Top 10 Female Race Car Drivers

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

Michael Wendom

Michael Wendom

Last updated:  2023-06-26 13:18:21

What makes racing so exciting is that men and women usually compete together, unlike in almost any other professional sport. Unfortunately, successful female racers remain 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 N√ľrburgring Nordschleife in 2011
Nationality: German
Pro career span: 1995-2016 (with many brakes)
Raced in: Endurance events, World Touring Car Championship
Biggest career achievement: N√ľrburgring 24 Hours overall winner in 1996 and 1997
Driver info

Sabine Schmitz looks like the biggest underachiever among the professional female racing drivers on our top ten list! Beginning her career at 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 N√ľrburgring. Born near the legendary¬†Nordschleife racing track, Schmitz claimed she drove more than 20,000 laps there! That's impressive, considering the road is almost 13 miles (21 km) long and has 154 turns!

"Queen of the N√ľrburgring" made a few more appearances on the racing track but 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. Unfortunately,¬†she passed away¬†in 2021, aged only 51. In her honor, there's now "Sabine-Schmitz-Kurve" at Nordschleife.

9. Courtney Force

Courtney Force accomplishing 100th win by a female in NHRA
Nationality: American
Pro career span: 2008-2019
Raced in: NHRA
Biggest career achievement: Multiple NHRA event wins
Driver info

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. She won her fifth event three years later, becoming the most successful female in history!

One of the most beautiful female race car drivers 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 when reaching more than 300 mph!

8. Katherine Legge

Katherine Legge showing her skills at Sebring International Raceway
Nationality: British
Pro career span: 2005-
Raced in: IndyCar, Champ Car, Formula E, DTM, Endurance
Biggest career achievement: 3rd place in Atlantic Championship (2005)
Driver info

Katherine Legge is among the most versatile professional female car race 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 into 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 in 9th.

7. Janet Guthrie

Janet Guthrie was immortalized in an excellent Fox Sports documentary as one of the best female race car drivers
Nationality: American
Pro career span: 1963-1980
Raced in: NASCAR, Champ Car
Biggest career achievement: 9th at Indianapolis 500 (1978)
Driver info

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

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
Nationality: Swiss
Pro career span: 2005-
Raced in: Atlantic Championship, IndyCar, V8 Supercars, Formula E
Biggest career achievement: 13th overall in IndyCar (2013)
Driver info

"Swiss Miss" Simona de Silvestro is one of the most experienced professional female racing drivers in history. She competed in 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 on 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
Nationality: American
Pro career span: 1958-2003
Raced in: NHRA
Biggest career achievement: Top Fuel class winner 1977, 1980, 1982
Driver info

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 ‚Äď she is a racing legend, period.

4. Lella Lombardi

Lella Lombardi had much success before and after Formula 1
Nationality: Italian
Pro career span: 1965- 1988
Raced in: Formula 1, DTM, NASCAR, 24 Hours of Le Man
Biggest career achievement: 2nd in 24 Hours of Le Man (1976)
Driver info

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
Nationality: American
Pro career span: 1998-2018
Raced in: IndyCar, NASCAR
Biggest career achievement: Win in IndyCar race (2008)
Driver info

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. Danica had 114 IndyCar races in seven years and was regularly in the top ten. Still, her best moment came in 2007 when she won at Motegi. 

During her stay at Andretti Green Racing, Patrick was among the favorites to win the championship, and regularly beat men. 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 ending eight.

2. Jutta Kleinschmidt

Jutta Kleinschmidt rides a buggy and other vehicles in her show
Nationality: German
Pro career span: 1987-
Raced in: Dakar Rally, endurance events
Biggest career achievement: Dakar Rally win (2001)
Driver info

Finishing the Dakar Rally is a huge achievement, but Jutta Kleinschmidt became 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 had little 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
Nationality: French
Pro career span:1973-1986
Raced in: WRC
Biggest career achievement: 2nd place overall in WRC (1982)
Driver info

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 the Audi Quattro in 1981. Even though this monster was the fastest and most dangerous WRC car, it was a natural fit for Mouton.

She won the Italian rally the same year, 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 in 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 being the best rally driver of the year at the Autosport Awards ceremony. It's a shame that no one made a movie about one of the most extraordinary seasons in motorsports history.

As we wait for the next superstar race car female drivers, these top ten women prove it will happen. Since the number of young women racers is growing, 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!

Cover photo: TopTens.fun/Midjourney


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Neville Says:

Rest in peace Sabine. I loved watching her in Top Gear.

August 08 at 11:27:47 AM

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