Last weekend Queensland Raceway hosted the latest round of the TGRA 86 Scholarship Series. This is the second tier 86 category that was launched earlier this year and will, from 2024, be the home for the current cars as the new model takes over in the main TGRA 86 Series.
On the surface of it, that's not the biggest news in the world. But what is interesting about this second tier 86 Series is that it could well be the key to enticing more of the 15-plus-year-old girls, who have been active in karting, into the next level of motorsport.
Over the course of the four rounds of the Championship conducted so far, a total of six girls have taken part, with each round featuring four of them. The overall field size has been between 16 and 30 cars.
At the weekend, two of the regular female competitors, Alice Buckley and Zoe Woods, were joined by Karlai Warner and Summer Rintoule for their debuts.
So, QR saw a total of 16 entries of which 25 percent were driven by female drivers. That in itself is an interesting landmark moment.
Whilst some of the early season competitors chose not to come to Queensland, Lachlan Bloxsom, as one of the two main protagonists fighting for the overall series points lead to date, ensured that everyone had a great benchmark.
Hopefully I've set the scene for the remarkable achievements of 16-year-old Alice.
Alice took pole position at QR on Saturday and proceeded to win all three races with Lachlan finishing second right behind her each time. The racing was excellent and clean from both drivers – a credit to them. But Alice showed that she can be fully competitive in a car against one of the best young drivers in Queensland at the moment.
For those of us there watching, it was a special moment in Australian motorsport made all the better by the performances of the other three, less experienced, girls taking part.
In Race 3, which ran without a Safety Car for 11 laps, Zoe Woods finished fifth (four seconds off the lead), Karlai Warner finished eighth and Summer Rintoule finished tenth. Pretty good for runs for the two debutants!
I have to admit to having a particular interest in Karlai's performance as she's part of the Racing Together programme and those of us involved were all thrilled to watch her first Toyota 86 appearance.
Paul Morris was on the radio to her during the races from atop the hospitality area, taking shade under the excellent new ‘Ryder Canopy' that is now a signature part of the revitalized QR circuit. The Dude was a calming influence and great mentor, as he is when coaching at Norwell.
But for me, the outstanding message from the weekend was just how good a platform this new Toyota Scholarship Series is for not only young drivers generally, but females in particular.
Let's face it. Motorsports is too much of a Man's World. Most of us know that and most of us are certainly aligned on the point that this needs to change. But we don't always actually do much about it.
This category is ideally placed to be the go-to series for those young girls who are currently karting and are umming and ahhing about where to go next in the sport.
The organisers, who are responsible for both of the Toyota 86 Series, do an exemplary job of not only the administration, but also the scrutineering and the operational aspects.
For instance, the Driving Standards Officer, Steven Johnson, has the right level of both empathy and also authority when interacting with the competitors. He's not intimidating. Rather, he offers advice and solutions to young drivers, including the girls, whilst also teaching them about the rules of engagement.
Given just how many female registered karters there are in Australia (around 430), it's clear that the sport is losing too many in the switch from karts to cars.
The Toyota Scholarship Series represents the best route that I've seen to date for more of those girls in karting to progress further when they hit 15 years of age. The environment is as tailor made for them as any I've seen.
In the meantime, young Alice Buckley deserves all the plaudits she received last weekend, and more.