Meet the pioneering women who have raced in the Indianapolis 500

Drivers, start your engines! This Sunday will see the return of one of the jewels in motorsport’s Triple Crown, the 105th running of the Indianapolis 500.

The Brickyard has seen heroes come and go, but none more so than the female pioneers who have taken on the challenging Indianapolis Motor Speedway and left their mark, not only on IndyCar, but on motorsport history.

Introducing the nine female drivers who have qualified for the ‘Greatest Spectacle in Racing'.

Janet Guthrie, United States

History was made in 1977 when Janet Guthrie became the first woman to qualify and race in the Indy 500. Qualifying in 25th place, engine troubles meant that she could only manage to finish in 29th.

Interestingly, Speedway’s management did not want to change the race’s traditional start command “Gentlemen, start your engines” when she made her debut. However, after pressure from Janet and her team, they eventually relented and changed it to “In company with the first lady to qualify at Indianapolis, gentlemen, start your engines!”

Thankfully, that phrase hasn’t been used since.

However, her best was yet to come. The following year, she started from 15th and crossed the line in ninth place. What makes her achievement even more remarkable was that she drove with a fractured wrist, which she injured in a charity tennis match two days earlier. Janet’s final Indy 500 appearance would come in 1979, where a piston issue forced her to retire after three laps.

Lyn St. James, United States

The first female recipient of the Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year award, Lyn St. James put herself firmly in the history books from the moment she arrived at the Brickyard. The American driver started from 27th place and fought her way through to finish 11th, the only rookie to complete the race. She is currently the oldest person to have received the Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year accolade, having made her debut aged 45.

This was her best finish of all her nine entries, qualifying for six more races from 1993 to 1997 and in 2000. Her best qualifying result was in 1994, where she lined up sixth on the grid.

After her retirement, she has continued to be an advocate and icon for women in sport, establishing the Women in the Winner’s Circle in 1994 and has created a scholarship fund to help female racing drivers in a variety of series.

Sarah Fisher, United States

The youngest female driver to have started the Indy 500, Sarah Fisher made her mark on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2000, when she made her debut at only 19-years-old. Sarah holds the record for most career starts having started every Indy 500 race she has entered, with nine appearances between 2000 and 2010. Her best qualifying position came in 2002, lining up ninth on the grid.

In 2008, she founded Sarah Fisher Racing and was only able to compete in the Indy 500 that year after receiving fan funding. The following year she recorded her highest-ever finish, crossing the line in 17th place and was awarded the Scott Brayton Trophy, which was awarded to the driver who best exemplified the attitude, spirit and competitive drive of Scott Brayton, who passed away during a practice session for the 1996 Indy 500.

Following further successes as a team owner, she later went on to become IndyCar’s official pace car driver from 2016 to 2020.

Danica Patrick, United States

The Queen of the Brickyard, Danica Patrick became a star of the Indy 500 scene from her debut in 2005. Qualifying in fourth, the best starting position of any female driver so far, she led 19 laps before finishing fourth, in a more-than-worthy Rookie of the Year performance.

Danica started eight Indy 500s between 2005 and 2018, scoring six-top-10 finishes in the process. However, history was made in 2009 when she finished third, the first time a female driver had stood on the podium at the iconic race and to date, the best-ever finish at the event by a female driver.

Despite her retirement after the 2018 Indy 500, she will make her return to the Speedway on Sunday behind the wheel of the pace car to get the race underway, alongside serving as an analyst for NBC’s coverage of the event.