What the return of the Harvey Norman Supergirls means for gender in the Supercars
There is a perception that motorsport has always lagged behind others in its ability to attract female athletes. But this often fails to take into account that motorsport is perhaps the only mainstream sport where males and females compete directly against one another for the same titles.
Considering this, motorsport has the potential to be a leader in gender equality, but the number of female athletes reaching professional grades is still small to the eyes of the outsider. Thankfully some categories are doing what they can to increase that number; including the Supercars Championship.
One of the pillars of this week's media launch of the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 was the activation of Simona de Silvestro and Renee Gracie's 2016 campaign. As is the norm, the activation triggered a large amount of reporting across various different outlets — and for the second year in a row the pairing came under fire from a vocal percentage of V8 fans.
Silvestro is an international class act, having shown her talents in the IndyCar Series and Formula E — two of the world's biggest and most competitive open-wheeler championships. Gracie meanwhile is one of the most media-savvy drivers in the Dunlop Development Series. She's yet to register a win in the feeder series but her ability to engage sponsors makes her an exceptional role model for aspiring racers.
There is one big flaw from the Silvestro and Gracie camp — some people behind their campaign still haven't grasped the nuances of gender equality. And this is clear to see in the team's name — the Harvey Norman Supergirls.
Gender equality, much like other lingering civil rights issues, is achieved when both parties can stand on an equal footing to be judged on their skills and intellect, rather than on irrelevant factors such as gender.
In that regard, what message does it send to fans and the wider audience that the team name and almost every piece of press that is created is designed to emphasise the two drivers are female? Where are the stories about Gracie's mentor relationship with Paul Morris? Where are the stories about Silvestro going toe-to-toe with former Le Mans and Indy 500 winners or testing in Formula 1?
The fact that they're women should not relegate every bit of media about them to focus on the novelty of their gender. Until that change happens, the uneducated masses will remain uneducated.
Silvestro and Gracie are athletes, professionals, and potentially integral role models for the sport looking forward. They are far more than just "girls".