Call her a pioneer, but most importantly, call her a racer.
Ayla Agren is the only woman competing for a championship and Mazda scholarship award in the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires development ladder this year.
The 23-year-old Norwegian enters her third season in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda, coming off two consecutive seasons of finishing 10th in the standings. This season brings new hope as she returns to Team Pelfrey, where she won the F1600 title in 2014.
Since making her debut in the Mazda Road to Indy, sanctioned by INDYCAR, Agren has been alone as the only female. Although the desire is to see more women competing full-time in the Verizon IndyCar Series and its ladder series, she still feels very much included among her peers.
“I wish we were more,” Agren said. “I’ve been, not by myself all the time, but pretty much the last two years I’ve been the only female in the Mazda Road to Indy and even most of that you could include (the Verizon IndyCar Series) – with the exception being the Indy 500 where we have Pippa (Mann) and Katherine (Legge) stepping in here and there.
“But, I’ve never felt alone with it.”
One of the biggest takeaways for the driver of the No. 82 Team Pelfrey/Tatuus USF-17 is the chance to positively influence young girls, but she added that gender roles aren’t something thought about on track.
“I’m just happy that maybe I can inspire some other young girl to be the same in doing what they want to do. I’m happy if I can affect that part of it, but in the car, I don’t really think about it.”
The 2014 Norwegian Motorsports Association’s Presidents Award winner pointed out that she drew her own racing inspiration from former Verizon IndyCar Series star Danica Patrick. She said her eyes were “opened up to INDYCAR” when Patrick finished fourth in the 2005 Indianapolis 500 and became the first woman to lead laps in the race.
Patrick later broke her own record of best Indy 500 finish when she placed third in 2009. She also become the first woman to win in a major series race with her 2008 victory at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan.
“Danica is actually one of the reasons my eyes got opened up to INDYCAR because, when she led the 500, that made the news in Norway,” said Agren. “That’s how I started following INDYCAR. It’s a lot of that reason that I’m here today. For me, to do that for someone else, that’s a pretty cool thing to think about."
Fresh off last week’s USF2000 spring training testing at Homestead-Miami Speedway’s 2.21-mile road course, Agren believes everything is settling into place with the team and that it’s all up to her heading into the doubleheader race weekend at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg that opens the 14-race season.
“I’ve been struggling a little bit getting into the rhythm of everything, but it feels like I’m finally getting there now,” Agren said. “So it’s just about building off of that. I know St. Pete, so I’m just relaxed and (going to) do what I can because the (race) package is what it needs to be.
“You've just got to do your job right.”
USF2000 will have its first St. Pete practice at 5 p.m. ET Thursday, before conducting qualifying sessions Friday for both its races. The first race is scheduled for 8:40 a.m. ET Saturday and the second for 2 p.m. ET that afternoon.