Meet one of the world’s fastest female rally drivers

“I love driving a car as fast as possible on a closed road with no oncoming traffic or distractions – there’s no feeling quite like it!” Emma Gilmour, one of the world’s fastest female rally drivers, tells us.

“Add into the challenge of gravel and slippery surfaces and the feeling of dancing a car through acceleration and braking is unbeatable…”

New Zealand-born Emma Gilmour made her rally debut in 2002 at the Targa Bambina. Since then, she has been impressing with her skill and determination to take on some of the toughest rally stages in the world.

Through competing in FIA (the International Governing body for Motorsport) sanctioned events like the Asia Pacific Rally Championship, she has been able to net some excellent results while running her very own car dealership.

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Photo via Emma

In 2009, she finished second in the Asia Pacific Rally Championship and has been recognised as the ‘top female rally driver’ at World Rally Championship events.

“I started co-driving for my sister, and then I finally had a go at driving and was hooked,” she says.”I think people are still surprised when they find out my passion. I think it’s regarded as a dangerous sport, but the horse riding I did before motorsport is much more dangerous.

“Our cars are built very safe and we take a lot of safety precautions. Driving every day is probably more risky!”

Emma has lots of brilliant motorsport memories and she has so “too many great rallies to choose from”. However, the WRC Finland will always hold a place close to her heart for “it’s truly special because of the nature of the roads and the passionate spectators”.

She competed in the Finnish event in 2006, where her and Claire Mole won stages in the Ford Fiesta – it was also the first event that they had ever competed in together.

“It was a very special event and I really hope to compete there again in the future,” she says.

The rally driver also regards desert racing as a favourite of hers, especially competing in Qatar, a place far from her home on the other side of the world.

“Desert racing in Qatar is has to be a highlight,” she says. “It was hugely challenging and so different to what I normally do. I can’t not mention doing the X Games in America as part of the Red Bull Global Rallycross series as a fantastic moment too. It was also hugely special.”

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Credit: Phil Walter

But, like with all sports, rallying can have a downside too. The engineering that goes into the cars is complex and a simple fault can spell out disaster for a competitor.

“Having to rely on a mechanical object to show your true ability is tough,” she says. “It can be so heartbreaking to be having a great event and then for something to break on your car.”

Emma also points out that the smallest of mistakes can lead to big repercussions, as you can pay a “big price for making a tiny error”.

Aside from this, Emma is adamant that women can be as competitive as men when it comes to rallying – Emma herself is a great example of this. “We need more women starting out in motorsport,” she says.

Despite being in the rallying game for over a decade and a half, she’s certain that there’ll be lots more motorsport adventures to come.

“I still want to compete in the WRC again – ideally in an R5 car,” she says. “I know I am a much better driver than the last time I competed in the WRC.”

This year she has been one of only two women competing in the New Zealand Rally Championship, where she is currently sixth in the standings with one weekend to go.

We wish Emma the best of luck!

What it’s like to attend your first Formula 1 race

Since the age of just 10 I had endlessly dreamed of attending a Formula 1 race. I wanted to experience the sounds and smells first hand and, more than anything, I wanted to cheer on my heroes as they put everything on the line. 

This time last year, I was in the midst of experiencing the best weekend of my life. It was everything I had expected and more. Special. Something to cherish forever…

Monza is the temple of speed, the grand prix to attend if you’re looking for an electric atmosphere – fast corners, long straights, and the formidable Tifosi, it has it all.

A bold statement I’ll admit, but I am not exaggerating here. As an avid Formula 1 fan, it was everything I had ever hoped for and more. Even now I can’t stop smiling, reflecting on my time in Italy. Besides, it’s no secret that Monza was my first ever live grand prix. And what a weekend it was!

I attended with my dad – a lifelong F1 fan – on general admission tickets, and we based ourselves at the second Lesmo on the Saturday and Sunday. The views were better than I had expected, considering we hadn’t paid the extra for a grandstand seat.

Saturday morning came and we left our apartment near the city centre early – 0530 early – and already it was raining. The day was tough, but came with rewarding results.

The weather forecast said the rain would stop by mid-morning. Unfortunately, it didn’t. This resulted in very little on-track action and the Formula 1 qualifying being postponed continuously.

I was frustrated, and I couldn’t cover that up. I had been looking forward to the event for so long and was met with a torrential downpour which resulted in everyone being soaked through, with no race cars.

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Dad and I, absolutely frozen and just a tad damp

By half past three in the afternoon, the majority of people that were sat on our stand had packed up and gone home for the day. I was tempted too, but I hadn’t come all that way for nothing. I was going to stand with wet everything until a decision to delay qualifying until Sunday morning was made.

I am so happy that we stuck it out. Watching the cars run in the wet is something that will stick with me for a long time. The spray coming off of them was unbelievable – the skill those drivers have is undeniable. I was in awe. This is when the drivers earn their money.

So, as we stood in the now eased off rain, getting sprayed by Lewis Hamilton’s ferocious path, I was more content with the day had ended up. Having walked 10 miles that day, and now being the very proud owner of several blisters, I was very thankful when we reached the warmth of our apartment. But, rest assured, I was damn exciting to do it all again the next day. Just right after I’d had a pizza.

We were at the track by half past seven the next morning and already the queues to enter the gates were long. The atmosphere was fantastic, a sea of red waiting in line to access the autodrome. We got talking to a young couple from Ireland who were somewhat grand prix veterans (already). I was sad not to get their name as they were so friendly, making me excited for my race weekend adventures to come!

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Our stand early Sunday morning

At  0800 we were in our seats, to the left of the big TV screen at the second Lesmo. Again, the view was spectacular for the tickets we had. I was expecting to only get glimpses of the cars through the trees, but no. We had a view of the cars as they came out of the first Lesmo and down the straight and then the entrance to the second Lesmo.

The rest of the day was like a dream. A utopia.

The GP3 race was enthralling – I wasn’t expecting the cars to sound as good in person. Being a part of Dare To Be Different, it was wonderful to see fellow a member of Susie Wolff’s initiative –  Tatiana Calderon – have an excellent race.

The wait for Formula 2 zoomed past (pardon the pun). We chatted to a couple from the States who were also attending their first grand prix. With them was their five-year-old son who was absolutely dumbstruck at the racing cars. He especially liked the safety car which he called the saviour car. A year on and I’m still certain that the name could stick!

Alas, F2 was brilliant. My dad who hadn’t even followed it until now remarked upon how exciting te racing was. And that’s a fact you can’t deny – the racing the series provides in fantastic.

Thankfully, we weren’t the only ones watching. The crowds in the surrounding seating areas were beginning to get into it, which is good to see. By this point, the everywhere was rammed.

By the time the F1 came around, I was nervous. I was scared that I wouldn’t enjoy it as much as what I did watching it in my living room. What if I didn’t like it as much? What if this, what if that.

Now, I can’t believe for a second that I doubted myself.

The sounds and the smells, the vibrations and the atmosphere all left me tingling. I had a buzz inside of me; F1 is a part of me. I smiled throughout the whole race (except when Max Verstappen picked up a puncture in front of us) when I was, truthfully, lost for words.

They were my heroes pushing everything to the limit, right in front of me. I still regularly think about it now – the feeling of elation watching the battles unfold right in front of you. The exact sensation is hard to pinpoint, yet all I know is that you feel exhilarated.

I couldn’t believe it when the race came to an end. I struggled to process that 90 minutes had passed. Immediately, I wanted to rewind and watch it all again.

When we left our stand I was physically shaking. It was the adrenaline, all of the excitement I had been feeling. But, it wasn’t over.

 

We took advantage of the open track post-race and walked anti-clockwise back to the Parabolica. It was hot, sweaty, but I savoured every second and every step. The track itself was immensely busy with fans and it now had a carnival-like atmosphere. People played music, celebrated and took endless photos.

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Walking the track post-race

I left that track having covered 23 miles in two days. I had blisters on blisters, sunburn and hat hair, but I knew that I had just had the best 48-hours of my life. I said to my dad that I was emotional and he understood. He knows what a massive part of my life F1 is.

Being an avid fan that weekend was phenomenal. I cheered, I wore merchandise and never wanted the experience to end.

So, thank you F1 and thank you Monza. You have made a million memories that I’ll have forever more.

 

Claire Williams: “We’ll keep fighting until we get there”

Growing up, Claire Williams – deputy team principal of Williams Racing Formula 1 team –  spent her weekends knocking the pens from the stationery cupboard at the Williams factory, her father’s place of work. Her and her brother would swing from the chains suspended from the ceilings in the race bays, creating a zip wire from one end to the other. Little did she realise that she would be running the very same team a couple of decades later…

“My dad was very clear that nepotism wasn’t a word in his vocabulary,” Claire says, thinking back to her childhood. “I had no thoughts about even coming into Williams or Formula 1. It was very much my dad’s world and so my parents made that very clear to their children. It wasn’t on my radar that I would end up having a career in motorsport.”

Claire grew up in a world that was heavily orientated around Formula 1, with her father, Sir Frank Williams, being the owner of one of the most successful F1 teams in history. Subsequently, she grew up around the driver, although was still starstruck by Ayrton Senna.

“When I was in my teens, dad decided that I could choose one race a year to go to by myself with him, which was such a treat,” she says. “I chose Hungary and I’d gone into my dad’s room in the hotel one night to say goodnight to him. I was in my pajamas and Ayrton Senna was standing in the room.

“First off, I was horrified because I had a major crush on him. Secondly, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I rather embarrassedly said goodnight to my dad and scuttled off out. I’ve had a number of experiences fairly similar to that and I am very lucky to have grown up in the world that I have grown up in.”

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Claire and her father, Sir Frank Williams. Credit: RaceFans.net

After studying politics at university, Claire was stuck with what to do. A meeting with the CEO of Silverstone Circuit proved successful and Claire secured a job as a junior press officer. After a period there, she joined the Williams team where she has remained ever since. After managing the communications department, she has now been the deputy team principal since 2013.

In that time, the team has had its ups and downs and Claire isn’t afraid to talk about the situation that they’re in at that moment. She isn’t proud of it – that is evident – but she is optimistic that they will recover.

“I think people feel a state of shock as to what has happened and how and why it’s happened,” she says. “But, there is still a really strong fighting spirit within this team. We’re very lucky in that we’ve got some very clever and hard working individuals here, that all have that Williams spirit – continuing to fight and push, and not letting what is happening on the race track stop their hard work or downplay their determination to turn things around.

“We have to remember that yes we’re in a pretty terrible position right now, but last year we were fifth, the year before that fifth and before that we came third two years in a row. Sports teams go through troughs. If we allow ourselves the pity party of feeling sorry for ourselves, then we aren’t going to get out of this. We have to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and have an absolute focus and determination to resolve the situation that we’re in at the moment.”

Regardless of the results this season, Claire is adamant that the highs make all of the lows worthwhile. In 2014, the team had some of its best success in recent years, and finished third in the constructor’s standings.

“We did an enormous amount of work in 2013 when the team was in really bad shape to turn things around and we left no stone unturned to do it,” Claire says. “And that was my first year in that role, and for whatever reason, it all miraculously came to us. We were going to the podium regularly and celebrating, seeing Valtteri and Felipe up there and that was fantastic. We ended the season on the double points scoring race in Abu Dhabi, where we were still fighting with Ferrari for that third.”

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Claire signing autographs for fans

Claire was one of the team principals who voted in favour of the double points scoring system  at the last race of the season, a decision that fills her with mixed emotions.

“When I got on the plane, and for weeks before, I was like why on earth did I vote for that now that we’re in the situation?” she says. “If we weren’t in that situation, we would have taken P3 at the race prior to that one.”

“I remember the nerves, I remember feeling sick that we could lose this – P3 is a massive achievement from P9. It was a really big deal for us and we did it. It will only be usurped by a championship win, a race win as well, but that seems very far off these days. I try and keep that in my memory, so that it reminds me how success feels and why you need to keep working towards it.”

While the team aren’t where they’d like to be out on track, they are working hard to ensure that they are supporting females in motorsport.

“When I first started 16 years ago at Williams, there was only literally a handful of us,” Claire says. “Even in the jobs that are traditionally thought of as jobs for girls, a lot of blokes were doing them. Now, we have a hundred or so of our staff, which is a seventh of our team, as female. That’s a significant turn around in what’s been a very short period of time.”

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Credit: Motorsport.com

Williams run a number of successful apprenticeship schemes and placement opportunities, and last year, the number of female applications outweighed the number of male applicants they received.

“The only way to keep achieving that, and to keep inspiring those people, is to have role models across all different disciplines within Formula 1 and our team,” Claire says. “We have ambassadors within Williams that go out and talk to girls in school, secondary schools and in tertiary education to try and encourage them to take the STEM subjects required to go to university and then to take the engineering degrees. We take our role in that really seriously.

One of the initiatives that I’m involved in is Dare To Be Different, which is a fantastic campaign that Susie Wolff set up with the MSA. it specifically targets females and tries to inspire them to think about motorsport as a career. That’s important. We are seeing a lot of success from the initiative. A lot of girls are now seeing and thinking seriously about motorsport as a career.”

In 2014, D2BD founder Susie Wolff made history for Williams when she became the first female to participate in a grand prix weekend since 1992. This was a moment that filled Claire with pride, despite the criticism that the team had received for their decision.

“I actually shed a tear which is very unlike me; I felt really proud,” Claire says. “We had people suggesting that it was a marketing ploy. I’m very clear on that: motorsport is dangerous and we’ve lost drivers in this team. We take our driver safety extremely seriously. I would not put a driver in our race car that I didn’t feel was competent at driving it and driving it safely. That would just be lunacy.

“Women are risk averse, so I am the last person to make that kind of decision. I was enormously proud and I think that she did a fantastic job. Susie is a real trailblazer for women in motorsport.”

If the opportunity came up again for a woman to fill a Williams race seat, Claire “wouldn’t think twice if the woman had the track record”.

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Susie Wolff, Felipe Massa and Claire Williams. Credit Keith Barnes Photography

Ending on the future for the team, Claire knows the hard work required to get Williams back to their heydays.

“You don’t get to 10th in the championship without having a lot of issues to address,” she says. “We are slowly and methodically working through them to make sure that we repair the weaknesses that we have in the team. We still have huge ambitions within Formula 1. We have to get the team back to where we need it to be and where we want it to be – that’s winning races again and that’s not the work of a moment. We are all realistic.

“Formula 1 is a very different environment to even two to three years ago. It is very difficult to win these days. To get us back to that level underneath the top teams of Ferrari, Red Bull and Mercedes, that’s our ambition for the next two to three years. It’s going to be a hard piece of work to get us there. But we will, because we won’t give up. We’ll keep fighting until we do.”

Amna Al Qubaisi: “I feel so proud to be the first female driver from my country”

Written by Giulia Scalerandi

Amna Al Qubaisi. This name be beginning to sound familiar, for a number of reason.

Not only is the 18-year-old making a name for herself on the race track, but Amna holds the accolade of breaking down stereotypes as the first female competitive driver from the United Arab Emirates. 

Currently, Amna races in the prestigious Italian Formula 4 Championship for the prestigious Prema Powerteam. This is her first championship in racing cars after karting and she is already racking up impressive results.

At the latest round at the infamous Monza, Amna secured a P16 and a P17 after starting 27th on the grid in both races, showing her speed and ability to overtake.

Females in Motorsport caught up with her to see how she was fairing in her first season of cars and where her drive comes from.

Amna, how are you preparing for the rest of the season?

Unfortunately, I didn’t race at Paul Ricard, however I’m always ready. I do lots of training in the gym. Then there’s some testing at my home track (Yas Marina Circuit) to keep the rhythm and the feeling of the car fresh in my mind.

Before taking to the Italian F4 grid, Amna raced in the second round of the UAE X30 category Seniors and in the Dubai O-Plate category Shifters finishing in third and fifth position in the races.

The 2016/17 season saw Amna competing in various countries and in various categories of karting: Italy, Arab Emirates and Germany. Amna scored a spectacular podium in the 5th round of IAME X30 and in 11th round of UAE RMC in Yas Marina Northern Circuit. 

Back to cars, Andria was her first round competing in a single-seater.

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Credit: Prema

Adria was your first race in the Italian series. You had a 12th and a 16th place finish with over 26 cars on the grid, how did you find the weekend?

The race weekend was very good since I had the pace and I was forth in Rookies and second before I ran out into the run off area at a fast corner. However, I was on the podium too. It wasn’t expected, but Adria’s results gave me an extra boost, experience and confidence for the next one.

You come from karting: how it’s been difficult to drive a kart, then a racing car?

Comparing the kart to the car, it took me a while to adapt to the car, because it’s a whole new world. Moving up from karting to single seater is a natural shift in motorsport and I’m enjoying every moment behind the Formula 4 wheel.

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Credit: Prema

Why did you choose an Italian championship as your first car experience? You are driving for Prema PowerTeam: how did the agreement come about?

Choosing the Italian championship was a big decision, since it has the biggest grid, but it came naturally. Italian F4 visits some of the most prestigious circuits, so it’s brilliant to race there.

Abu Dhabi Racing and Kaspersky Lab have a long term partnership and I would like here to thank Kaspersky Lab for giving me the opportunity to make it from karting into Formula 4. Prema is the best team in the championship and I am so blessed and honored to have the chance to drive for the team.

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Credit: Prema

Although you’re the only girl in the championship, what is the relationship like with your male colleagues?

It’s quite normal to be fair and I haven’t been treated differently. We get along very well and I’ve got used to being the only girl in a race track.

You’re also the first female driver of your country: how do you feel about that?

It’s never happened before so I feel so proud and I’m completely satisfied and happy to make this step as the first and hopefully not the last.

Where does your passion for racing come from?

It’s all come from my dad, supporting him in his races, hearing him talk about different race tracks around the globe and meeting different drivers was a complete awe inspiring to me. Now I live and breathe it!

Final question for you, what is the goal for this season?

The goal is to always keep the pace since it’s my first time and to always finish in a good position.

Suzi Perry: “You can be saying hello and welcome and the whole show changes in your ear”

“I’ve loved motorsport since I was a child,” says Suzi Perry, reminiscing on how her passion first evolved. “It was always on at the weekends at home and I loved it. The passion for getting involved came in my early twenties when I took my bike license and my friends at the time were all bikers.”

Suzi Perry is a household name as far as presenting motorsports go. Her impeccable knowledge and love for all things two and four wheeled has enabled her to work in the MotoGP and Formula 1 paddocks for well over a decade.

“We used to go to British Superbike races and we used to watch it obsessively on TV,” she says. “It became ‘why don’t we do this’ and ‘why don’t we do that ‘and my friends would say ‘why don’t you go on television and do it yourself!’.”

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Photograph credit: SuziPerry.com

And that is how it happened. Having discovered this immense love, Suzi acted on it and made a phone call of a lifetime. “I called Sky, who at the time had the rights to the World Superbike Championship,” she says. “I called them for a chat, ended up going in and walked out with a reporter’s job in 1997. It was an extraordinary start to a career!”

Like anyone who has landed their dream job, Suzi remembers the immense feeling of joy and excitement.

“I remember walking out of the Sky offices in Middlesex and I just couldn’t wait to get on the phone and ring my parents,” she says. “I was beside myself with ecstasy. I just couldn’t believe that they’d offered me a job and that I would be working with bikes and on television. It was like someone had just told me that I’d won the lottery, but it was better than that. It’s gone on for 22 plus years.”

Since then, Suzi’s career has gone from strength to strength and even meant her hosting the most popular motorsport in the world for BBC 1.

“The moment I got a call asking me to do F1 was another defining moment,” she says. “It’s an enduring love that will never go away. It’s hard work, bloody hard work, but I love it. A lot of energy and work goes into a broadcast, despite talking about something you love.”

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Suzi with Eddie Jordan and David Coulthard, her two co-presenters for BBC F1. Photo credit: BBC

Although Suzi has worked in motorsport for over 22 years, the rush of excitement never disappears and that is the “beauty of live sport”, according to the presenter .

“It’s a combination of, I wouldn’t say nerves because I’ve done it for a long time, but there’s certainly excitement before and few deep breaths before the ‘hello and welcome’,” she says. “It’s great to have that buzz. I never turn up thinking ‘oh gosh, here we go again’. It’s always my life.”

One of the highlights for Suzi now is presenting with friends, which is a dream scenario for most people

“I’m at a stage where I’m working with my friends, the guys that I interviewed twenty years ago,” she says. “It’s heaven, it really is. No one has an agenda. I can honestly say that I’m in a team that pulls together, instead of one that pulls apart.”

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Photograph credit: Peter Fox

But, of course, there is always the tricky moments live on air. As Suzi explains, live broadcasts rarely run as planned despite rehearsal.

“You can be saying hello and welcome and the whole show changes in your ear,” she says. “Sometimes you haven’t even got to the end of your sentence and something has happened. That’s the beauty of live sport.”

Suzi compares her job to news broadcasting, because of its ever changing nature: “There’s nothing like doing live sport, except, now this might sound strange, but news broadcasting. You have to be instinctive and have your wits completely about you and be a hundred percent. You try to be completely switched on all of the time when you’re broadcasting because anything can happen.”

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Photograph credit: Mike Lawn

One of the most spectacular MotoGP races to date was in Argentina which took place in April. Although Suzi wasn’t there that weekend, she watched it unfold on television. Races this that are the ones where you bring all of your previous knowledge together to make a seamless broadcast for the viewers at home.

“It was something you don’t see very often, so you have to pull on all of your knowledge and wisdom,” she says. “As a presenter it’s not your job to give opinion, it’s your job to ask the right questions to your experts who are standing next to you. In some ways, it doesn’t matter what you feel, you just have to contain the passion in those situations and ask the right questions. That can be tricky sometimes, but when you’re surrounded by the right people, it’s good. It’s a wonderful job and I love it, but there are times when it’s quite difficult. “

Charlotte Phelps: Behind the scenes with an F1 engineer

Deciding what career path to take can be tricky, especially when there are so many roles out there to choose from. At Females in Motorsport, we’ve decided to showcase as many different careers as possible, to help you decide where you want to go in the future.

For this feature, we spoke to Charlotte Phelps, a graduate Electronic Engineer with Mercedes AMG High Performance Powertrains. Charlotte is the first female ever employed by Mercedes HPP in her department, but that doesn’t stop her from thriving!

Can you describe your role?

Charlotte: I’m a graduate Electronic Engineer with Mercedes AMG High Performance Powertrains, working on the design, manufacture and test of the Mercedes F1 Hybrid System. As part of their graduate programme I will rotate through the various departments in the company, getting to experience every aspect of the engineering product chain – from design through to testing, as well as working with colleagues to solve any problems encountered trackside. This rotation enables me to find the place in the company most suited to my skill set, as well as where I most enjoy working. This gives me the chance to experience areas of engineering that I may not have had chance to experience as part of my university degree, but may excel at and enjoy.

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Charlotte at a BWRDC event

What was the path you took to get you where you are?

Initially, I never wanted to be an engineer. Coming from a family of engineers, I decided that I didn’t want to be like my parents and wanted to do something different. I hated maths at the age of 14, and vowed that I would never carry it on past GCSE. But with encouragement from both my mother and my teachers at school, I learned to love it, and found that actually it was a strength of mine. At A level I did Maths, Further Maths and Physics, leading me to conclude that engineering was probably the only realistic path.  This led me to York University, the only university in the country to offer and Electronic Engineering degree with Music Technology.

Once there I discovered an interest in the application of musical theories to other industries, resulting in me carrying out an industrial placement year here at Mercedes AMG HPP, in the hope of one day applying that interest to my other passion, motorsport. As a Speed Racer myself and, having helped to both build and prepare previous race cars with my father and brother, this seemed like an ideal solution. Once I completed my year in industry I was lucky enough to be offered a place on their graduate program upon my graduation.

Where do you see yourself in ten years’ time? Is this your dream job?

I am still very early in my career, with much to learn and experience. In 10 years, I would hope to still be working in motorsport, and as an engineer, but in what capacity I could not say. I’ve only really been in the real world for 6 months, and that seems far too soon to tie myself down to something specific, in a vast industry with so much to offer, much of which has not even been thought of yet!

Have you always had a passion for motorsport? Where did your love for it come from?

I have always had an interest in cars and motorsport, growing up with a father and brother like mine. When I was nine years old, the first kit car chassis appeared in the garage, ready to be built into a full car. When I was around 14, my brother and father began competing in speed events. At that age I was an avid dancer, attending theatre school every Saturday, but would still go to events with them whenever I could. When I was 17, I joined them on the race track, starting in a Fiat 500, and winning my first championship at the age of 18.

At 19 I stepped up to a Aries Locost, winning two more consecutive championships, before proceeding to a bike engined Westfield Megabusa for the 2016 season. This Westfield is the car that I continue to compete in, having just had a new, more powerful engine for the 2018 season! Maintaining and preparing these cars is a family affair, and motorsport is very much the main focus of my life.

In 2016 I became a member of the British Women Racing Drivers Club (BWRDC), and in 2017 joined their committee. This club aims to promote and encourage all women currently involved in motorsport, as well as provide role models for women and girls looking to enter the sport. This has fuelled my passion for motorsport even more, as a way of empowering young people and providing a place for them to share their passions with like-minded souls.

How many girls are in your department, what about on your uni course?

I was the first woman to be employed in the Electronic Engineering team at Mercedes AMG HPP, and the only female graduate from this year’s intake and in total less than 10% of the workforce is female.  

My university course was a little unique when it comes to women in engineering, as the music technology side of the course perhaps provided a little more appeal to the girls. There were, I think, around 30 girls who started with me, out of a cohort of around 200, and about half of those were on the Music Technology stream. This is still a depressingly small number of female students in a relatively large cohort, around 15%.

Is that number increasing?

When I discuss these numbers with my mother, who is an electronic engineer herself, we realise that actually these figures have changed very little in the last 30 years. However, there is much more being done in recent years to try and encourage girls and young women into this industry. For example the growth of the STEM ambassadors group, as well as the creation of Dare to be Different and the development of science fairs and shows such as ‘The Big Bang Fair’. Hopefully in the years to come we will see girls more confident to enter the world of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths, without the constraint of societal norms.

Do your female colleagues know of organisations and groups they can join such as those you are a part of?

I think most women are aware of the professional institutions, such as the IET and the IMechE, with most engineers being a member of the appropriate institution. But there are other organisations, such as Women’s Engineering Society and STEM Ambassadors that some people may not be aware of. These societies work to both support the female engineers in industry, and encourage and inspire the next generation of engineers.
How has being a part of these groups helped you?

I do feel these organisations could be doing more to support women in a male dominated industry, and help them to maintain their self-confidence in an environment which is often tough and disparaging for women in its current state. The Women’s Engineering Society aims to help in this, but if the environment is to change, the men need to change more than the women do!

STEM ambassadors aim to go into schools and promote science and engineering to young children, but I think more needs to be done by society in general to remove the attitude that female engineers are special or different, and should instead promote the idea of anyone carrying out whatever occupation they wish.

I think groups, such as the BWRDC, are doing a lot to change people’s perception of women in motorsport, by showing that we’re not special or different; we are simply doing what we enjoy the same as any man would, and competing on an equal footing both in work and in racing.

What piece of advice would you give to your younger self?

I would say don’t worry so much about what people think of you. If you are doing what makes you happy, then you will find friends who share your passions and who you can enjoy those passions with. People who do not allow you to be happy doing what you love, are not worth your time.

 

Flick Haigh: “When you put the helmet on there is no difference between men and women”

Flick Haigh made headlines recently when she became the first woman to win an outright British GT race. Her success in the first round at Oulton Park proved significant for the 31-year-old who started racing by sheer chance 11 years earlier. The rising star has a degree in International Equine and Agricultural Business Management but one thing is clear: her heart lies with competing and, more importantly, racing.

We caught up with her fresh from her amazing win to see what she had to say. One thing was for certain – Flick was still in shock!

“I’m just amazed,” says Flick. “It wasn’t expected. I was very proud of the team. I’ve worked with Optimum Motorsport for four years now and the last two years with the Audi was failure after failure, either the car or driver error or something went wrong. You feel for the guys who put in all of that time and effort when you don’t get a reward for it, so to win, I was just pleased for everyone involved.”

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Number 1! Credit: Jakob Ebrey Photography

The win came after securing pole position, which came as a surprise also. Flick said that she was “sat in her room, telling herself not to lose her head”.

Going into the first round of the season, Flick and her team-mate Jonny Adam had limited testing and so had no idea where their pace would be compared to the rest of the field. “We didn’t do media day and we haven’t done tests with any of the other competitors,” says Flick. “Therefore, we didn’t really know where we were in the field going into the first weekend.”

“It was a shock as, although I thought that we would be competitive, I didn’t think that we would come out with the result that we did. It wasn’t expected – we just prepared as much as we could have done. To have turned up and be where we were – amazing.”

Flick has had successful campaigns in a number of championships, including long endurance races like the Dubai 24 Hours and Mugello 12 Hours but she insists that British GT is more demanding for different reasons.

The series takes place at race tracks across the UK and heads across to the world-famous Spa-Francorchamps in August before returning for the closing rounds.

“I did two years previously in an Audi, but I had actually struggled in that car,” Flick tells us. “I could never really get the results that we should have done. The team struggled with the set up and it wasn’t great in the wet. We just had lots of issues so from that experience, I was thinking that it could be a two year thing to get to know the car and to get everything to where we want it to be.”

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Credit: Flick Haigh

After the win, Flick even had to seek advice from her team-mate Jonny Adam on how to use social media: “I had to text Jonny on Tuesday – he’d asked me to tag all of these people in a photo but I didn’t know how to do it! I’ve only ever retweeted things so it’s been interesting to see that social media comes with the package of racing.”

When thinking ahead to the next rounds, Flick knows that it’s important to take each race as it comes. She was eager to describe the challenges of British GT, having only driven her current championship car a handful of times before their first win. As if that wasn’t already demanding enough, Flick pointed out that there is a huge difference between the type of mental strength needed for long endurance racing, and for the shorter races that she’s competed in, like British GT.

“The hardest thing is to maintain your focus in a British GT race,” she says. “In a 24 hour race, you can kind of just sit there putting 80 percent in because you’re sitting comfortably and it’s just about maintaining that and that’s fine. The hardest thing in British GT will be to keep putting in excellent lap times while the tyres are going off and not losing positions because of that. Jonny said that at Rockingham it’ll all be about managing tyres and he is completely right,” she adds.

With that in mind, Flick is going to the Rockingham rounds next weekend with an open mind, yet still with one eye on the prize.

“At Rockingham we will start with a clean slate and we’ll just put the same effort in: all the prep work and simulator work that Johnny and I have done, the gym, training…we’ll just do everything the same and hopefully we’ll get more success,” says Flick. “It’s not an easy championship to walk into and just get pole position and win every weekend. You have to focus entirely.”

“I’m putting in some extra simulator sessions with Jonny as I haven’t raced in the UK for four years and don’t really know Rockingham as well. I’m having to remind myself of all the braking points as I haven’t done many at all in a GT3 car. Rockingham is renowned for tyre degradation, so managing tyres over the two hour race will be vital. We’ve had a test day where we did long runs so I could get used to the car and how it felt at the end of the stint, as it feels very different.”
As mentioned, Flick’s recent success makes her the only woman to have ever won a GT3 class race. Jamie Chadwick is the only other female to have won in the series, although she was competing in a GT4 car.  

Flick’s success meant that she and Jonny crossed the line first overall. But, does being the only woman in the series, let alone a clear minority in the paddock, impact Flick? No, she says. As far as she is concerned she is “just the same”.

“Even when I started 11 years ago, I’ve always felt like just a driver – not a woman or whatever,” says Flick. “When you put the helmet on, there is no difference. It’s not strength related; it isn’t a contact sport. Motorsport is all mental.” 

“If you have the right mentality when you get in the car, that’s what wins you races. It’s nothing to do with gender; it’s all to do with mindset. I’ve never been treated any differently and I’ve never had anyone say anything derogatory. I don’t know if I’ve just been lucky, but I’ve always felt accepted.”

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Flick racing her Caterham Credit: Flick Haigh

Flick does however wish that she had found racing at a younger age. The Caterham. Champion longs to have jumped in a go-kart at the age of six or seven, like most racing drivers do. But, we feel that the limited racing experience just makes Flick’s talent even more special.

“Just go for it if you want to race,” says Flick. “If anyone is in doubt about whether they should go for it or not, just do it. I wish that I had started karting a six years old. I wasn’t aware of it and my family weren’t into motorsport.

“It just shows you that you can start whenever. There is no time limit and there’s no restrictions. You should just go and do what you want to do – go to circuits and meet teams and speak to people. There’s so many different avenues to get into it. Caterham is a great place to start.”