It wasn't easy, but Kathryn Nunn, the owner of Nunn Motorsports - and the first woman to head an Indy Racing League Menards Infiniti Pro Series team - together with former Indy entrant Lyn St. James have narrowed the field for their initial test to name a female driver for the 2005 edition of the Menards Infiniti Pro Series, the official steppingstone to the IndyCar Series.
Appearing in a press conference at the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway oval where the three-day test will be held November 8-10, Nunn identified the six women, culled from a field of more than 20 who have been selected to vie for the open seat on her team. "Both P.J. and James Chesson will return with us next season, but we have the resources to field another car and intend to do so," Nunn confirmed.
"I was amazed by the number of respondents we had to our call for contestants," Nunn exclaimed. "It was difficult narrowing the field from the 21 capable drivers who asked to be considered, down to six. I'm pleased with the experience and enthusiasm these six possess," she said.
The group was narrowed with Nunn, St. James, Roger Bailey (executive director of the Menards Infiniti Pro Series) and Pro Series technical director Butch Meyer. "I appreciate the input provided by Lynn as well as Roger and Butch. I'm looking forward to seeing these ladies in the car," Nunn declared.
In addition to this logistical support from IRL Pro Series staff, the League's sole tire supplier Firestone will provide tires for the test. "Firestone stepped up right away. Al Speyer and Joe Barbieri thought it was a great idea and immediately asked what they could do to help."
The six ladies who will test Nunn's Pro Series Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone racer here at the "IRL's second home" come from varied backgrounds in the motorsports arena.
Becca Anderson of Lincoln, Delaware has been racing since she was 13 years old and now, at the age of 25 owns 13 career feature wins in sprint-car competition. She currently competes in the United Racing Club (URC) series.
Juliana Chiovitti, from Sutton, Ontario, Canada is a three-time World Karting Association (WKA) Grand National Champion and holds one WKA national championship. The 22-year-old was invited to another series' women's driver development program as a 17-year-old and performed well in her first test in a true race car.
Sondi Eden of Crawfordsville, Indiana is the 2004 USAC Regional Midget Champion for her area and is a former North American Midget Auto Racing Series (NAMARS) Rookie of the Year.
Rossella Manfrinato, 35, of Milan, Italy has worked as an engineer and track liaison for chassis vendor Dallara over the past few years. She recently retired from that spot to continue with her own racing career.
"I was flattered to be considered," she said during the announcement. "To have this opportunity to be on the other side is surprising and I'm delighted!" The eldest in the group, Manfrinato recently competed in the SCCA National [amateur] Runoffs at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, coming from 18th and last in her C Sports Racing class to finish 7th in a Beasley/Mazda sports racer.
Wendy Mathis, also on hand for the announcement is a 25-year-old from the Tampa, Florida area. She began racing at 12 and has driven midgets and sprint cars. Mathis is the first woman to win a sprint car feature in the Tampa Bay Area Racing Association.
To prepare for this three-day test, Mathis intends to spend November 2nd at Las Vegas Motor Speedway where she will take a one-day Mario Andretti Driving School course. "I need that day to get accustomed to the size of the track (the longest circuit she's driven is a half-mile) and to get used to the reclined position in these cars." Mathis doesn't think the Texas banking will be much of a problem for her after competing in a World of Outlaws race near her Riverview home.
Sarah McCune, 26, from Perrysburg, Ohio has competed in USAC National Midget races for the past several years and, in 2000 twice tested an Indy Racing League IndyCar Series.
One of only three women who have raced in the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race, St. James has been working toward this point for a number of years. "I'm pleased," she said, "that we had such a quality list of drivers to consider for this opportunity, but it sure made the decision process extremely difficult." Nunn noted deliberations took about a week and a half to winnow the group.
The Menards Infiniti Pro Series is the official development series for the Indy Racing League's premier IndyCar Series. It was formed in 2002 and past champions include A.J. Foyt IV (2002) and Mark Taylor in 2003, both currently driving in the IndyCar Series. Pro series graduate Ed Carpenter also matriculated to a full-time ride in the Indy cars.