As part of a series of interviews leading up to and following on from International Women’s Day, we spoke to Simona de Silvestro about her 2020 season and her plans for the coming year. This is the second part of that two-part interview.
Of particular note in 2021 is de Silvestro’s return to the Indy500, this time as part of an all-female team run by Beth Paretta and backed by Roger Penske.
“For her to choose me, and especially with Roger Penske behind it, for me it’s a big honour,” she said. “Hopefully we can fill as many positions as we can with talented females.
“The 500 is really special to my heart. It really made me as a racing driver and really put me on the map, so I’m pretty happy to come back and I really can’t wait to get back behind the wheel of an IndyCar. I’m stoked about it.”
When asked if the team had any long-term ambitions, de Silvestro said, “From the team’s perspective I think that’s the plan. I think they are going to plan to be full-time on the grid next year. For me personally I’m pretty lucky to be in the position that I’m in – I’m works driver for Porsche and them letting me to the 500 is pretty cool.
“But I think that’s the goal for Beth, to grow this team. I think that she has the right tools to do it, and she’s the right person for it as well, so I think it’s quite exciting and I’m excited to be part of it from the beginning, [knowing] that the first time this team turns a wheel at the 500 I’ll be [driving]’.
De Silvestro said the team’s decision to integrate women into all aspects of the team and not just the driver line-up was “important”, and that she thinks “with the team really pushing this, hopefully we will get a lot of young talented women coming in, and hopefully the other teams will maybe steal them from us.
“If you look at my career insights, I’ve been doing racing for a long time and it feels like now these opportunities are coming in with the right people around us. We have really great guidance with Team Penske behind us, so for whoever is coming in I think it’s the right place at the right time and that’s what’s really exciting.”
Looking back on her career, de Silvestro says she was always just focused on putting in the best performance that she could, but that she has noticed some changes when it comes to women in motorsport.
“If I look at my career, when I was in IndyCar, I felt at the time that I was pretty quick. We had podiums, we were running really strongly against the other drivers, but I didn’t get that chance to be in a top team, and I think that’s really what’s changing. I’m the first female who has ever been signed by Porsche as a factory driver and that’s a huge achievement, and for them to trust that I can get the job done.
“If a female driver can win races, I think I can open a lot more minds. I think we need this little bit of a push to show that it can be done and hopefully in 10, 15 years it won’t even be an issue anymore, and whoever is the fastest driver or the best mechanic or engineer gets those positions in those big teams.
“I think the platform that Beth [Paretta] is putting together can showcase that, and I think that’s really special.”
As well as the Indy500 de Silvestro is continuing her involvement with Porsche in 2021, although she hasn’t yet revealed which category she will be involved in with them.
“The thing that I can say is that I’m a reserve and development driver for the Formula E programme which is pretty exciting,” she says, “and the rest will be communicated pretty soon hopefully!”
When asked what advice she would give to young women looking to get involved in motorsport, de Silvestro says, “Believe in yourself, and I think a big thing as well is communicating what you aspire to do, because at the end of the day… you always need people around you to help guide you.
“Sometimes you will get no’s, but most of the time you will find some people who believe in the same dream and they will support you to get there, and that’s really important.”
From Formula E and IndyCar to V8 Supercars and GT racing, Simona de Silvestro has had a wide and varied career. She is one of the most high-profile female racing drivers and, in 2020, competed in ADAC GT Masters for Porsche. She was kind enough to speak to us as part of our series of interviews leading up to and following International Women’s Day.
As mentioned, 2020 saw de Silvestro take part in ADAC GT Masters as a factory driver for Porsche. COVID-19 saw her build-up to the season look fairly different to normal.
“I had just come back from Australia actually because I finished my supercar racing over there,” de Silvestro says, “and then started my new venture with Porsche. It was really strange because we came away from Christmas and we had all this testing planned and then all of a sudden there was really nothing going on for quite a long time.
“From that point of view it was definitely quite strange because since I was16, everything goes on from March and it gets pretty busy. Having the time and the big break was really strange.”
When asked how COVID affected her training, she says, “It definitely [affected] the driving side. I didn’t get into a car for a long time and I had a pretty big break, but physically it was quite good.
“Luckily, where I am in Switzerland was pretty chilled in the sense that you were still able to go outside and hike and things like that. So I actually felt really prepared on the physical side because I could really just focus on that.”
Despite the lack of track-time compared to previous years, de Silvestro still looks back on her 2020 season positively.
“It was good to learn a new car and I think a few races went quite well,” she says. “It was a bit of a mixed-up season but I’m pretty happy that this year it seems like things are starting to get a bit more normal.
“I think all of us got a bit used to it and are a bit more flexible. It’s good to see that everyone is adapting and that things are moving on and pushing on.”
One of the defining characteristics of the extended off-season at the start of 2020 was sim-racing. Drivers from any and all categories took part in virtual races to keep fans – and themselves – occupied. De Silvestro was one of those who got involved and she admits that although there were some positives to it, it isn’t something she would be quick to return to.
“I’m actually glad [sim-racing] is not happening anymore because it took a lot of commitment and it’s definitely not the same as driving a race car,” she says, “but it was still quite fun. We did the 24 Hours of Le Mans virtually with Porsche and that was a whole new experience. I never thought that I would go to my first Le Mans virtually!
“I think you just need a lot of patience for it and I don’t really have it, so the gaming part is not so much my thing. But everyone had a go at it and at the end I definitely became much better with computers and all that, so that’s a plus.”
In part two of our interview with de Silvestro she talks to us about her plans for 2021, including a return to the Indy500 as part of an all-female team.
On this International Women’s Day, I’m fondly remembering my interview with Jennie Gow back in 2021. Jennie was a real pleasure to talk to and I’m still so grateful that she shared her time with us for this interview. I hope that you find it as inspiring and insightful as I do! Jennie recently experienced a stroke and is now working hard on her progress through daily rehabilitation. Despite her speech being most impacted, she has already been able to make a short appearance on BBC radio’s Chequered Flag F1 season preview. We at PCO congratulate her on this amazing achievement, and wish Jennie all the best for her continued recovery.
In her own words, Jennie Gow has covered “almost every motorsport that you can imagine”, from MotoGP to Formula E and Formula 1. Since our interview, it was announced that Jennie will be taking on a new challenge this year as a commentator for the new Extreme E series which begins in Saudi Arabia from 3rd-4th April.
Jennie talks us through her career journey, her preparation for a race weekend, and discusses her Fast Talkers podcast and career webinars which have kept her busy during lockdown.
Alison Finlay: You’ve been very busy during the pandemic with various projects on your YouTube channel, the Fast Talkers podcast and career webinars. Why did you decide to start both projects, and what is the plan for them once things start to return to ‘normal’? JG: Motorsport has been amazing for me. It’s given me so much in my life, and I wanted to give a little back. I felt that at this point in time there are so many people out there feeling a bit lost and a bit scared, and intimidated and lacking motivation, and I just thought ‘this is a chance for me to reach out’ – even if it’s just one person who’s at home and feeling a bit blue – or who desperately wants to find a path in to motorsport – and if I can help them, then that’s amazing. I think if you sit around for too long not doing anything, your headspace can get a bit muddled. So, for me, it’s been really positive.
Fast Talkers is a little bit different; that’s more journalistic, and that was led by wanting to stay in touch with the people who have made up my family outside of my house for the last ten years, and the people I couldn’t see because I wasn’t going to the paddock. So, two slightly different things, but it feels like they both have a positive effect in the world, and that’s all I really wanted to do.
I’ve been really lucky to have a sponsor come on board to do the webinars because I was really struggling to be able to justify in a time where I’m earning nothing spending money on putting them together. So that’s been amazing, and the guys at New Channel Media have really stepped up to enable me to continue doing those. And those are the ones that inspire, educate [and] inform people and give a lot back. So that was really important to me and I hope that we’ll be able to carry those on. They might become a little more sporadic as people and lives get back to normal. But I still think, now everybody has Zoom, that hopefully we’ll still do some if I don’t feel that the market’s become too saturated. Because when I started there really wasn’t many people doing them, and now everyone’s doing them, which is great! But maybe it means that possibly I can step back a little bit, we’ll see!
And Fast Talkers: conversations are happening continually about where it goes and what happens with it; if somebody bigger wants to get involved, then that would be really exciting to see it expand out, but for the moment it’s a lot of work. I’m booking all the guests, I’m researching, I’m producing, I’m editing, so I feel there might be a time when I can’t do quite as many, but who knows!
AF: How did your own career in motorsport get started? JG: I knew I wanted to be a journalist and I actually thought ‘I know what I want to do, I want to be a war correspondent’. I was doing work experience; gaining as much experience as I could, and I’d just done a session court reporting and [as] I was coming home there was a big crash, and I found that very hard to handle. I was one of the first responders: I was first aid trained at the time, so I helped out as much as I could, and after that I [thought] there’s no way I’m going to be able to deal with war reporting and being a correspondent at a war scene because I could hardly deal with that.
So, I changed tack quite quickly and thought I probably want to bring happiness to people rather than be too dour, and for me I’d always found happiness and comfort in sport. I qualified as a journalist and did loads of work experience. At the end I was incredibly fortunate to get quite a few different job offers and I chose to be a production secretary on Sports Personality of the Century. It seemed a good fit for me to learn my trade, and that’s what I wanted to – I wanted to be at the bottom, do everything; learn everything so I could make good choices going forward.
I ended up staying around the BBC and going to local radio. Local radio is a fantastic tool. If you want to be a journalist, a presenter, a broadcaster, I highly recommend going through BBC local radio because you get to do everything. You’re talking about very small teams on small budgets, so you learn huge amounts. And from there, I got into sports journalism and motorsport happened by chance. I was covering a Speedway race down in Bridgewater for the local radio station I worked for at the time and I guy came up and said ‘do you fancy doing some more?’ and that was the start of it really, and I’ve done almost every motorsport that you can imagine since that point. I’ve been really fortunate.
AF: I remember when Formula E first started with you leading the coverage and there were also several female drivers in the first couple of seasons, how different that felt compared to watching Formula 1. How important do you think it is that young women see themselves represented in motorsport? JG: It’s so important. I was talking to somebody else about this the other day actually and they said you’ve got to imagine a seven-year-old girl sitting on her sofa. And that’s the problem with motorsport, is so many times, that young girl who could be inspired to get into motorsport just doesn’t have the role models out there. They’re not there yet, even now, there’s still so few. So how are we going to change it, how are we going to inspire the next generation to pick a spanner or to want to get into a go kart?
I think in 40 years’ time it will be a very different conversation, but right now we’re still at the forefront of changing diversity and inclusion, and sometimes to me it feels like I’m banging my head against a brick wall. But actually, you have to look at the positive results, and the way things are changing. And yes, it’s a very large ship that we’re trying to pull round in a U-turn. It’s going to take time, but equally we have to feel like every day we’re achieving something. And it’s our responsibility to make sure we are achieving something every day.
AF:What would you say was one of the proudest moments of your career JG: I did a programme about grid girls for the BBC and I was the impartial voice f the narrative, but we had a really good discussion on the subject of grid girls in Formula 1 and motorsport in general, and as a result of that programme, F1 made a decision to stop using grid girls, and I think that’s possibly one of the proudest [moments] because whilst I think there is an argument that if you want to be a grid girl, you should be allowed to be a grid girl, that’s your choice as a woman – or a guy, however to be a spokesperson for a sport is very different to being a grid girl who’s not allowed to interact or talk to anybody until she’s spoken to. So, for me, the day I heard that that programme had been played out within the head offices of F1 and that they’d made a kind of call to action because of it was hugely significant to me. I was very proud.
AF: In live broadcasting, I imagine things can sometimes go wrong. How do you deal with it when that does happen? JG: You can make it as good a plan as you want – it’s a bit like childbirth, you make your plan and then at the day you find out that actually, it’s all rubbish and you’ve just got to go with it. Some of the things that you can’t ever get your head around are deaths. Obviously in motorsport, they happen. The first time you have to cover it, it’s horrific. These are people that you may well be relatively close with, and all of a sudden they’re gone, and you have to put your personal anguish and grief and emotions to one side, because you’re the presenter. You’re the one that’s there trying to tell, impartially, that news to people. And the first time I had to do that I found it incredibly difficult. It was on network television, and I was telling the nation at home that a young boy had lost his life. And those times, no-one really tells you how to do that. That taught me very quickly that you can have all the ideas in your mind of what you want to achieve in a day, but sometimes it just doesn’t go that way. That’s the extreme, I suppose, the very worst it can be when things go wrong.
But on a daily basis, things will go wrong. You’re dealing with a lot of people. In Formula 1 especially, you have PRs, you have drivers, every step of the way you’ve got producers in your ear telling you what they want, and everybody has their own expectations. So let’s say that you’re waiting for a Lewis Hamilton interview, he’s just won the world title, you’ve managed to negotiate with the PR that yes, you can speak to Lewis Hamilton, that’s fine. You’ve spoken to network, to say we should have Lewis Hamilton in the next ten minutes, let’s say. And then all of a sudden Lewis Hamilton walks past you, and goes to a phone call with his dad. Nothing you can do! So you have to be realistic about the situation and understand what you can and can’t control. But mistakes happen, that’s live broadcasting, and it’s why you love it, because it’s a constant adrenaline ride. But you have to surround yourself with people you trust, and you have to trust yourself that you’re good enough, and you’ve got enough experience in everything you’ve done to that point.
AF: With initiatives like Girls on Track and support of women in the industry like yourself, it does seem that motorsport is moving in the right direction to get more women involved in different roles. Do you think there is still more to be done, and do you think that we will see women racing in Formula 1 in the years to come? JG: There’s always more that can be done, and diversity and inclusion is such a hot topic, and I’m so glad that Lewis Hamilton has been able to use his influence to really bring it to the forefront. He realises that to have a healthy paddock, you need it to be mixed: a mix of all sorts of different people. And you still walk into a paddock and it’s predominantly a very white space, and it’s predominantly middle-aged men. And you look at drivers and it’s similar: they’re affluent males between 18 and 35. So that has to change.
I still don’t think enough is being done at grassroots level, and that’s where the change will happen. We do need role models; we do need things like W Series to inspire the next generation to want to even try to be a driver, to go and be an engineer, to study STEM, to want to be a mechanic or a journalist. But at the end of the day it’s a really uphill fight and a struggle but we are getting there. There’s a good network now of people trying to help, trying to make a difference, trying to change things. So I do feel positive, but it’s going to take a long time. I don’t foresee us having a female F1 driver who can really compete, let alone just be in a car with a budget, for many years.
AF: You’ve worn a lot of different hats over the years; are there any roles that you’ve not had yet, that you’d like to try? JG: I’d love to cover an Olympics, which is a bit random because there’s no motorsport in Olympics, but it’s always been the dream. I’m a people person, so wherever there’s a story to tell about a person, I’m there. I want to be the interface between the paddock and the people at home who aren’t allowed to go, or can’t afford to go, or don’t know enough about the sport to feel like they can go. But I’m at a point in my life where I’m really enjoying it and I still want to achieve more but I’m really lucky that lockdown has been kind to me and us as a family. And hopefully all of the things that I’m doing piece together to make sure that in the future I can carry on working!
AF: Finally, what would your advice be to anyone – particularly young women – pursuing a future in motorsport or in broadcasting and journalism more generally? JG: I think it comes down to your perseverance; how much you really want something, and whatever you want in life, whether it’s a career in broadcasting or whatever it is you choose, just go for it! There are so many stories I’ve heard of people saying ‘my careers advisor told me I’d never achieve anything’ – it’s rubbish – of course you can do whatever you want. There is no limitation. So just go out there, set yourself a little plan, network like crazy, and make it happen! Don’t let anyone say no. Just go for it, you can do it, you’ve got this!
We are not afraid to say that in last few years, Juju Noda has become a huge name in motorsport – We passionately believe it is not the last time we are going to hear this name. The young Japanese driver is proving that her place is in the highest echelons of racing.
For International Women’s Day 2020, we spoke with Juju. You can find the interview from 2020 here: http://bit.ly/3bWkZPe
Juju got into racing because she had grown up around race paddocks, a result of her father, Hideki Noda, a former Formula 1 driver. However, would she still be a part of the motorsport community if she had not grown up in racing family? Absolutely yes.
“I was influenced by my father, for sure but I really believe that even without my father, I would still have developed an interest in motor racing. I naturally love driving. That is why I would feel very natural for my life to go in this direction.”
For the 2021 season, Juju is joining Jay Howard Driver Development for the upcoming US F4 championship for what is a big step-up for the 15-years-old Japanese driver.
“Everything will be new again for me. The car, the team, the circuits, the place to live… I have to learn and go through so many things. My father and team told me to just take it easy at the beginning of the season. And then, gradually move up to a higher level.”
Although, the upcoming US F4 championship is her only race programme in 2021 and the 15-year-old driver is hungry for more challenges.
“I would like to learn as much as possible during the year both inside and outside the track, as well as bringing my own abilities to a higher level. Any experience I get will make me stronger.”
It has been a wild season in Denmark, but we can all be very satisfied with what we have achieved! 😊
Because of Noda’s age, she was unable to develop her driving skills in Japan, causing her to leave her motherland. The Japan Automobile Federation (JAF) regulations are strict and drivers under 16 years of age cannot take part in Japanese championships.
The 2020 season was Juju’s first season in Danish F4 championship (there is no minimum age for participants) – her first in Europe. The best memory from this experience is on her debut race.
“I took the pole position and led the whole race, pole to win. You only get one chance at achieving that and I couldn’t believe how I managed it. I also qualified 100% on pole position in every qualifying session. That was never going to be easy to do, so I was very happy to do it.”
The opening race of the Danish F4 championship was not the only success she was to have. Noda went on to score every pole position and achieve 3 podium finishes (1st race – 1st place, 4th race – 2nd place and 5th race – 3rd place). She finished the season 6th place in championship.
It will not surprise anybody that 2020 changed the entire world. But how has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the rising star?
“The effect was very big, and it was obviously disappointing because I was supposed to have 24 races in total and it ended up being only 9 races. I was really confident to win more races and to challenge for the title.”
The 2021 US F4 championship will start on 26th of March at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta. It will be the first race week for Juju this year.
AF: You must have some brilliant memories from the F1 paddock. Can you share some of your fondest memories with us? LG: So many of my fondest memories revolve around the people that I’ve worked with. I think being part of a team is always something special, be that working for a race team, being Press Officer at Jordan, or working with the ITV team, learning all about broadcasting and how to do that side of things. And so many memories that relate to particular interviews. Getting the first interview with Rubens Barrichello when he won his first Grand Prix – I worked with him as one of my drivers at Jordan. Getting the first interview with Eddie Irvine, for similar reasons. Getting the first interview with Lewis Hamilton when he won his first world title. There are lots of special moments.
I guess another one is being involved – not only in the first two-seater race for Formula 1 cars – but the first ever crash for two-seater Formula 1 cars! I was in the back of Fernando Alonso’s car. It was basically a Minardi PR event; they had built some two-seater Formula 1 cars that they could do passenger rides with, and they had arranged a race and Nigel Mansell was on board as one of the drivers,. Mansell’s deal was that he would win the race: it would work for everybody.
There was a bit of a miscommunication. I was in the back of Fernando Alonso’s car. He was just at beginning of his Formula 1 career. We ended up having Nigel Mansell driving into the back of and over the top of us. In fact, I’ve got the rear wing endplate from that car signed by Nigel and Fernando up on the wall of my office!
AF: More recently you’ve been presenting British Touring Cars. Jade Edwards has recently announced she’s doing a full season for 2021, making her the first woman to do so since 2007. What do you think that means for representation of women in motorsports?
LG: I think it’s absolutely brilliant. Jade is there on merit. She made her debut in a one-off event last year, as did Jess Hawkins. Jade [has] managed to pull it together, and it’s a difficult job for any driver, male or female, to get together the budget, particularly in the times that we’re living through, to put together a full season of car racing, let alone racing at the premier category in the UK.
So I think all credit to Jade, and she is there on merit. She’s a good driver. I think it’s brilliant on a personal level for Jade because she’s a top girl, she’s worked really hard, she’s great fun, she’s a great personality, and she’ll be a great person to have in the BTCC paddock.
But I think more importantly, the visibility that it gives – it’s that old phrase – you need to see it to be it. Having a girl racing competitively on the touring car grid, you’ll have little girls watching at home thinking ‘okay, girls can be racing drivers as well’, and I think very often that makes a big difference.
Jade got into racing because she’d grown up around paddocks because her father and her grandfather raced. There are quite a few girls who have got involved in racing because there was a family connection. I now run my own media training company, and I work with quite a lot of young drivers, and very often I’ll say to them ‘how did you get involved in the sport?’, and if they didn’t have a family connection they’ll say ‘I went to a friend’s birthday party when I was eight years old and we went karting’. How many people take their eight-year-old girls karting? It just doesn’t happen the same [way], so I think maybe as a result of Jade being in the BTCC, maybe more people will say ‘do you want to go karting?’ to their eight-year-old girls. Maybe eight-year-old girls would say ‘I quite fancy having a go at that, can I go karting?’
AF: You’re also a supporter of the Girls on Track initiative, and you’ve run several webinars and workshops during the pandemic, sharing your knowledge and experience. Why is that important to you and what do you think that’s achieved to get girls more involved?
LG: The FIA Girls on Track started out as Suzie Wolff’s Dare to be Different initiative, and the primary function was working with youngsters and schools to give some insight to the parents, the teachers, and the young girls themselves, of all these different areas that you could work in in motorsport: be it medical, be it media, be it working on the cars, be it the physical education side of things. That was the basis of [how] it began, and then a community that ran alongside it to broaden it out to a wider audience. I think it’s really important to get the word out there – to girls, families, parents, teachers – of the availability and the range of work opportunities in motorsport.
It’s about sharing people’s experiences. I get people contacting me about how they would become a journalist in Formula 1, so I can share my experiences and give them some advice. It’s a mixture of those two things. It’s about awareness of opportunities and girls sharing experiences and giving back to other youngsters who are hoping to do it.
I am aware that I was very lucky to have been given opportunities. I wasn’t aware until relatively recently that [when I] turned up as part of ITV’s coverage – people noticed that, and quite a few girls have subsequently said to me ‘it was when I saw you doing that, I thought, oh wow, maybe I could work in Formula 1; maybe I could work in motorsport’. So that to me has been a very personal experience of the benefits of sharing your experiences with other people; with other girls – I’m very happy to share my experiences with boys as well, don’t get me wrong! – but with something like Girls on Track, what we’re trying to do is balance things out a bit, to get more girls involved in the sport.
I think it’s hugely beneficial. Everybody, no matter what business you’re in, you’re always going to benefit from having a mentor; you’re always going to benefit from having people who have gone before you sharing their experiences, and I think that’s a really crucial, important thing to be doing.
AF: You’ve also had some experience yourself as a driver, so you’ve had a taste of both sides of the motorsport world. What advice would you give to any girls wanting to break into the world of motorsport, whether as a driver, or in media or engineering? LG: On the driving side, just do it, because it’s bloody brilliant fun! The younger you start the better it’s going to be. Who knows, I could have been a Formula 1 driver if I’d started when I was eight, but I didn’t get into a car behind the wheel until I was well into my twenties, and that came about [from] having a bit more profile from being on TV. I absolutely loved it, it’s brilliant fun.
Formula 1 and motorsport has given me an amazing – not just career – but life experiences as well: I’ve travelled, I’ve seen the great wall of China, I’ve been all around the world. I’ve been so lucky to get those experiences, and that’s come about off the back of my working life. And that’s a working life that’s been hugely gratifying as well.
I think you’ve got to like the sport to start off with, because it’s not a job when you work in motorsport, it’s a way of life. Races are at the weekends; you’re giving up a lot of your own time, so you’ve got to be passionate about it. Having said that, you can’t just be a fan, you’re there to work. It’s a working environment, so you’ve got to do your bit and work hard, and it’s a competitive environment so you’ve actually got to work bloody hard if you want to succeed in it. But I guess that’s the same with [any] profession: the harder you work, the more you apply yourself, the more chance you’re going to have of having success.
Louise Goodman has had a long career in motorsport, from starting out as a Press Officer at Jordan Grand Prix to becoming a familiar face to Formula 1 fans in the UK as a pitlane reporter for ITV. She now presents ITV’s BTCC coverage and has her own media training company – Goodman Media.
In our interview, Louise shares her insights into how the sport has changed over the years and discusses some of her more unique experiences, including becoming the first wo man to take part in a Formula 1 pit stop and being a passenger in a crash between Fernando Alonso and Nigel Mansell!
Alison Finlay: You’ve had a long career in motorsports – generally regarded as a very male-dominated environment – what would you rank as some of your greatest achievements? Louise Goodman: I think having a long career in motorsport is probably up there on the list! I was lucky to fall into the sport. It wasn’t as if I set out to work in motorsport, or in broadcasting, which is what I’ve ended up doing. It’s a competitive business, and to have carried on working in it in various different guises; various different roles, I think it’s something to be… well, I applaud it anyway, even if nobody else does! It makes me happy, put it that way.
AF: What are some of your thoughts on how things have changed over the years in terms of participation of women and involvement of women in the sport?
LG: When I first walked into a Formula 1 paddock, back in the very late 1980s, you could probably count on not more than two hands the amount of women that were actually working in the paddock. It does have to be said that the number of people working in the paddock full stop was a lot smaller. Nowadays the teams have massive great big motorhomes that probably take 20-30 people to set them up. Back when I first started, it was two people, very often a husband-and-wife team, who drove the motorhome from A to B, set it all up, did the cooking and did a bit of everything.
When I first started out in Formula 1, some of the teams didn’t have a press officer. There was no facility for looking after the media, and a lot less media as well. And in marketing, there would be maybe two people in the commercial department, and that would be it. So marketing, media, those are areas where we’ve traditionally seen more women. I think more recently what’s been really good is the increase in numbers of women working on the technical side as well.
I think there is still work to be done to open people’s eyes to the fact that there are so many roles in the various different areas that motorsport encompasses, obviously the engineering side being one of those key areas. [Teams are] competitive across every level: they want the best engineers; they want the best candidates. They don’t really care whether they’re male or female, but the pool from which they are drawing has a lot more men in it, so inevitably, there’s going to be a lot more men coming through.
It has to start at the bottom. It starts in school, it starts in education, with encouraging a broader spectrum of people from different genders and different ethnicities to go into the subjects that will ultimately lead towards people having careers in motorsport.
AF: You were the first woman to take part in an F1 pitstop. Can you talk about how that came about and what that experience was like for you?
LG: When I was part of the ITV Formula 1 presentation team, we were always looking for different ideas for different features. I was standing in the pit lane at one of the Grands Prix watching – I think it was Honda at the time. They were doing their pitstop practice and Alastair Gibson, their chief mechanic said ‘you should have a go at this!’ and that sowed the seed for the idea.
I trained with the team. I had to take part, understandably, in a lot of pit stop practice to make sure that I was up to the job. The plan was that we would film two pieces that would go out as part of our coverage at the British Grand Prix. The week before the Grand Prix, I took a phone call from Gil de Ferran, who was the sporting director of the team at the time, who said ‘I’m really sorry Louise, but we’ve had a meeting and you’re not going to be able to do the pit stop’, which I was immensely frustrated about. So [we] were left with a hole in our feature material for the British Grand Prix.
I put in a phone call to Andy Stevenson who was at Midland at the time. We had known each other for a long time I said ‘I’ve got this problem, I’ve trained to do this’ and he said ‘fine, no problem’. And I said ‘well, do you need to check?’ and he said ‘no, there’s no point telling the engineers about it, is there? they always get too uptight about this kind of thing’. I obviously then had to go and do some pit stop practice with their team, which scared the bejesus out of me, because I then discovered my job was rear left wheel off, and there was a very particular movement that you had to do on the Honda car and it was slightly different on the Midland.
I was incredibly nervous about it.. I really was going to have to muck it up in a monumental style if I was going to have an impact on their pitstop. But my heart was still in my mouth when it happened, and I felt like I’d just won the Grand Prix when it all went successfully!
Ironically, Jenson Button’s car with the Honda team never made it to his first pit stop, so had I stuck with the original team, it would never have happened! So it was big thanks to Andy, who I discovered afterwards had literally told his engineers ten minutes before the start of the race that I was going to be on the crew doing the pit stops.
Equality in motorsport is something that every racing series is striving towards, especially on a day like International Women’s Day. From grassroots programmes like Dare to Be Different by Suzie Wolff to an entire Formula 1 support series for women, introducing women to a male-dominated sport is something that is making the headlines left, right and centre.
Extreme E is a sport that is promoting equality from the outset by having one male and one female driver in each team. The entire aim of the series is to have the best combination of people working on the car and behind the wheel and not having their gender dictate their opportunities.
Each driver will be behind the wheel of a Spark ODYSSEY 21 which is an electric SUV with a power output of 400kW, about 1.5 times more powerful than a World Rally car.
Claudia Huertgen is most well known for being successful in touring cars and winning the ADAC Total 24 Hours of Nurburgring in the SP10 class, driving a BMW M4 GT4. She has also taken part in the ADAC GT Masters trophy. At 41, she is one of the older drivers in the field but her expertise will help her as she battles through the field for the Abt Cupra XE team.
Competing for the Spanish Acconia Sainz XE Team, Laia Sanz is a thirteen-time women’s time trial world champion in outdoor motorcycle trials but has recently taken part in the Dakar Rally finishing at a high of fifteenth place in 2016. She has also taken part in the 24H of Barcelona, winning her class in 2011. Her off-road experience only brings more knowledge to the team as she will race alongside the team owner and rally legend Carlos Sainz.
Catie Munnings is a British rally driver and former TV presenter. She has taken part in the European Rally Championship and contested both the Under 27 and Ladies categories. Previously, she presented a children’s television show showcasing fast and large vehicles and explaining their use in life. As a Red Bull sponsored athlete, she has been able to use this backing to encourage women to take part in rallying and she also plays a role, alongside Suzie Wolff, in the Dare To Be Different campaign.
Hailing from Riverside, California, Sara Price began racing at age eight and now has medalled at the X Games multiple times in the motocross categories. Previously, she has completed in the Stadium Super Trucks series which races in America and Australia, with a highest finish if fourth. She is the first female driver racing for Chip Ganassi Racing in their history and we hope that she isn’t the last.
“When I put a helmet on you know I often get this question, ‘how is it being a female in a male dominated sport?’, and I say, ‘I’m not a female I’m not a male, I’m just a racer.’ “What Extreme E is doing right now is pretty incredible. It is going to be able to provide girls who have incredible talent that’s never been seen before, a chance to showcase it – that itself is huge for women as well as for motorsport.”
Christine Giampaoli Zona
Christine Giampaoli Zonca was a member of the first all-female rally team to take part in a WRC event and does more than just drive a car. She has a Bachelor’s degree in motorsport engineering technology from the University of Birmingham and regularly prepares her own car for events in which she takes part in. Her future plans include racing in the 2022 Dakar Rally along with Hispano-Suzia Xite Energy Team in Extreme E.
Molly Taylor is an Australian Rally driver who won the Australian Rally Championship in 2016, both the youngest and only female to do so, and finished as runner up in the following year. Along with this, she was the first female accepted into the Australian Motor Sports Foundation and is the only non-Brit to win the British Ladies Rally Championship, doing so in both 2009 and 2010. She is no stranger to competing in off-road situations and her knowledge bodes well for Rosberg Xtreme Racing.
“One of the great things about motorsport is that when you put the helmet on it doesn’t matter what gender you are and that’s always been my philosophy. But what I have noticed through competing, is the number of young girls that when they see a female competing, they then want to be involved – so I think having that exposure at the highest level is really important to help improve the diversity and equality for the next generations coming up. If [Extreme E] can help change the amount of girls that are involved in racing at grassroots level and therefore what the future of our sport looks like, I think it’s really important for that reason.”
Jamie Chadwick is arguably the most well-known female driver taking part in Extreme E so far, having won the inaugural W Series championship, being a member of the Williams Driver Academy and racing with Prema Powerteam in the 2020 Formula Regional European Championship, to name a few things. Coming from an original background in GT racing, she understands the skill needed to drive a powerful car and working with the Veloce team and is an exciting addition to the series.
“Extreme E is definitely a leap into the unknown for me, having only previously driven single-seaters and sportscars, but I’ve never shied away from a challenge. The first time I tested the car, I knew I wanted to race it – an electric SUV is a large vehicle, yet the stunning power it produces when you put your foot down makes it exhilarating to drive. The fact that Extreme E is also committed to gender equality is just the icing on the cake. Winning the W Series was fantastic – and huge for my career – but I want to prove that I can beat everybody at this kind of level, which means men and women alike. The prospect of going up against the likes of Jenson Button and Sébastien Loeb – I mean, these guys were heroes to me when I was growing up – is incredible. If you want to succeed in sport, as in life, you must be prepared to really push yourself. That is exactly what I am doing in Extreme E and I cannot wait to get started!”
Cristina Gutierrez was the first-ever Spanish woman to finish the Dakar Rally in a car and in 2021 became the second woman to win a Dakar stage. Her expertise stems from competing in the Dakar rally and the Spanish Women’s Off-Road Champion since 2012. Racing for Team X44 is a great addition to her career thus far.
The first X Prix takes place in Saudi Arabia on the third and fourth of April and all of these women will be able to show their skill set on a level playing field with the men in the series.
I had the absolute privilege of speaking with Kirsten and was able to ask some questions which she very kindly took the time to answer.
Kirsten is South Africa’s top female enduro racer and has been riding since the age of 8 years old when she started riding dirt bikes for fun with her uncle and cousin round their garden and then her dad started to take her to the track on a Sunday which quickly progressed to both Saturdays and Sundays. Kirsten started riding professionally at the age of 22 and has now truly made a name for herself worldwide in the hard enduro racing scene.
Indeed Kirsten has been the first female rider to finish races such as Redbull Romaniacs silver class, Redbull Sea to Sky, Redbull Megawatt 111, Redbull Braveman & the Roof of Africa. Whilst competing at the top level of her sport all over the world, and most times being the only lady to do do, Kirsten has achieved her South African Springbok colours!
As a tomboy growing up and wanting to keep up with the boys, Kirsten loves the challenge of being a female rider competing against the boys on rough terrain and describes herself as very competitive even off the track – she will race to the front door and even race the dogs to the swimming pool! To say Kirsten excels in her sport is an understatement and the list of achievements is pretty impressive!
X-Race Namibia, Expert Class : 2nd overall, 1st lady
Redbull Romaniacs, Bronze Class : 15th overall, 1stlady
Sea to Sky, Turkey : 31st overall, only lady competitor in the Gold Class
WildWood Rock : 6th overall, 1st lady
Roof of Africa Gold class Finisher : 25th overall, 1st lady
Powasol Timberland Extreme Enduro : 14th overall in gold class, first lady finisher
Redbull Romaniacs Silver Class : 45th overall, first lady finisher
South African Overall Silver Class National Champion in a male dominated class
Roof of Africa Gold class : 33rd overall
King of the Hill : 28th overall in expert class; made history being the first lady to ever finish expert class
FIM Super Enduro World Series, Prague: 4th in world championship
Alfie Cox Redbull Invitational Extreme Enduro:Kirsten was the only female to compete, making it into the semi- final and ranked 15th amongst the best male extreme enduro riders in South Africa
Redbull Romaniacs : 48th overall; the first Female in history to finish the race in silver Class
Redbull Braveman : 2nd in Silver class; only female to finish
Redbull 111 Megawatt Poland : 30th overall out of over 1000 entries, only female to qualify and finish
Redbull Sea to Sky : 24th overall in Gold class, reaching the top of Mount Olympus, bettering her previous years position by over 30 positions
South African National Enduro Championship:Kirsten raced a consistent season finishing on the podium at all rounds, but finished 2nd overall. This is the best Kirsten has done in all her years racing the National Enduros.
Roof Of Africa : This was Kirsten’s first attempt at Gold class, going out on a whim & no expectations, Kirsten made history again and became the first ever woman in the 49 year history of the Roof Of Africa and finished the Gold class, completely unassisted
Redbull Romaniacs : Kirsten attempted silver for the first time but due to complications, she didn’t manage to finish.
Redbull Sea to Sky : 56th overall, becoming the only woman in history to ever finish a gold class at any extreme hard enduro event
Redbull Braveman : 1st overall in silver class (only riding against men)
Roof of Africa : 32nd overall in the silver class, first lady finisher
National Enduro Series : 3rd overall in the mens silver class
Redbull Romaniacs : 47th place in bronze class out of 160 bronze riders and first lady home
Roof of Africa : 23rd in silver class, first placed female finisher unassisted
National Enduro Championship : 4th place in silver class
In 2020 Kirsten competed in the Dakar and finished 55th overall and was the 3rd female finisher. What is the Dakar, I hear you ask?
The Dakar Rally, or “The Dakar” was formerly known as the “Paris–Dakar Rally” and is an annual rally raid organised by the Amaury Sport Organisation. Most events since the inception in 1978 were staged from Paris, France, to Dakar, Senegal, but due to security threats in Mauritania, which led to the cancellation of the 2008 rally, events from 2009 to 2019 were held in South America. Since 2020, the race has been entirely in Saudi Arabia. The rally is open to amateur and professional entries, amateurs typically making up about eighty percent of the participants.
The rally is an off-road endurance event and the terrain is much tougher than that used in conventional rallying. The vehicles used are typically true off-road vehicles and motorcycles, rather than modified on-road vehicles. Most of the competitive special sections are off-road, crossing dunes, mud, camel grass and rocks. The distances of each stage covered vary from short distances up to 800–900 kilometres per day.
In the Dakar 2021 there were 108 bike entries, only 63 of which finished the event. Just to finish the event is an achievement in its self.
Kirsten was considering taking part in Dakar 2021 but was unsure about doing the Dakar back to back and then due to the Covid pandemic the economy in South Africa took a downturn and Kirsten was unable to get the funding she needed to take part. As it turned out Kirsten may have been unable to take part had she got the funding as whilst training on the bike one session, Kirsten took a nasty fall and dislocated her shoulder which put her out of action for four months.
Kirsten’s next challenge is to compete in the Dakar 2022 in the Malle Moto class. What is that, I hear you say!
Malle Moto, which is French for ‘Trunk Motorbike’, is a category in the Dakar which riders of motorcycles and quads are almost completely unassisted. There are very few riders who take on this added challenge and it is considered to be the toughest category you can possibly compete in.
Competitors are allowed to pack one Malle (trunk) (there are restrictions on the maximum dimensions) which the organisers will transport to each bivouac. The trunk should contain their spare parts, tools, equipment and any necessary personal belongings. The organisers will also transport one spare headlight, one set of wheels and tyres, a tent and a travel bag.
Every day, the riders must prep their bike for the next stage without any outside assistance which may take a few hours, depending on the condition of the bike. They must also prepare their own road books before every stage and there is a common canteen to eat from. This all has to be done by the rider after each stage, which can run for many gruelling hours. After the rider has done all this, they then need to get enough sleep to be ready for the next stage. It is not uncommon for competitors to survive on just two or three hours of sleep everyday, for two weeks!
Although Kirsten can do a lot of her own bike maintenance already, she is unable to take apart an engine and fix it or work on anything electrical so preparation is already underway with Kirsten learning these new skills in preparation for Malle Moto.
Kirsten knows that time management will play an important role in this. I asked if she was worried about taking part in such an arduos event by herself with no assistance – Kirsten is not really worried about doing it by herself as knows the route having taken part in Dakar 2020 and she is really looking forward to the challenge of doing the event by herself. New challenges excite Kirsten, the harder the challenge is, the better it is.
I asked Kirsten who her inspiration was and she said it was Laia Sanz who is known as The Queen of the Desert. Laia is the best female motorcycle rally racer in history, has won the title of best Dakar racer five years in a row and was the only woman to finish the race at all in two separate years. She is also the three-time Women’s World Enduro Champion. WoW!
Surprisingly, well to me anyway, Kirsten does not ride her motorbike on the road, she finds road bikes uncomfortable and feels that riding on the roads local to her to be somewhat dangerous. Kirsten is far more at home on her dirt bike riding through the mud. Although Kirsten lives in a beautiful place, her two most favourite places to ride are Romania, where she has competed five times and went back again just for some casual riding and La Sutu, which is a country within her country with beautiful mountain ranges and extreme riding.
Kirsten’s best feeling about being on a motorbike is the feeling of accomplishment, knowing that she has achieved the end of the race and got to the finish line. It is the sense of adventure she loves, the fact that she is outdoors, loving the nature around her and being lucky to have such great roads to ride on and travelled the world in the process. Kirsten has made some very passionate lifelong friends through her love of riding with that unspoken rule that as you ride a motorbike, you just get along, the people are just so cool.
So Kirsten, what is the one thing people would never know about you just by looking at you? Baking. Kirsten loves to bake cakes, muffins and cooking in general, she is a big foodie and finds that when she is baking she can switch off from her riding and relax. I, myself can totally relate to that but unfortunately I like to eat my baking too!
Kirsten’s most embarrassing moment on a motorbike came when she was competing in an event and was absolutely desperate for a wee so she pulled over, popped the bike on the stand and walked round to a bush. Just as she was mid flow, another competitor stopped to see if she was okay and walked round and caught her peeing! Ooops!!!
As a youngster Kirsten was a tomboy and used to live in a big smallholding which had a massive garden. When she was around 8 or 9 years she was running around the garden with a friend pretending they were characters from the Jungle Book, they got hold of some matches and decided to make a fire like their characters. When they finished playing they thought they had put the fire out but during the night the wind caught up and the whole garden ended up on fire nearly spreading to the next door property. The fire brigade came and put the fire out thankfully but that is probably the worst thing Kirsten’s mum caught her doing as a kid!
I asked Kirsten if she has a lucky thing/ritual before the start of a race as it seems a lot of racers do. Kirsten is no exception, she always puts her left knee brace on first and then her right one and then puts her right boot on first and then her left one. Kirsten will then sit on the bike, put her head on the handlebars and say a prayer.
The first motorbike Kirsten owned was a Yamaha PW80 which was a limited edition bike. Unfortunately the bike was sold many years ago and has now become a collectors item. Kirsten has been looking for one for a while now with the idea of restoring it and then putting it in her house on display. I definitely like that idea, how cool would that be to have your bike on display in your house.
If Kirsten hadn’t been a racer, she would have liked to become a vet. Kirsten is an animal lover and has five rescue dogs that live with her and has re-homed so many more animals. Kirsten is part of the Saving Animals Movement (SAM) and raises money to help animals who are malnourished, overbred or in dire need of help and helps provide them with medical assistance and finding them new forever homes.
Would Kirsten ride pillion? Even if Valentino Rossi offered to take her out pillion on the road, she would say no! She is absolutely terrified of going out on the road! Now if you were to offer Kirsten a pillion ride on the track, she would happily go with you as long as you were an experienced rider on track.
I asked Kirsten what her friends and family would assume she had done if she got arrested and there was no hesitation in saying that it would be because she had got into an argument with someone over an animal. If Kirsten sees an animal being treated unfairly, she does get very emotional which may have led to one or two arguments in the past ……..
You can check out Kirsten’s website at Kirsten Landman and follow her progress with her preparations for the Malle Moto 2021. You can also follow Kirsten on Facebook and Instagram at : Kirsten Landman.
Thank you Kirsten for taking the time to speak with me, I really appreciate it and wish you good luck for the Dakar next year.