Austin, Texas - The all-female W Series ends its second season in Texas this weekend with Britons Alice Powell and Jamie Chadwick tied at the top and racing for Formula One superlicence points and a $500 000 (R7.2 million) payday .
The series is on the US Grand Prix support programme at Austin's Circuit of the Americas and Powell leads 2019 champion Chadwick 3-2 on wins with both on 109 points and two races remaining.
Finland's Emma Kimilainen is third, 34 points behind.
South Africa’s Tasmin Pepper was selected to compete in this year’s W Series championship, however pandemic-related travel restrictions prevented her from competing in the season’s earlier events.
The finale will be the first time the Formula Three-level series, which did not race anywhere last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, has gone outside Europe.
"We’ve got a great showdown, a double-header, two drivers on equal points. They are both ridiculously determined and competitive," W series founder and chief executive Catherine Bond Muir told Reuters.
"There isn’t the same frisson between them as (F1 title contenders) Lewis (Hamilton) and Max (Verstappen) but there’s certainly a huge amount of competition and the driver that doesn’t win the championship is going to be extremely disappointed."
The series winner can return next season but will not be able to earn points towards a Formula One super licence if she does.
That means Chadwick at least is unlikely to return if she triumphs again in a series aiming to help women progress up the motorsport ladder. No woman has raced in Formula One for 46 years.
"I want to use and showcase W Series for what it is, which is a springboard and a platform to progress into higher categories," the 23-year-old told Reuters.
"Ultimately a lot rides on winning the title for that. That’s the main thing I’m looking at."
Chadwick said acquiring the licence points was not such a big factor at this stage.
"There’s a lot more that I need to do and achieve (first) in other categories," she said.
The FIA Formula Three championship would be a possible next step but Chadwick, who also competes in the electric off-road Extreme E series and is a development driver for the Williams F1 team, was not getting ahead of herself.
"I said at the end of 2019 that it was probably going to be my farewell if I won," she said.
"I’m not sure at the moment, just trying to work out plans for the future but in the short term the focus is on this weekend."
Powell, 28, expected winning the title to also open doors for her.
The first woman to score points in the old GP3 series, in 2012, she had to shelve her racing ambitions for lack of money before W Series came along with free entry to drivers who made the grade.
"I would like to progress and make a long career in motorsport as a whole," she told Reuters. "I'm going for the win, that's for sure."