, and the Supercars Championship. Her moment came in 2009 when she won four races in the Atlantic Championship, finishing third overall, only six points behind the champion. That was enough to give her a seat in the IndyCar series, with the 2013 season being her best. That year she finished 13th overall while coming second in Houston.

In 2014, Simona got her chance at Formula 1, becoming the Sauber F1 Team's affiliate driver. That year she tested for the team, with a promise she'll be racing in 2015. Unfortunately, this never materialized as Sauber claimed the sides couldn't agree about the contract. Nonetheless, De Silvestro came closest to becoming the first female F1 pilot in the 21st century.

5. Shirley Muldowney

Shirley Muldowney is the only female ranked among the 50 greatest NHRA drivers

If this was the list of the most important female racing drivers in history, Shirley Cha Cha Muldowney would be ranked near the top. Not only was she the first woman drag racer in the NHRA, but she also shocked America by winning three titles in the most prestigious Top Fuel category.

Muldowney won 18 NHRA events, and during the seventies, she was widely considered one of the best racers in the United States. Even though she suffered a horrible crash in 1984, she returned and competed until 2003, when she was 63. Shirley Muldowney is not a female racing legend – she is a racing legend, period.

4. Lella Lombardi

Lella Lombardi had much success before and after Formula 1

Lella Lombardi is the first female competitor to score points in Formula One and only the second to qualify for an F1 race. Even though she raced for the lower-ranked teams, Lombardi stayed competitive, rarely finishing near the bottom.

Out of Formula 1, she had short stints in NASCAR and competed at Daytona in 1977, finishing 31st. Being one of the best female race car drivers, she was much more successful at one of the crown jewels of motorsport, coming second at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1976. Both her teammates were also females! Unfortunately, Lella died in 1992, aged only 50. However, she won't ever be forgotten.

3. Danica Patrick

Danica Patrick was a fearless competitor in both IndyCar and NASCAR

Danica Patrick was a true superstar, casting a massive shadow over her fellow professional female racing drivers. Often unfairly demoted to nothing more than a token female racer, she proved her critics wrong. In seven years, Danica had 114 IndyCar races and was regularly in the top ten. Still, her best moment came in 2007 when she won at Motegi

During her stay at the Andretti Green Racing, Patrick was among the favorites to win the championship. Her best result was fifth place in 2009, and the same year she finished third at the Indy 500. As IndyCar continued to decrease the number of oval races, Danica switched to NASCAR. Even though failing to be as successful, she took a historical pole at Daytona in 2013 before finishing eight.

2. Jutta Kleinschmidt

Jutta Kleinschmidt rides a buggy and other vehicles in her show

Finishing the Dakar Rally is a huge achievement, but Jutta Kleinschmidt managed to become the overall winner in 2001! This fearless German had a string of success at the same event, achieving five other top-five finishes, including second place in 2002.

Jutta entered her first Dakar in 1988 in the motorcycle category but didn't have much success before switching to cars in 1995. Besides being the first woman and the first German to score an overall victory at the Dakar Rally, she is also the first female to win a stage at the same event. She also triumphed at other endurance competitions on two and four wheels.

1. Michèle Mouton

Michèle Mouton and her Audi Quattro in action

We had no doubts if Michèle Mouton should take first place among professional female racing drivers. The French racer competed in 13 World Rally Championship seasons and nearly missed the title. While her first seven seasons weren't spectacular, it all changed once she took the wheel of Audi Quattro in 1981. Even though this monster was the fastest and most dangerous WRC car, it was a natural fit for Mouton.

The same year she won the Italian rally, but 1982 proved even better. That year Mouton triumphed three times and was leading before the penultimate round. If she had won that rally, she would only need a third place at the last round to earn her crown. Unfortunately, numerous problems with the car made her massive lead disappear before she finally crashed. Still, she helped her team win the constructor's title and took the award for the best rally driver of the year at the respected Autosport Awards ceremony. It's such a shame that no one made a movie about one of the most extraordinary seasons in motorsports history.

As we wait for the next female racing superstar, these top ten women prove that it will happen. Since the number of young women racers is growing, it looks like we won't have to wait too long!

Who are the best female race car drivers, in your opinion? What's the main reason we don't have more successful women in motorsport? Race to our comments section and tell us!

Photo: Unsplash/Karo Kujanpaa


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