London - More than 100 applicants from around the world have sought to join a new all-female motor racing series aimed at getting them into Formula One, where no woman has competed since 1976.

Organisers on Wednesday issued a long list of 55 for the W Series, which is set to launch in May with 18 drivers racing 1.8 litre Formula Three cars for a $1.5 million (R20m) prize fund.

Three of them are South Africans: Tasmin Pepper from the Engen VW Cup as well as kart racers Ivana Cetinich and Fabienne Lanz.

The drivers, whose ages range from 17 to 33 and include some familiar names to fans who follow the various junior series, now face on and off-track tests with former grand prix racers David Coulthard and Alex Wurz among the judges.

Spain's ex-Lotus and Renault Formula One development driver Carmen Jorda, a 30-year-old who also sits on the governing FIA's women's commission, was one of those to go on to the next phase.

Amna al-Qubaisi, 18, the first female racing driver from the United Arab Emirates who has competed in Italian Formula Four and will test a Formula E car in Saudi Arabia next month, was another.

So too was Britain's Jamie Chadwick, 20, who in 2015 became the first female driver to win a British GT championship and this year became the first woman to win a round of the British Formula Three series, finishing eighth overall.

Indian racers Mira Erda, 18, and Sneha Sharma, 28, also made the long list.

The W Series organisers say they hope to provide a platform for women to develop their skills before taking on male drivers further up the motorsport ladder.

The first race is scheduled for Hockenheim, Germany, on May 3 and the overall series winner will collect $500 000, with prize money down to 18th place.

Reuters