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Alice Powell returns to GP3 in Abu Dhabi

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Alice Powell in action during GP3 practice in Abu Dhabi (GP3 Media Service)

Alice Powell received a late call-up to race for Bamboo Engineering in GP3 this weekend in Abu Dhabi. She joins Carmen Jorda in the team for this one-off appearance.

Powell raced in GP3 in 2012, showing impressive pace and maturity and in the process becoming the first woman in GP3 history to score a point. Unfortunately for Powell, she was not able to continue in GP3 in 2013 for financial reasons, and instead went back to Britain to compete in the F3 Cup series, where she finished second in the championship.

Considering that Powell was only called about the Abu Dhabi race on Monday of this week, she faces quite an uphill challenge this weekend. She’s never driven the Yas Marina Circuit and has never driven the 2013 GP3 car before.

The car is perhaps the greater challenge, as it is significantly quicker than the car used up to the end of 2012. The new car is a naturally-aspirated engine that produces 400bhp, compared to last year’s smaller turbo-charged unit that produced only 280bhp. That’s a massive difference for a car inside the same series and it will take some getting used to. So far this season, the new car has been quicker by a few seconds per lap at every race weekend than last year’s car was in 2012.

In terms of learning the circuit, Alice has not had time to make use of a simulator, and has had to learn her way around the track by watching videos of Formula One drivers from the last few years. While that will help with the layout of the track, it’s not a substitute for time on the circuit, which leads to her next challenge – there is only one 45-minute practice session in a GP3 weekend.

That practice session has already happened – it took place earlier today. Alice Powell was 21st out of 26 drivers in the session, 3.131 seconds off the pace. It’s no surprise that she was not able to challenge the top half of the field, simply because she’s now had just 45 minutes in the car compared to a whole season for most of the drivers.

What was impressive about Alice Powell’s performance in practice in Abu Dhabi was her pace relative to her team-mate. Carmen Jorda has not exactly set the timing screens alight through the season, but she’s had the whole of 2013 to develop and get quicker, while Powell has had no time at all in the GP3 car. Alice was 1.7 seconds quicker than Carmen Jorda despite all the obstacles that she faced, and that is a display of some skill and confidence.

The rest of this weekend will be crucial for Alice Powell’s future in single-seater racing. Her stated aim is to race in GP2 or GP3 next season. To achieve that aim, she needs to find a lot of sponsorship by the start of next season. If she can continue to progress through this weekend, and perhaps pick up a point or two in the races, it will be a very strong statement to potential sponsors that she is a worthwhile investment.

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New girl in town

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Samin Gomez driving in Formula Abarth in 2011(Photo credit: pietroz)

Motor racing has historically been considered a man’s sport, which is evident from the almost total lack of women at the higher levels of racing. But over time, more and more women are becoming involved in all aspects of racing – from management to engineering to driving. One such aspiring woman is racing driver Samin Gomez, who has recently secured a seat in GP3, the major feeder series for GP2, which in turn is the major feeder series for Formula One.

Samin Gomez, a 21 year old Venezuelan, has risen through the junior ranks of racing quite quickly. She spent a year karting in Venezuela and France in 2007, before moving straight into single seaters in 2008 with two appearances in the Asian Formula Renault Challenge. 2009 and 2010 saw her remain in the series and complete two full seasons, finishing third overall in 2010.

In 2011, Gomez began a partnership with Jenzer Motorsport, which has brought her to GP3. She drove for Jenzer in the Formula Pilota China series and also competed in the Formula Abarth Italian and European Championships. A second season of European and Italian Formula Abarth followed in 2012, with Gomez finishing seventh overall in each series.

Now she’s in GP3, which is likely to be quite a different challenge. Promising drivers from all over the world compete in GP3 in the hope of making the step up to Gp2 and then finding a way into Formula One. The racing is tough, close and challening, as rising star Alice Powell discovered in 2012, when she scored just one point in her debut GP3 season after winning the Formula Renault BARC title two years previously.

Gomez has the backing of PDVSA, the Venezuelan state-owned oil and gas giant who also provides sponsorship to F1 race winner Pastor Maldonado. While she can clearly drive, with podiums and pole positions in her junior level racing, it seems that her Venezuelan sponsorship may have helped to fast-track her career. To date, Gomez has not won a race in a single seater series, which suggests that she could spend some time acclimatising to the intense competition of GP3.

The first race of the 2013 GP3 series is on 11 May in Spain. As it is part of the Formula One Spanish Grand Prix weekend, Gomez’s debut will be an ideal chance to show the racing world what she can do. Until then, she will be testing and training to make sure she starts with as much preparation behind her as possible.

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