Game Changers


Game Changers

A brave new chapter of Mazda’s racing legacy is being written by the rising female stars within the high-octane world of MX‑5 motorsport.

Across almost all levels of global motorsport, female racers are increasingly taking the wheel, steering a course toward greater representation.

There has been an incremental uptick in the number of girls entering racing at a junior karting level, with less drop-off as they rise through competitive levels — critical shifts in a traditionally male-dominated arena. And yet, while the numbers are encouraging, the road to parity remains lined with obstacles, from enduring stereotypes to a lack of sponsorship that often sidelines promising careers before they can even begin.

Within this world of much-needed change, Mazda stands out as a beacon of support and innovation. With initiatives such as MX‑5 Cup motorsport and its scholarships, plus the launch of Mazda Spirit Racing (a sub-brand established in 2021, which is active in factory motorsport, driver development support, and e-sports), Mazda not only celebrates the legacy of its iconic MX‑5 sports car and historic Le Mans 787B win, but also continues to ensure that the racetrack is a place where talent from all backgrounds can thrive. Here, three of the brightest female stars in MX‑5 racing give us a view of what it’s like from the cockpit.

“You just keep fighting.”

Heather Hadley, MAZDA MX‑5 CUP RACing driver

“I don’t have any sort of family history with racing,” MX‑5 Cup racing driver Heather Hadley, 22, explains. “I’m from Vallejo, California, which is where one of the greatest Cup drivers, Jeff Gordon, is from. I became a fan of the sport and one day I thought, ‘Why can’t I do that?’” And so it was written: in 2022, the MX‑5 Cup racing driver won Mazda’s Women in Motorsport scholarship. “When I saw it, I jumped on it. I hadn’t seen anything like it,” Hadley continues. “I’m extremely grateful to Mazda for making my racing dreams possible.”

Hadley’s journey into racing is relatively unique. In such a male-dominant sport, it’s common for young women to find their way onto the starting grid through their professional-racing fathers. This was certainly true for both Aimée Watts, 29, a British MX‑5 SuperCup Championship driver, and Sally Mott, 19, a Mazda scholar and Cup racer from Texas. Watts’ dad won the MX‑5 SuperCup Championship in its inaugural year. As for Mott? “My dad raced karts, formula cars, stock cars, and trucks,” she explains, “so I’ve always been surrounded by race culture.”

“We’re here to be the best.”

Sally Mott, MAZDA MX‑5 CUP RACing driver

More Than Money

Mazda is actively working to ensure young women of all means receive equal opportunities in racing. “The entire Mazda family welcomes you and helps to make the process of racing feel easy,” says Hadley. Through all the door-opening that Mazda does for these young talents, they have the opportunity to meet not just coaches and mentors, but also their idols. “[British Mazda champion] Abbie Eaton looked at some of my racing data recently, which was cool,” says Watts. “Thanks to the MX‑5 Cup series, I met British racing driver Katherine Legge,” Hadley adds. “I have always looked up to her. It was a dream come true.”

The Challenger Spirit

Mazda is certainly backing the right horses with these three drivers. Mott and Hadley, former karting stars, now excel in the MX‑5 Cup pro series. Watts isn’t just racing in the SuperCup, she’s also currently leading her Club Championship. If there’s something that all women racing MX‑5s have in common, it’s their resolve. Mazda’s famous challenger spirit is epitomized by a sense of pulling yourself up by the bootstraps and cleaving adversity to your advantage, and these women do that every day. “I certainly had people tell me I couldn’t do it. And sometimes I feel I like race cars just in spite of that,” insists Mott. “I’m now in the premier sports car racing series in the world,” says Hadley. “When I think about where I was just six or seven years ago, it’s incredible. You just keep fighting.”

Fighting spirit is as much about strategy as it is about taking on the competition at all costs. Motorsport is one of the few arenas in which women can compete against men on an even playing field. Competing at the highest level is an incredible testament to women’s skill, but it’s also acutely daunting. So the solidarity of the sisterhood isn’t just comforting, it’s a smart game plan. “We both [she and Mott] agreed at the beginning of this season to help each other where we can,” says Hadley. “We only really have each other.”

“She’d decided she wanted to be a racing driver after seeing me on the podium.”

AIMéE WATTS, British MX‑5 SuperCup Championship driver

Be The Change

“I had a little girl come up to me this year,” says Watts. “She’d decided she wanted to be a racing driver after seeing a woman on the podium at a Mazda race. And that woman was me. It was the best feeling.” Hadley is equally enthusiastic about opening people’s eyes to female racing drivers. “I love watching women compete, because I want to root for someone that I can relate to.”

Mott is careful to both inspire others and help improve the way things are done. “After races, drivers will sit down to look through track data or get coaching,” she explains, “and girls are sometimes spoken to differently. It occasionally sounds like, ‘Pretty good, for a girl.’ But I encourage people to be straight with me, because we’re not here to be pretty good, we’re here to be the best.”

Mazda’s commitment to gender diversity within motorsport creates an ecosystem that values and elevates female talent. When female athletes prosper, not only does it enhance competitive spirit, but it also broadens the appeal of the sport itself. Together, these young women aren’t just participating—they’re changing the face of motorsport, one race at a time.

Words Natasha Bird