Tuesday, 31 August 2010

The Women's Global GT Series

Belinda Endress, Sonja Bayer and Milka Duno

This championship ran in 1999 and 2000, and was organised by Don Panoz and Lyn St. James. It consisted of a series of races for female drivers in Panoz Esperante sportscars, and supported the ALMS. Up to 41 cars per meeting competed during the first year. Drivers were selected by the organisers, and came from all over the world. There was a mix of seasoned professionals, up-and-coming racers and enthusiastic amateurs from various walks of life, including Kiki Wolfkill, a video game designer and amateur racer, ex-F1 driver Divina Galica, sportscar specialists Amy and Niki Ruman, and young American hopefuls, such as Sara Senske.

The winner in the first year was Cindi Lux, after a close-fought battle. A little-known German driver, Sonja Bayer, won in 2000, after several years in one-make championships in Europe.

After 2000, Panoz decided that the series was uneconomical and opened it up to male drivers, renaming it the Panoz Racing Series. The cars remained the same.

The WGGTS attracted mixed opinions during its two-year tenure. At first, it was not taken seriously by the press or spectators, but some of the competitors earned the respect of doubters by taking on their male counterparts in other races. One such group was Cindi Lux, Divina Galica and Belinda Endress in 1999, who entered the main ALMS round at Petit Le Mans.

The series appears to have been a reasonably successful training ground for future female racing professionals, although many of the entrants were already into their careers, and it is hard to gauge whether the WGGTS helped them or not. One beneficiary was Milka Duno, who used the WGGTS as a springboard into sportscar racing in the USA, after some success in South America. She also competed in the Panoz Racing Series, after the demise of the WGGTS.

1999 Championship:
1. Cindi Lux
2. Divina Galica
3. Milka Duno
4. Sara Senske
5. Kiki Wolfkill
6. Audrey Zavodsky
7. Allison Duncan
8. Belinda Endress
9. Niki Ruman
10. Nikki LaRue
11. Bobby Marshall
12. Dana Moore
13. Amy Ruman
14. Judy Ray
15. Sonja Bayer
16. Jennifer Tumminelli
17. Sarah Wahl
18. Giovanna Amati
19. Melanie Snow
20. Jennifer Bretzel

Also entered: Renée Eady, Pat Enzman-Alspach, Terri Hundertmark, Janet Pendergraph, Liliana de Menna, Wendy Davis, Leslie Davis, Shauna Marinus, Linda Lemelin, Donna Lisciandro, Jenny Sheehy, Sunny Hobbs, Jenny Hohfeldt, Vickie Kinder-Fritz, Kandy Lynn, Patty Sledge, Whitney Young.

2000 Championship:
1. Sonja Bayer
2. Divina Galica
3. Belinda Endress
4. Milka Duno
5. Audrey Zavodsky
6. Cindi Lux
7. Nikki LaRue
8. Terri Hundertmark
9. Dana Moore
10. Amy Ruman
11. Sarah Wahl
12. Sherri de Coursey
13. Niki Ruman
14. Alisa Kincaid
15. Kiki Wolfkill
16. Shauna Marinus
17. Renée Eady
18. Karen Salvaggio
19. Liz Boeder
20. Rayner Taylor

Also entered: Helen Bashford, Bobby Marshall, Melissa Grunnah, Jenny Sheehy, Wendy Lee.

Below are short profiles of some of the more successful WGGTS drivers not featured elsewhere on the blog.

Sonja Bayer - winner of the Women’s Global GT Series in 2000. This came towards the end of her career, which started in 1994. She tried both single-seaters and touring cars, including Formula Ford and Formula BMW, before gravitating more towards saloon racing, which she did exclusively between 1997 and 1999. In 1998, she raced a BMW M3 in the VLN, with Robert Bayer. Between 1997 and 1999, she also raced in the Citroen Saxo Cup in Germany, with a best finish of eleventh, in 1998. After her WGGTS win, she did some races in the Panoz Pro Series that followed it, in 2001, as well as two rounds of the Porsche Carrera Cup in Germany. Her last major race seems to have been the Nürburgring 24 Hours in 2004, driving an alternative-fuel Volkswagen Golf.

Belinda Endress - began motorsport in SCCA club events, winning four championships between 1995 and 1998. She moved up to national circuit racing in 1999, via the Womens’ Global GT Championship. Driving a WGGTS-spec Panoz the following year, she won a round of the Panoz GT Winter Series. The same year, 2000, she teamed up with her fellow WGGTS alumni, Cindi Lux and Divina Galica, for the Petit Le Mans race at Road Atlanta. They were 20th, sixth in class, in their Porsche 911. In 2001, she contested the Panoz Pro Series, winning one race and finishing third overall. After that, she drove in some rounds of the Grand-am Cup in 2002 and 2003, with mixed results. In 2005 and 2006, she took part in SCCA stock car races, finishing second in the championship.

Cindi Lux - one of the stars of the Women's Global GT Series, winning it in 1999. Since then, she has won additional regional and national titles in touring and sports cars. During her time in the WGGTS, she also took part in two ALMS races, finishing in the top 10 of the GT class. These were the Petit Le Mans races at Road Atlanta in 1999 and 2000. In 2000, she was 20th in a Porsche 911 GT3 with Belinda Endress and Divina Galica. In 1999, she, Danny Marshall, Steve Marshall and Chris Hall were 24th in a Carrera RSR. She returned to the ALMS in 2007, driving a Dodge Viper at Mid-Ohio with Stan Wilson. They were 22nd, seventh in class. Away from the ALMS, Cindi has competed extensively in SCCA events in a variety of cars. She has won ten national championships between 1988 and 2006. In 2007 and 2008, she raced in the SCCA World GT Challenge, and was its highest-performing female driver, with one fifth place. Between 2015 and 2017 she competed in Trans Am in a Dodge Viper, winning two races. In 2018, she used the Viper in the Chase for the Trigon Trophy TR3 Series, finishing seventh with one win.

Niki Ruman (Skinner) - sister of Amy Ruman, but competes less frequently. They occasionally share a car. Her normal car is a Spec Racer which she uses in SCCA events. Her first win came in 2005, at Sebring, but so far, she has not repeated it. She was also part of the WGGTS for two years, in 1999 and 2000, with a best finish of fifth. In 2011, after several years of limited seasons, she was second in a race at Summit Point. Every year, she makes guest appearances at Summit Point for the SCCA Majors.

Jennifer Tumminelli (Lefler) - US racer with ALMS and Womens’ Global GT experience. In 2000, she drove in both the Grand-Am and ALMS championships, in different Porsches. She and her Racer's Group team-mates were ninth in class in the Road America 500 Mile race and the Grand Prix of Mosport. With Dick Barbour Racing, she was eighth in class at Portland. Her best overall finish was eighteenth, at Sears Point. She took part in four ALMS races. On the Grand –Am side, she raced at Mid-Ohio and Road America. Driving for Racer’s Group, her best finish was 30th, ninth in class, at Road America. Previously, she raced Mazda single-seaters in the States, and then took part in the WGGTS in 1999 and 2000.

Kiki Wolfkill - raced sportscars in the USA and did some major events in the form of the Grand-Am Cup in 1999. She was one of the competitors in both seasons of the WGGTS. For several seasons, she drove in various SCCA series, including regional races in a Porsche 924 in 1999. Outside racing, she is a designer of motorsport and other games for consoles. She took a sabbatical from motorsport in 2002 and since then, has restricted herself to non-competitive driving events such as the Cannonball Run and One Lap of America.

Audrey Zavodsky - one of the major players in both runnings of the Women’s Global GT Series, and the winner of the first race, in 1999. She was sixth in 1999, and fifth in 2000, despite not repeating her win. Later, she also competed in the Panoz Racing Series that replaced the WGGTS. In 2003, she was third in the championship, with one win. She made one appearance the following year. Before her Panoz exploits, she raced in SCCA Regional events for four years, with some successes. She does not seem to have raced much since 2004, although she has remained somewhat in the public eye. Outside of motorsport, she is an occupational health nurse.

(Image from www.theracesite.com)

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