Tatiana Calderon understands the significance of this moment – her rookie season in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES – and what it means for legions of young girls who are looking for a role model at racing’s highest level.
When the 2022 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season gets underway at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by RP Funding on Sunday, Feb. 27 (noon ET, live on NBC and INDYCAR Radio), she will become the next female to compete in a majority of the INDYCAR season.
Simona De Silvestro is the last to do so, competing in the full NTT INDYCAR SERIES season in 2013 for KV Racing Technology, finishing 13th in the championship. Since then, several women have run in the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, such as De Silvestro, Ana Beatriz, Katherine Legge, Pippa Mann and Danica Patrick, but none have participated in a large portion of the season.
Colombia native Calderon is competing on all road and street course races for AJ Foyt Racing in the No. 11 ROKiT Chevrolet. More importantly, she is a female presence in one of the world’s top forms of open-wheel racing. This year, from coast-to-coast in person and on TV across the world, young girls, women and aspiring female race car drivers have a new mentor.
Reflecting on this moment for National Girls and Women in Sports Day, Calderon said one of the leading factors that brought her to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES was its history with providing opportunities to women. Names like Janet Guthrie, Lyn St. James, Sarah Fisher, Patrick and many more have made a name for themselves in INDYCAR, and she hopes to do the same.
“Looking back at the history of women in INDYCAR, when you compare it to the level of single-seaters in Europe, or anywhere really, you see that INDYCAR has had more,” she said. “That is something that I was quite happy about and why I also wanted to come to this side of the world. I’m super happy to be representing women around the world in one of the toughest series out there.”
Calderon can undoubtedly feel the pressure of needing to succeed in North America’s premier open-wheel series, but after years of competing in Europe, Asia and South America, the burden of outside pressures already has subsided. Even though she has yet to make an NTT INDYCAR SERIES start, Calderon said she can feel the INDYCAR community rooting for her.
“For the first time in my career, I feel welcome in a series where people want me to do really well and not just look at my gender,” she said. “They have welcomed me with open arms and open minds and open hearts, really.”
Calderon, 28, has spent her racing career trying to help cultivate the next generation. She is a driver representative on the FIA Women in Motorsport Council, and when she isn’t using the stopwatch to bring more women into racing, she meets with young girls to help give them the confidence they need to succeed.
While she opens their eyes to areas of the industry such as engineering, marketing, communications and more, Calderon likes to focus on her story of breaking barriers. She said it’s important to show aspiring young girls it’s possible to overcome the obstacles they might face while working toward a certain area of the industry.
“It’s incredible, really. I never thought I would be a role model,” she said. “I have so many messages coming from people from the track saying they got inspired because they saw what I was doing. For me, that means the world. First, I started competing for myself, but I quickly realized I was also, maybe just through my story, encouraging people to try new things and to never be afraid to show what they like and really pursue their dreams.”
It's a meaningful position for the Colombian driver to be in, and it takes her back to her roots as a young girl when she watched Patrick break many barriers on her way to becoming the most successful female INDYCAR driver of all time.
Almost 20 years ago, when Patrick made an impressive qualifying attempt for the 2005 Indianapolis 500, led late in the race and earned Rookie of the Year honors, a 12-year-old girl from Bogota, Colombia, was watching. Three years later, Patrick scored her lone INDYCAR win at Twin Ring Motegi. The next year, she scored the best finish by a female driver in the Indy 500 with third.
It made Calderon realize that she, too, could forge a path as a race car driver in a male-dominated sport.
“When you see a driver winning an INDYCAR race and leading the Indy 500, you think, ‘Wow, that’s really possible,’” Calderon said. “I think it all starts there, but hopefully more to come and we start to change that narrative again.”
Now it’s Calderon in those shoes once worn by Patrick. And later this month she begins to write her chapter in front of millions of young girls and women who will see her strap on a helmet and compete at one of sports’ highest levels.
And her performance will set in motion the next generation of female race car drivers that will rewrite this story decades from now.