Friday, May 12, 2017

Bia: Finally Female Brazilian Talent in the 500

Her full name is Ana Beatriz Caselato Gomes de Figueiredo. Aka, Ana Beatriz, Bia Figueiredo, or just "Bia." Technically, she was the sixth woman to take the green flag for the Indy 500—because she qualified higher than Simona de Silvestro, who I profiled last week. But I've tackled Bia seventh, since she finished lower than Simona that year.

Bia grew up in São Paulo and started racing karts at the age of eight, after reportedly begging her father for three years to let her race—she was an admitted tomboy and played soccer, volleyball, and tennis, in addition to riding horses and taking ballet and theater classes. But at the age of 15, she chose racing. At 18, she started competing in Formula Renault, where, two years later, she was the first woman in the world to win a race, which she did twice, as well as scoring two pole positions.

A year later (2006), she became the first woman to win a pole position in the main class of Formula 3 racing. The same year, she graduated with a degree in business from a university in São Paulo. In 2008 and 2009, Bia drove in IndyLights for Sam Schmidt Racing, winning two races and reaching the podium (the first woman to do so) on multiple occasions. She received the Firestone Rising Star Award in 2008 and the Most Popular Driver Award in 2009.

Her successes earned her two races in IndyCar in 2010 with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing (DRR): in São Paulo and in Indy, where she qualified and finished 21st. But perhaps a bigger highlight for her that year was her win that December in Felipe Massa's annual go-kart race, "Stars' Challenge," which saw her go from eleventh to first, beating the likes of Massa, Reubens Barrichello, and Tony Kanaan.

She ran her only full IndyCar season in 2011, again with DRR, missing only one race after breaking her hand in the season opener. In 2012, she signed with Andretti Racing to run two races, and in 2013, she raced six times with Dale Coyne Racing. To date, that's been the extent of her IndyCar career, encompassing four starts in the 500, and decent results. In 2015, she moved to stock car racing in Brazil, where she remains.

"[Being] a 'feminine' female driver helped me get more attention from the media, sponsors and new opportunities that are targeting women. Yet inside the track gender is irrelevant, and I don’t feel any different from a male driver. We are all aggressive and share the same goal of winning the race."
(redshoemovement.com)

The story of her disappearance from the IndyCar scene is the same one we've heard before: money. She's taken a practical, but not extreme approach to gender in motorsport—using it, but not running wild—citing sponsorship by a cosmetics company and a gasoline company as some of the diverse backers she's attracted in years past.

Bia's got obvious talent, and it's hard to blame her for going where the money and a full-season's ride are. It's just a shame that's not in the United States and IndyCar.

(Photo from biaracing.com.)

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