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Study: Female race car drivers have the same reaction times as male drivers

Danica Patrick waits to qualify for the IndyCar Indianapolis 500 auto race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, Sunday, May 20, 2018. (AP)
Danica Patrick made the final start of her auto racing career at the 2018 Indianapolis 500. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

According to a study published by researchers at Michigan State physiological differences between men and women don’t play a role when it comes to auto racing.

A study published Thursday concluded that female race car drivers have equal reaction times compared to their male counterparts.

The study was led by Michigan State assistant professor David Ferguson and launched with the goal of determining if the physical differences between men and women played any role when it came to driving a race car and what role a woman’s menstrual cycle played while she was racing.

The menstrual cycle aspect was important, because, as Ferguson notes, women have an elevated core temperature during certain phases of their cycles. And the temperature in the cockpit of a race car is a big factor. Because of that, do women get fatigued in a hot race car quicker? The answer, according to the study, is no.

From Michigan State:

Understanding how the body functions during extreme situations is essential in racing. Even more, understanding natural hormonal fluctuations and how that may affect performance is also important. That’s why Ferguson evaluated female drivers around two phases of their menstrual cycle: the follicular, which spans the first day of a period to ovulation, and the luteal, which begins at ovulation.

During three similar races, Ferguson tracked six male and six, less-experienced female drivers in two classes of racing, closed and open cockpit. He analyzed heart and breathing rate, core body and skin temperature as well as heat-induced stress, which can lead to heat exhaustion.

There are no women racing full-time at the top level of NASCAR or IndyCar for the second-straight season in 2019. Based on this study’s findings and some common sense, that’s more based in a lack of opportunities than the fact that women are physically inferior to men when it comes to driving a race car. There’s an all-woman team competing in IMSA in 2019 and teenager Haillie Deegan has won two lower-level K&N Series NASCAR races this year.

‘No difference in physiological responses’

The official conclusion of the study? There were “no differences in the physiological responses to automobile racing between male and female drivers. The luteal phase elicited higher physiological responses than the follicular phase, but was not different from the male drivers. Thereby, practitioners should focus on reducing stresses induced by a closed cockpit race car as opposed to the menstrual cycle.”

The results of a study come a year after former Formula 1 test driver Carmen Jorda said that women couldn’t compete equally with men in Formula 1 because the series was too physically demanding. Tatiana Calderon, a test driver for Sauber, disagreed with her. So did Danica Patrick, who was making the final two starts of her racing career in 2018.

“I don't buy into that,” Patrick told the AP in March of 2018. “We are in a competition of repetition and staying calm and loosening up the death grip on the wheel, and staying focused and using your mind. These are the things that help you with endurance: Keeping a level head, keeping relaxed and having general fitness. If we were going for Olympic lifting, how strong can you possibly be? Then women would not win because that's not how our bodies are built. But that's not the game of racing.”

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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.

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