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

Tags: #SimonaDeSilvestro ,   #ShirleyMuldowney ,   #LellaLombardi ,   #DanicaPatrick ,   #MicheleMouton

Michael Wendom

Michael Wendom

Last updated:  2021-06-17 12:12:42

What makes racing so exciting is that men and women compete together even at the highest level, unlike in almost any other professional sport. Unfortunately, successful female racers are pretty rare. Still, some of them competed in the most prestigious series throughout history, fought for the titles, or even won them! Our Top 10 Best Female Racing Drivers is our way of celebrating their careers and successes, which might surprise you. Ladies, start your engines!

10. Sabine Schmitz

Sabine Schmitz showcasing her incredible skills at Nürburgring Nordschleife in 2011

Of all the ladies on our list, Sabine Schmitz looks like the biggest underachiever! Beginning her career when she was almost 30, she won races in German national championships. However, her most notable moment came in 1996 and 1997 when winning the prestigious 24 Hours 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 still demonstrate her skills, letting us imagine what else she could achieve with the right 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 the famous racing family, including her dad John Force and sister Ashley Force who are drag racing legends. From the moment 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 win 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 the most versatile racing driver on our list, and one of the most versatile racing drivers in history. In her decades-long career, she raced 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 race in the Champ Car, where she had six top-ten finishes, with her best result being the 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

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 the age of 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 Indy 500, she had a few notable results, qualifying 14th and 15th. However, her moment of glory came in 1978 when she finished the race at an impressive 9th position.

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 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 more than 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 become 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. Still, her racing achievements are more than good enough for her to be on our list. 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 came back 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 will forever be known as the first female competitor to score points in Formula 1 and only the second female to qualify for an F1 race. Even though she raced only for the lower-ranked teams, Lombardi always stayed competitive, rarely finishing near the bottom.

Out of Formula 1, she had short stints in NASCAR, as she competed at Daytona in 1977, finishing 31st. She was much more successful at one of the crown jewels of motorsport, coming second at 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1976 and fourth in 1977. 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 racers. 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 more than half the time, she was in the top 10.  Still, her best moment came in 2007 when she won at Motegi. This made her the first woman to win an IndyCar race or any other top-level professional racing series.

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 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 as she also achieved five other top-five finishes, including the 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 won numerous 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 the first place. The French racer competed in the 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 to be even better. That year Mouton won three rallies and was leading at the penultimate round. If she would have won the rally, she would only need a third place at the last round, even if her only title rival won that race. 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 won 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 ten women prove that it's only a matter of time before this happens. Since the number of young women racers is bigger than ever and continues to rise, it looks like we won't have to wait too long!

Who is your favorite female racer? 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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