Megan Gilkes, Natalie Decker and Shea Holbrook are among the 28 competitors still hoping to earn one of 20 spots for the inaugural Formula 3 W Series, the all-female driver competition launched by the FIA last October to promote and provide a stepping stone to Formula 1 in effort to overcome motorsport’s gender gap slated to debut later this year.

In a series of individual tests last week, the W Series qualifiers used the Momentum Motorsports Ligier JS F3 car prepping for the final four-day evaluation in Almeria, Spain, at the end of the month.

“The car was absolutely amazing. I thoroughly enjoyed the horsepower, downforce and handling. [This car] was like nothing I’d ever driven before,” exclaimed Gilkes, a Canadian championship karter turned formula driver.

The spec Ligier JS F3 chassis meets the most current global FIA safety specification, including the first North American application of a race car halo.

“I was surprised that once in the cockpit, the halo completely leaves the field of view, allowing me to focus ahead,” said Holbrook, a decorated American sports car driver and drag racer.

“[The F3 car] is challenging, yet the drivability and balance is fantastic. It’s relatively stiff and certainly rewards commitment. Coming from a long career in Honda Touring Cars, it takes some time to trust the downforce. One similarity though: Honda power. With more than 300hp, this turbo just builds and builds. It’s actually quite cool — you can hear the turbo build pressure and know exactly how much power is being delivered.

The Ligier JS F3 is powered by a 303hp Honda Performance Development version of the new Honda Civic Type R turbocharged K20C1 motor and runs on Hankook slicks.

“The Ligier JS F3 is crazy fast — very different than anything I’ve ever driven before,” said NASCAR standout Natalie Decker. “It has tons of grip and much better reaction. I really need to thank my sponsor N29, my family, Max from Ligier Automotive, and Momentum Motorsports for setting up the test and giving me seat time prior to the final selection for the W Series.”

More than 100 female drivers from a wide variety of racing disciplines on several continents started the W Series process. Fifty-five drivers were selected for the first three-day combine held in Austria where the roster was further whittled down to a 28-driver short list for the final evaluations.

The drivers who make the final cut in Spain will embark on a six-race May-Aug. series contested in Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy and the UK. The overall winner will receive $500,000 to advance her racing career.

“I’m doing everything I can to prepare for the W Series final qualifiers,” Holbrook continued, “and it would be pretty cool to do some F3 Americas racing, schedule permitting. I also want to thank Max Crawford, HPD, and Momentum Motorsports for help making this possible.”