Alexandra Legouix: “it’s just a case of knocking on millions of doors, one will open with hard work”

Many people grow up dreaming of working in motorsport, hoping one day to make it to whatever their desired series may be. However, for some, they fall into the sport through other career paths. Alexandra Legouix never intended to work in racing, but now wouldn’t change it for the world. She herself says working in the sport is “pure fluke” so I spoke to her about her career and her interests outside of motorsport.

Having grown up watching F1 and preferring to play with cars over barbies, Alexandra always had an interest in the sport, but never to the extent that she would class herself as a fan. “I also grew up riding horses and competed to a professional level in show jumping and I was a performer. Until I got to 18 and became more interested in boys and going out, I just assumed I would always be a professional horse rider or West end star,” she said. Although now motorsport is a passion of Legouix’s, as she said there was no intention to work in the industry, with her saying: “I never imagined a career in it or an involvement that extended further than a Sunday snoozy F1 watch, so it is fairly random to be so heavily involved now.”

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credit: @Legouix

However, her first presenting role came in an industry that is very different to her role now. “I had a phone call from Liz Fuller who owned the Miss Great Britain franchise. She had called and asked me to enter the pageant in the past but I had declined as that had never been my cup of tea,” Alexandra said. Though this wasn’t the nature of the call with Fuller actually offering her the opportunity to host the final of Miss Great Britain to be broadcast on TV. She accepted, despite having no presenting experience and so her career started. A year later, McLaren’s technology centre was looking for a presenter for their tours and Q&A sessions. “I auditioned and got the job,” she said. There was a lot of learning for her to do, which prepared her for future roles, as she had to learn everything from the carbon fibre process, to gear boxes and wind tunnels. “The people I was presenting to were mostly stereotypical motorsport chauvinist types who hated the fact I was a woman educating them and so I was grilled on a daily basis,” Legouix explained, meaning she had to know incredible amounts of detail, in order to prove to people she could do the job.

Whilst working at McLaren, she produced and wrote a documentary showing what it takes to be a professional driver. After speaking to people such as Rob Collard, Andy Neate and Tom Onslow Cole for the project, she had learnt a lot about the World Touring Car Championship, which came in very handy for her next role. At the end of 2013, following stints in several UK club championships and World RallyCross, she approached the Head of Production for WTCC, who were conveniently looking for a presenter. She jumped at the chance and began presenting the championship.

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credit: LAT IMAGES

She first watched F1 as a child, and has worked in the series a little, though her other commitments limit this. She has previously presented the driver’s parade, as well as coverage on the big screens around the circuit. “Calendar clashes cut out my F1 fun this year sadly but I’ll go and watch a couple of races. It’s a fascinating paddock and an entirely different world to WTCR. I enjoy it when I work in it so if the opportunity arose then I wouldn’t turn it down,” Alexandra described. But she has managed to do a few related events in the recent years, having worked with both Formula Student and F1 eSports. “Formula student is fantastic, I love working on that. The talent of the students is insane and the machines they create are so impressive. It’s great to meet the engineers of the future. F1 eSports was another great experience. Again, the talent of the racers is remarkable and the whole concept is good,” she told me.

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credit: @Legouix

This year, she will be working in the World Rally Championship for the first time and is already enjoying it, with her saying: “It’s a whole different world in every way to anything I’ve done. The job itself is very different as I act as anchor of the live show so I’m not running around the Service Park interviewing, but the team and my co-hosts are a lot of fun. I don’t claim to be an expert in rally at all so I had an awful lot to learn and am still learning each time. I love it so far and cannot quite get my head around the courage of the competitors.”

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Although motorsport hugely dominates her time, Alexandra also has several areas she enjoys working in outside of sport. Her original aim was to work in the West-End, and music is still a massive part of her life. “I probably sang before I could speak and danced before I could walk,” Legouix explained. “Music is one of my biggest passions and it dramatically affects my mood. I perform with my band ‘Al and the Sunflowers’ and only wish I had a little more time to do gigs these days.” She also presents festivals and shows of varying genres allowing her to get close to fans and what they are passionate about. “You can’t beat the energy and atmosphere of a music festival so that is always great to be part of,” she said, “The boat shows are always great fun. The pet shows are the cutest things ever, and I enjoy motor festivals because you get to meet so many passionate petrol heads.”

Alexandra Legouix’s route to working in motorsport was by no means conventional. Intending to work in the entertainment industry, her first role came by chance with an events company, and she’s been hooked on the sport ever since. Although many people use social media as a pathway, for Legouix this doesn’t hold a huge appeal. “I feel that the vlogger world is saturated now so it’s hard to make an impact and very tough to make a living that way. I think from a TV presenter angle you still cannot beat a more conventional route of contacting the production company involved in whichever championship and sending in a showreel proving your worth, passion and knowledge. Then it’s just a case of knocking on millions of doors, one will open with hard work,” she explained. Her interests outside of motorsport have been pushed aside, but this year she is determined to sing more, write more and race more.

(heading photo credit: @worldxseries)

Amy Dargan: “Sport for me, is everything that I really like about life”

With a worldwide fanbase, motorsport is one of the most popular areas of sport. However, it is more than just cars, with several forms of motorbike racing being just as popular as the famous car racing series. Amy Dargan has been a reporter in the Motocross World Championship, Speedway and MotoGP, so we spoke to her about working with bikes and how a young girl from a football household became one of the go-to presenters in MotoGP broadcasting.

Sport was always popular in Amy’s family, but her love of motorcycle racing came from a friend. “My passion for bikes came from my friend’s dad. He owned a tyre garage in Nottingham and he was really into it. He had 2 Hondas in his garage and would watch the World Super Bike Championship, MotoGP and British Super Bikes. That was really where my first contact came with motorbikes,” she told us. However, her first contact in-person with any of these championships came when she was in her late teens, and in order to get closer to the sport, she became a grid girl. “I decided the best thing for me to do was work around it and try and get involved. I was getting to meet the right people, and it was an opportunity to be where I wanted to be in the end,” Dargan said.

IMG_3447Amy went on to study Broadcast Journalism at university, with a particular interest in sport’s journalism, citing Suzi Perry as an idol of hers at the time. “Suzi Perry was a big inspiration of mine. When I was younger I thought she was really cool, she knew exactly what she was talking about, and just the way she carried herself,” she explained of her fellow MotoGP presenter.

Following her studies Dargan continued to work as a grid girl, and her first proper role in the sport actually came through this. “My first job came off the back of one of the companies I used to grid girl for, Monster Energy. Their main series was the World Motocross Championship, where I was working as a ‘Monster Girl’ and the woman who did the reporting moved to the US. It was all quite last-minute and they found themselves without a reporter and about 1 month to go until the start of the season. It was suggested that they should consider me because I had a broadcast journalism degree and that was what I was looking to go into. I knew the series and the riders and that’s how it all started really,” Amy explained.

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After 3 years working in Motocross, in 2014 Dargan began working in MotoGP. This year she will cover MotoGP solely and will no longer work with Speedway after covering the series for the 2017 season. “Last year I was doing Speedway and MotoGP. I had a pretty hectic schedule, but this year I’ve got some breathing space and can focus on MotoGP. When I’m there, my role is reporting for FoxSports, and also for MotoGP’s rights holders, Dorna, so I get the rider interviews after the sessions, film features and on a race day I do a preview of what to expect,” Amy told us. An important part of her role is ensuring there is a relationship and trust between herself and the riders as this allows her to do her job to the best of her ability. “I think the important thing is I always try and be as empathetic as I can be, and the best way to do that is to put yourself in their shoes,” Dargan said, “normally if you show empathy, and you both celebrate and commiserate with them, that gets you on side with them. They know we’re not trying to set them up and that our job is to get the information from them, but I don’t think you can build relationships with the riders if they think you’re trying to lead them down a path to say something.”

Amy will this year go into her 4th season of MotoGP and she’s still fulfilling a dream working with one of the riders. “One of my main targets was that I just wanted to get a job in MotoGP before Valentino Rossi retired. If he had and I hadn’t managed to interview him, I would’ve been so disappointed,” she said. But one of her favourite interviews has been with another motorsport figure, this time from 4 wheels. “I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing Mark Webber twice now when he’s come to MotoGP. I watch Formula One and he was always someone that I really liked. He’s got a fantastic personality, and it’s fantastic that he’s into bikes,” Amy added.

IMG_3603Having originally grown up in a football household and her starting aim being to work in football journalism, Dargan would still like to work in other sports. “If I carry on working in MotoGP until I retire, I’ll be happy because I absolutely love it. It almost feels like it’s a part of me now. I would also really love the opportunity to cover different sports like the winter Olympics. Sport for me, is everything that I really like about life. I really like celebrating other people’s triumphs, and also then when you see the raw human emotion. I just love sport in general,” Amy told us.

Having studied Broadcast Journalism at university and being involved in motorsport even before her studies, it was always clear for Amy Dargan which direction she wanted to go in. Despite the recent debate over the use of grid girls in motorsport, it is unlikely Amy would be in the job she has now without having done this role initially which helped her to meet the right people. “I would say get in there any way you can and just be around the sport,” Dargan said of the advice she would offer those wanting to work in the industry. “It’s always best to have a good idea of what area you think you might like to have a go at. There’s so many roles from marketing to data analysts and engineers, all the hospitality crew, it’s a massive industry with so many different opportunities.” This year, Amy’s full focus will be on MotoGP so the features and interviews she will work on this year will surely be bigger and better than ever before.

(all photo credits: Amy Dargan)

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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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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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. “

Ellie McLaren: “I remember telling my Dad that I’d be one of those people that wore overalls in the pit lane”

Behind the scenes of every Formula One team there are hundreds of employees working night and day to ensure their team perform to their greatest potential. Even once the season begins, there is no rest for those back at the factory who are continuously working on new updates and developments to improve their team’s cars, and therefore their chances of podium and points finishes. Ellie McLaren is a Production Planner at Renault Sport F1 and having worked for Force India has a lot of experience in the paddock, so I spoke to her about working in F1 and how she started working at Enstone.

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Having loved motorsport as a child, Ellie even raced, following in the footsteps of other members of her family. “When I was 11 years old I started racing a Short Oval Junior Rod, following my brothers, father and grandad. I grew up around race cars and most weekends were spent at a race track. I remember telling my Dad that one day I’d be one of those people that wore overalls in the pit lane when watching an F1 race one Sunday afternoon,” McLaren told me. Although the sport had been part of her life for a long time and having always said she would work in it, it wasn’t until her early teens that she actually decided how she planned to do this. “I wanted to be a vet until I found out that motorsport college was an actual thing! I googled ‘Motorsport College’ for fun and I found Oxford and Cherwell Valley college in Bicester, Oxfordshire. I showed my parents and at first, they weren’t keen on the idea of me being so far away, but nevertheless my mum took me to an open day and I started in September 2009,” she said.

After studying for a BTEC National Diploma in Motorsport, and failing to find an apprenticeship in F1, she decided to begin a Foundation Degree in Motorsport at Oxford Brookes University. In her first year she needed to complete 40 hours in a work placement and after contacting many teams, managed to secure work at Sahara Force India. “It was a great experience,” Ellie explained, “I worked in various departments learning about the different procedures. In June 2012, I applied for a Trainee Composite Technician role that became available at the team and I got the job! I chose to leave university and start a full time working career at Force India.” McLaren spent 5 years working with the team, graduating from Trainee Composite Technician to Race Team Composite Support and spending over a year travelling the world with the team. “I travelled for 18 months, visited several races and finally got to wear my overalls in the pit lane! This was a proud moment for me, I’d achieved everything I wanted,” Ellie described.

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Wanting to progress further in her career, McLaren left Force India to join Lotus F1. Although the they were struggling financially at the time, she still decided to take a chance on the team. “In September 2015 I became a Production Planner. It was more responsibility and I felt there could be more opportunities for me to progress my career here. This all paid off in January 2016 when it was announced Renault were going to take over and we would become a works team,” Ellie told me.

“I am responsible for planning the manufacturing schedules for new design releases for the car. My main areas of focus are the front and rear brake drums, the fuel system, the hydraulic system and the engine and exhausts. I process a new drawing and progress that part to ensure build and development targets are reached. I enjoy working to tight deadlines and its rewarding when new parts get to the circuit on time. After an event, I manage the turnaround for my parts, brake drums will need repairing or replacing so orders need to be raised and any race team usages will need to be actioned to ensure they aren’t short for the next event. Every day brings a new challenge and that’s what I enjoy.”

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McLaren’s role no longer allows her to travel with the team, however she hopes this will change saying: “my role as a planner is completely factory based, however I have recently started my engineering degree again so there may be more opportunities in the future.” But for the moment, Ellie’s role as a Production Planner means she is based in Enstone with the off-season being her busiest time of year. “Car build is the busiest period in the whole F1 calendar! My working hours can be demanding and the number of new drawing releases and orders can double in comparison with during the season. The deadlines become harder to achieve, but when the car performs well in winter testing and reaches the track in Australia it makes it all worth it,” Ellie explained.

But as she says, when the team is successful it makes the hard work worthwhile, and during her time at Force India they had a fair amount of success, achieving multiple podiums. “Bahrain 2014 (was my best moment). It was my second race with Force India so still very exciting. Sergio Perez finished the race in 3rd place and the whole experience was so surreal! I can’t explain how happy and proud I was of everyone in the team. Being under the podium having a driver wave and thank you all was something I’ll never forget,” she described.

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Having worked for several years in F1, never giving up is what Ellie believes has helped her to reach her dream roles. “It was a big decision to leave home at a young age and progress to working in a male orientated industry but I don’t regret it at all,” McLaren explained, “some days were difficult but you have enough good days to outweigh this. I don’t get treated any differently to anybody else and feel very well respected in my job.” Having left Force India for Renault, wanting to continue progressing in her career, it is clear that Ellie McLaren has a hunger to get better and improve. She has now returned to her university studies with the aim of completing the engineering degree she left behind when joining Force India, so who knows which job she may end up doing in the future?

So you want be be an 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.

 

Lydia Walmsley: “gender doesn’t categorise you into good or bad”

Karting has always been a popular hobby amongst young boys, but there is a growing number of young girls also taking up the sport and being extremely successful. Among this new wave of female talent is 16-year-old Lydia Walmsley. 2018 will see her graduate to competing in an adult formula for the first time, so we spoke to her about her past successes and hopes for the future.

As with many young people who race, often their love of the sport comes from a member of their family. “My dad successfully raced for many years which meant I was always around a race track,” she said. “I started showing an interest so he popped me in a bambino kart at 7 years old and that’s where it all began.” Her first karting session in this particular kart came at Buckmore Park in Kent where the likes of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button also started their careers. The fact that these British legends also began at the same track, was very exciting for Lydia with her saying: “it was special for me to begin my journey at Buckmore because Lewis and Jenson all kicked off their careers there too!”

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However, it wasn’t until a few years later that Walmsley decided she wanted karting to be more than a hobby. “I competed at Anglia Indoor Kart Centre and our local outdoor track, Ellough Park in corporate racing but it became more serious on Christmas Day 2011 when I received my very own cadet kart,” Lydia told us. That’s not to say she hadn’t been competing before this though, having finished second in her first year. “My first trophy was as vice champion for my first year of racing – losing the championship by a single point at 8 years old! I stood on the podium and puffed my chest out surrounded by much bigger boys – that’s when I truly got the bug,” she explained of her early success.

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We are all aware of the dangers posed when racing in championships such as Formula One and its feeder series’, but karting also has its risks, something Walmsley is well aware of. She broke her leg during a race leading to many months sat track-side, but that didn’t discourage her from pursuing her dream. “I was a little apprehensive to step back into the kart again. It was difficult for me because I had been out for so long due to complications with my broken leg and then having surgery on my eye to remove pieces of rubber from the tyre wall which were imbedded upon impact,” she described. Though it didn’t take long for the nerves to disappear and the adrenalin involved in racing to return, with Lydia saying: “after a few laps, I was back to enjoying the thrill of karting again!”

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Walmsley has had her fair share of success winning both the Minimax and Junior Rotax Championships. “I was the Minimax Champion so it was a natural progression to compete in the Junior Rotax championship,” she said, “however, this meant I would be racing against people who were a lot older than me. The step from a Minimax engine to a Junior Rotax engine is quite large and everyone told me it would take me at least a year until I was up to speed. Despite this, I qualified second on the grid on the first race meeting!” Lydia then went on to win the Championship in her first season, making her Champion in consecutive seasons.

This year will be a new experience for Lydia as she will be competing in an adult formula for the first time when she drives in the Mini Challenge. “I am really excited to race this year! I know I will be one of the youngest on the grid as I have only just turned 16. Obviously, most of my competitors will have a lot more experience in car racing than me, but why should that be a problem? Age is just a number – it’s about who’s fastest that really matters! I know with my fantastic team and my sponsors behind me, we can do really well this year,” Walmsley explained. Although immediate success won’t be expected of her, Lydia is keen to start as she means to go on and impress those more experienced in the category.

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To reach her dream series, Walmsley will have to continue her previous success. Speaking of her desired championship, she said: “I would love to make it to the British Touring Car Championship! I have watched the races since I was very young and have always liked the competitiveness of it. I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to attend the BTCC Snetterton race meeting last year in the hospitality of Laser Tools Racing and Aiden Moffat. It was an amazing experience with a fantastic atmosphere – it made me realise how much I wanted to get to the top!” She is well aware that it will not be easy, but it is clear that she has the determination and fight to try and reach her goals.

Despite her aiming to race touring cars, Lydia’s racing role model would be a driver from a very different series. “I feel Jenson Button is very professional and positive in whatever situation he’s in and conducts himself well, both on and off the track,” she told us. “I think he’s a great role model for anyone in motorsport,” Walmsley said of the former British F1 World Champion. Although still early in her career, Lydia has had to overcome many challenges and so is looked up to by many of the younger drivers and racers she knows. Her advice for them would be: “don’t worry about being in a sport which is predominantly male because gender doesn’t categorise you into ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Get to your local track and have a go!”

Having had success in several categories at an early age, it is clear Lydia Walmsley has immense talent. However, this season will be very telling for the young racer as she will compete in an adult series for the first time. She won’t be expected to have the immediate success she has had previously, but this will mean she goes into the season with little expectation on her shoulders, allowing her to concentrate on her own race, and possibly surprise everyone.

(all photo credits: Lydia Walmsley)

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.”