Bia Figueiredo has had a glittering career in motorsports that spans from Indy Lights to Brazilian Stock Cars. As the first woman to win an Indy Lights series race and the first woman to win at a race car event at the Iowa Speedway, she defined motorsport history and inspired women around the world with her positive attitude and impressive racing. For this International Women’s Day, Bia answered a few of our questions on her career and what it’s like to kick the trend in motorsports. Because this girl can!
Jade du Preez: How did you get into karting when you were young? Bia Figueiredo: Since 3 years old I’ve shown passion for cars and speed. I would stay in my dad’s car turning the wheel for hours. I would ask for mini cars together with dolls. My parents decided to take me to a go-kart track and I loved it. I was lucky enough that they had an open mind by that time and supported me in the sport.
JdP: When did you start to think that you could make a career out of racing? BF: When you are a kid you are sure you will make it easily to the top. Growing up I’ve realized that it wouldn’t be that easy. Because of that I started to focus on racing and left to the side my teen life with friends, boyfriends and parties. So, by 16 I decided to do that and put all my energy into racing and finishing school.
JdP: How do you think motorsports has changed for women since your breakthrough season in 2009? BF: Actually I believe 2008 was THE year for women in Racing as I won in Indy Lights, Simona da Silvestro won in Atlantic and Danica Patrick won in IndyCar. On 2010 I made it to Indy 500 with the record of 5 women. So I believe it brought attention to other female drivers working hard to get to a top series.
JdP: You’ve had a few issues with funding over the years, and as a result had to miss races, do you think this would be an issue if you were a man? BF: Funding is the biggest problem in racing for male or female racers. At the beginning of my career in karting people wouldn’t support me because they thought a girl would never reach Indy Car. But after winning so many races it has changed a lot.
JdP: And how do you think the issue of female drivers struggling to get funding can be solved? BF: There are not many women around the globe that are passionate for racing and speed. And not all of them have the support to move up. I believe if you start winning, things will start to change. Funding was always a problem when I struggled to get good results. So I started to work harder to do things different from guys like working better with social media , TV and others. And kept working hard to win races.
JdP: You’ve had such an incredible career, what is the highlight for you? BF: The highlight is to be able to live from racing. I had support from so many people that believed in me and it is good to know that winning so many races, reaching the top and live from what I love to do make them all proud.
JP: And looking forward, what goals do you still want to reach? BF: I moved from open wheel to V8 Cars in 2014 and feel that adapting wasn’t easy. In Brazilian Stock Car where 30 cars can be in the same second I was able to reach a top 5 and many top 10. But for me the target still is a podium and a win. The same in IMSA where I should run a few races with Heinricher Racing/ Michael Shank with amazing drivers like Katherine Legge and Christina Nielsen. I can’t thank Jackie Heinricher and Michael Shank enough for giving me a new chance in the USA.
As part of our celebration of International Women’s Day, we spoke to Spanish F1 journalist Noemí de Miguel about her love of sports, her work for Spanish broadcaster Movistar and more.
Emily Inganni: Where did your love of sports first start? Noemí de Miguel: From my childhood. I grew up in my grandparents’ house and my grandfather and my uncle (still single then) loved sports and we didn’t watch another thing on TV. You only have to choices: love it or hate it. And seems that I felt in love with sports.
EI: Was it always your aim to become a sports journalist? NM: Indeed. I have been always focused on being a sports journalist and guided my studies and my career to get it from the very beginning.
EI: Why did you decide to switch from football to Formula 1? How did the opportunity with Movistar come about? NM: I felt stuck. I had been working hard to be the best football journalist possible but my position on the company, my contract and opportunities to raise better conditions weren’t what I expected. I felt frustrated working on my dreamed job and at the beginning, I thought that the situation would change in some moment. But nobody changes anything for you. You must do your way. Then, they offered an opportunity working on F1 and I accepted the challenge because you can watch F1 and follow the races but developing yourself as a journalist following the Great Circus is very demanding. I was studying for months to prepare myself.
EI: How did you feel when you first came into F1? Were you intimidated at all? NM: In Melbourne in my very first grand prix I was nervous and the jet lag didn’t help at all. I had been studying, reading and researching all kinds of information, speaking and asking some specialists, but it was my time to prove I was capable of doing a good job; as good as I considered I did working for 10 years on football. And many people tried to pressure me and criticised me for being there coming from football and doubting about my knowledge. But I overcame all those circumstances and my confidence grew quickly. I was very welcomed on the paddock for the main F1 representatives, drivers and colleagues. And soon people on social media changed their minds. It’s a good learning experience to leave your comfort zone, face the difficulties, localise your weaknesses and work hard to fix it.
EI: F1 is still very male-dominated, what do you think needs to happen to get more women into the series, in roles both on and off the track? NM: Fortunately, off the track, there are more and more women coming to play important roles. And the opportunities for a driver is about to happen soon, Tatiana Calderon is in pole position. The problem is the culture of motorsport in women, something in which FIA is working on and also Dare to be Different. As the girls would be educated in the culture of everything is possible for them and every single job is appropriated for them and get away the idea of male and female jobs the number of girls aspiring to be F1 driver will increase, the options of talented drivers also.
EI: Do you think there has been much progress for women since you started working in F1?
NM: It’s been a long way but there are more projects running to help the development of female drivers and more women working on F1 teams.
EI: What would be your advice for anyone trying to get into sports journalism? NM: Respect sports and athletes because they are who play the main role. Work hard, you never know everything, be focused, openminded, a good teammate and enjoy the opportunity. And if you are not happy just change yourself and move on for the next challenge.
Sabré Cook hit the headlines last year when she won the Renault Infiniti Engineering Academy scholarship at the US GP, but her story goes much further back than that. She balances careers in both racing and engineering , chasing her dreams and encouraging others to follow theirs.
Emily Inganni: What inspired you to start racing? Sabré Cook: My father used to race motocross and supercross professionally, and he and my mother didn’t want my brother and I racing motorcycles so we got into karting. Things started out slow, they even called me driving miss daisy at first! I remember getting teased by one of the boys about him being faster than I was and that really didn’t sit well and just flipped a switch for me. I remember telling my dad through tears that if I had a proper kart (I had an old one just for fun as I wasn’t too serious about racing yet) I could win. Well, he got the kart and the very next race I won. From then on I was hooked and my competitiveness and passion only grew from there.
EI: You’ve raced in both USF2000 and F4 United States in 2018, how would you compare the two series? SC: Both USF2000 and F4 are a great platform for starting along the ladder system to professional open-wheel racing in the US. USF2000 has great competition and provides unique opportunities being paired with the IndyCar calendar. F4 also has good racing, the amazing venue pairing with the US F1 GP at COTA, and the overall cost is lower. Both are good series fielded with talented drivers.
EI: What drew you to the engineering side of the sport? SC: I’d always enjoyed school, specifically math and science subjects. Growing up working on my kart with my dad only fed my interest in the science behind motorsports. Then throughout school, I was blessed with several amazing teachers who nourished my desire to learn.
EI: How did the opportunity with Renault’s INFINITI programme come about? SC: The Infiniti Engineering Academy (IEA) is a global opportunity available to all engineering and science-related undergraduate and graduate candidates. The program offered by the IEA is the only program in the world that offers a placement for young engineers that stretches from the road car side of the industry to the motorsports side. And not just any motorsports, it’s Formula 1. Having access to work in F1 is a treat very few engineers get. Candidates can apply online and learn more about the program at www.academy.infiniti.com. I highly recommend checking it out!
EI: What was the selection process like? SC: The process first begins with submitting your CV online and taking a short test at www.academy.infiniti.com. Candidates are then selected to be a part of the Skype Interview phase. From there only 10 are chosen from each of the 7 global regions to compete at their respective regional final. (The seven regions being Europe, Asia & Oceania, Canada, US, Mexico, China, and Middle East.)
Each of the finals extended over two days. On the first day, the 10 finalists complete several challenges including an engineering exam, individual interviews with the judges, and team challenge created by Harvard University; after that, we were divided into two teams to build an RC car and then compete against the other team in a drag race. Three of us then progressed to the second day, which took place in the Renault F1 Team garage at the Circuit of the Americas the day before the Formula 1 US GP.
On the second day, myself and the other two finalists that made it through completed a technical F1 challenge; this challenge varies per region and it is normally designed by one of the Renault F1 Team technical partners (Pirelli, Castrol, etc.); ours was designed by Perkin-Elmer and it was about diagnostics and trying to find suspect substances in a sample taken from the air filter of the F1 car. This was then followed by the media challenge, which essentially is a simulated press conference with a 30-minute grilling from journalists.
The judges then selected a winner and the announcement was made in front of the Renault F1 Team garage by Nico Hulkenberg. It was a truly amazing experience, to say the least!
EI: What will your 12-month placement at Renault involve? SC: The Infiniti Engineering Academy placement offers 6 months at Infiniti Technical Center and 6 months at Renault F1. I’m currently at the beginning of my placement as a Vehicle Test Engineer at the Infiniti Technical Center. I will be working as a Composite Design Engineer for the second half of my placement when I transition to Renault F1 in the middle of 2019.
EI: Women are still in the minority in both racing and engineering, have you seen progress being made during your time in the industries, or is more change needed? SC: There is certainly an increasing number of women involved in STEM-related jobs, and of course I hope this trend will continue. Racing is a different story, as the number of females involved seems to come in waves. The core issue is that not enough girls are starting at the roots in karting or other introductory levels. Most girls are not encouraged or know motorsports to be an option for them. I was blessed to have parents that believed I could do whatever I put my mind to regardless of the activity or my gender. The more parents that encourage their daughters, the more women in the industry that speak out, take action, actively support programs to get girls more involved, and publicly put out there that little girls can choose motorsports as a career path, the more likely it is we will see the number of female racers steadily increase.
EI: How are you going to juggle your racing and engineering commitments this year, will one have to take priority? SC: I’ve balanced racing and school/engineering since I can remember. Time management, having the right focus, and asking for help when you need it are all key. Engineering and racing go hand in hand, so one skill is always helping improve the other. I am very blessed that the Infiniti Engineering Academy fully supports my passion and ambition to continue racing, and vice versa with my racing partners understanding and supporting my desire to be an engineer.
EI: What does the future hold for you in both racing and engineering? SC: Truly I cannot be sure, and it will depend on how this year unfolds. That’s life though, the route to your goals never goes exactly to plan. My goals remain the same though, to be an IndyCar driver or F1 Race Engineer… or both! Life is unpredictable, so I cannot say exactly what my path will be. All I know is that I am going to work as hard as possible to achieve my dreams.
EI: What advice would you give to any youngsters dreaming of careers in racing or engineering? SC: Go for what you want, and don’t let the fear of failing hold you back. Believe in yourself. Learn from every opportunity and keep everything in perspective. Positivity is a choice. Embrace every event, even if it seems less than ideal, there is always something to be gained. But most of all NEVER GIVE UP!
At 20 years old, Jamie Chadwick has already achieved several impressive feats, starting with becoming the first female British GT champion in 2015, and, in 2018, becoming the first woman to win a British Formula 3 race.
February this year also saw her become the first woman to win the MRF Challenge championship, taking 3 out of 5 wins at the final round and snatching the title lead from Max Defourny on the penultimate day of the season. Chadwick won the final race in style, starting by launching her car between the two front-row starters and up to first, where she remained, fighting off a charge from Patrik Pasma behind her. With the race and the season complete, Chadwick now had her first single-seater championship title under her belt, a moment that she described as ‘huge’ for her career.
Could Chadwick continue to build on her achievements so far and carve out a path to the very top of motorsport that could potentially see her as the first female Formula 1 entrant in over 25 years?
In 2019, half the Formula 1 field will be 25 or under. The concern that accompanies this is that there could be limited space for new recruits over the next few years, so, in order to join the fold, drivers will have to produce something really special. Chadwick’s next steps will therefore be crucial in deciding whether she has a chance of making it to F1 or not.
Chadwick’s plans for 2019 include taking part in the inaugural season of the women-only W Series. Alongside this she is expected to race with Aston Martin, although the details of which category this could be in are yet to be announced. Having also taken part in the Formula E test at Ad Diriyah with the NIO team, she was invited back to test with the team in Marrakesh in January, so perhaps this could also lead to further opportunities in future.
Chadwick must surely be one of the favourites among the 28-strong list of hopefuls still in the running for the 18 seats available in the W Series. However, while she is expected to have no problems getting through the final qualifying round, she may yet face tough competition from any number of women, some who have experience in other categories, but are thus far untested in formula cars, as well as those who are returning to racing single-seaters after several years away, like the formidable Alice Powell. The W Series will allow also Chadwick, as well as the other racers, to build up valuable seat time in F3 machinery, which she should then be able to put to good use in future years.
Chadwick is a wise head on young shoulders. She doesn’t tend to boast about her achievements, or make grand claims about what she will accomplish in future, and makes no excuses if things don’t go her way. At the same time, she is confident and sure of her capabilities. All of this would surely make her an ideal candidate for a place in an F1 team’s junior academy.
However, so much of what happens at the junior levels of racing relies on what could almost be considered luck: getting the right results, in the right championships at the right time. If Chadwick can continue to work hard, get results, and put herself in a position to be noticed, then there is every chance that we could see her lining up on a Formula 1 grid one day.
As Head of Media and Communications for both F2 and F3, Alexa Quintin surely has one of the most whirlwind jobs in the motorsport world, being at the track for between ten and twelve hours each day during a race weekend. She was kind enough to speak with us for International Women’s Day 2019.
Jenny Rowan: How did you first become interested in motorsport? Alexa Quintin: I was raised to love it: my father was a racing driver in Gordini Cup and prototypes. He started his career in Morocco back in the 60s. He met my mother when she was appointed as his mechanic. She was a professional swimmer but she wanted to try something new. They met at what is today’s Renault F1 engine factory at Viry-Chatillon. Although my dad had to stop his career when they got married, his passion for motorsport and most particularly Formula One never ended. Every Sunday our eyes were glued to the TV to watch the Grand Prix.
JR: Had it always been an ambition of yours to work in motorsport? AQ: I was not necessarily aiming at working in the sport. I was more interested in the movie industry or in writing. I started my career in television, but after a couple of years, I had the opportunity to join Prost Grand Prix. Once I became part of this industry, it felt like the right place for me: it’s fast-moving and very demanding. It’s exciting!
JR: What does an “average” race weekend look like for you, if indeed there is such a thing? AQ: It’s always such a hard question to answer… There are so many tasks to cover from catering for the media to liaising with FOM and the FIA to dealing with social media platforms, press conferences, meetings, drivers’ appearances, and also to handling a thousand little things that are
thrown your way at the last minute. You get to the track very early and leave pretty late. The average time spent at the circuit is between 10 and 12 hours. During that time, you walk a lot, run a fair amount, direct traffic, send many emails, WhatsApp and Skype messages, talk to about a hundred different people, etc. Some days, you may feel overworked, but when the dust settles, it always feels gratifying.
JR: How important is social media to your role and has it changed the nature of your job over the years at all? AQ: It’s become essential and it has changed my views on how the job should be done. Nowadays Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and Snapchat are part and parcel to people’s lives. For most people, these media platforms are the primary source of information right in the palm of their hands. It’s the fastest way to communicate, but it can also be a means to start rumours and spread false information. It’s a powerful tool, but one that needs to be used wisely.
JR:Out of all the drivers you’ve worked with, is there anyone who stands out as having impressed you the most? AQ: I have been working in motorsport for almost twenty years now and over this period of time I have been very lucky to cross paths with incredible talents. If I have to name a few, I would say the ones that stood out in GP2/F2 were Nico Hülkenberg, Stoffel Vandoorne, Charles Leclerc, and George Russell.
JR: What has your experience of being a woman working in motorsport been like? AQ: Working in motorsport has been very rewarding professionally speaking. I never felt like I was an oddity in what appears to be a man’s world. In fact, there are a lot of women in charge of PR in motorsport.
JR: What advice would you give other young women aiming to work in motorsport one day? AQ: Not to sound too much like Lady Gaga at this year’s Oscars but if you can dream it, if you work hard enough to achieve it, if you have the right attitude, there is no reason you can’t succeed.
The first woman to race the famous Isle of Man TT course as a solo rider was Beryl Swain, in 1962. However, in those days a woman racing caused a huge upset in what was, and some may say still is, a male dominated world of motorcycle racing. So incensed were they by a woman taking part, a weight limit was introduced that Beryl could not meet, thus causing her license to be revoked, ending her racing career just as it was beginning. It was 1978 before the next woman (Hilary Musson) was allowed to compete in the TT, but women would not be allowed to race at the Manx Grand Prix until 1989. It would be almost 50 years between the first woman racing on the Mountain Course and the first female to win a race there.
That woman was Carolyn Sells, and in 2009 she won the Ultra Lightweight Race on the FZR400 Yamaha by Paul Morrissey racing. An ambitious no pit-stop strategy meant she came home with a 62 second lead, and a best lap of 107.780mph. Carolynn retired from racing in 2009, but is still heavily involved with racing in the Isle of Man, supporting Newcomers to the Manx Grand Prix. I’m really delighted she was able to take time out from her busy family & life to answer my questions.
Laura Sawyer: How old were you when you knew you wanted to race bikes? Carolynn Sells: About 16, although I didn’t actually get around to it for another 10yrs or so!
LS: What path did you follow from starting out to racing at the Manx? CS: My dad began racing at the Manx Grand Prix in 1985 and it was there that I decided that, one day, I was going to race there. At the time, women weren’t actually allowed to race in the Manx, but that didn’t even occur to me then.
Life got in the way though and after putting myself through Uni, progressing my career in TV & Film Design and then buying my first house, I finally got around to doing my first race on my dad’s TZ250 a month before I turned 27 in April 2000. I only did 3 meetings that year and then spent the next 2 years aiming to get my National Licence, in order to be able to compete in the Manx Grand Prix in 2003 – the year that I turned 30.
LS: How supportive were your family and were they behind you from the start? CS: They were very supportive – dad lent me his bike and then bought my first race bike for me – but I can’t say that he entirely wanted me or my brother to race the roads really (my brother was a newcomer to the MGP at the same time as me). Dad had raced since I was 5 though, so he knew he didn’t get much say in the matter!
LS: You’re now a director of the Manx Motorcycle Club – how do you use that role to support newcomers to the Mountain Course? CS: I’m not anymore, but I was for a few years. I am still a Rider Liaison Officer for the Manx and an Official ACU Mountain Course Coach, which means that I teach newcomers about the circuit and what to expect as a newcomer. It is something that I have been passionate about even when I was racing and my goal is to make sure that every newcomer thoroughly enjoys their first Manx and comes home safe and happy. If they’re fast too, well, that’s a bonus!
LS: Aside from the win, what is your next best achievement in racing? CS: I think I achieved a fair bit in my short time racing (9 years) and I’m not sure I can pick just one…
I won a solo Motorcycle championship in the Isle of Man (2002) and I won a race at the International Southern 100 (2005) and am the only woman to have done either of those things. I am also still the fastest woman at 4 of the Southern Irish road circuits, despite not having raced there since 2008 and the likes of Maria Costello, and several others have been racing those circuits regularly since then.
Nothing beats my win on the TT Course though, not even close. That was the culmination of 6 years of steadily and quietly working my way up and focussing on the goal.
I also got a Guinness World Record for the win and won Isle of Man Sportswoman of the year too, so they’re pretty special to me.
LS: If you could race again, which meeting(s) would you do, and why? CS: The TT and the Ulster Grand Prix… two things I really wish I’d done, but the timing was never right.
LS: What was the best bike you rode competitively, and which bike do you wish you’d been able to race (past or present) and why? CS: Although I had most success on the 400’s, I really did love racing the CBR600RR, it was the best fun and plenty fast enough for me. I always wish I’d had the chance to have a go on an RC30 though…
LS: You’ve always said you don’t consider yourself to be a woman in a man’s sport, and your achievements are certainly something any racer would be proud of. What advice would you give to women who may still feel nervous about progressing with their aspirations because they worry they may be disadvantaged by gender? CS: I don’t believe that we are ever disadvantaged by our gender. If you want to do something, get up and do it. It really is as simple as that.
Marshals may well be the unsung heroes of motorsport, often taken for granted but who make the racing we all love to watch possible. Carole Brackley is one of an increasing number of women who are taking to volunteering as marshals at events across the country, and she was kind enough to speak to us about her role as Specialist Marshal as part of our series of interviews for International Women’s Day.
Jenny Rowan: How did your interest in motorsport first come about? Carole Brackley: My father was a great lover of motorsport and cars. As soon as I could sit, I was in the front seat next to him, and I was a pretty good co-driver with his teaching. I could name every make and model on the road, and shared his interest. It was great that we lived near Silverstone, and one of his uncles had scaffolding, so we always had a good view of the events. Since my early days, I have watched and attended as many events as I could, although F1 was – and is still – my number one passion.
JR: How did you come to be involved in marshalling? CB: In my early twenties, I had a friend who competed in rallies in his Mini CooperS and was a marshal at Silverstone. For many years I believed that only men could marshal… I got the taste for voluntary work after a stint as an Olympic Ambassador in 2012 and so I went onto the Silverstone website and sent in my details. I found that it was very easy to train as a marshal – much to my delight!
JR: What is the relationship like between marshals when working at a race? CB: The teams are very supportive and inclusive. There are several different areas of marshalling and, after starting out track-side, I became a Specialist Marshal, working exclusively in the pits and paddock and on the startline. The work can be quite intense, as I will explain later, but everyone helps each other and keeps it enjoyable.
JR: Do you have a favourite event to work at? CB: This is a difficult question: I love being in the pits for F1, but the security is such that we are not allowed to go near the team garages or personnel, and officiate from the pit wall. In WEC and other series (also with fantastic cars) you stand in the garage or just outside to officiate, which is a tremendous privilege, and you get a better feeling from the experience.
JR: What sort of duties do you have in an ‘average’ race weekend, if there is such a thing? CB: As a Specialist Marshal, there are many different tasks, and we have pages and pages of official regulations to learn before the event. The most important is probably monitoring teams, to make sure they don’t break any of these regulations. Should this happen – as it usually does at least once – we write a report, which goes up to the stewards straight away to decide whether they will impose penalties. We also make sure that everyone is safe on the pit wall and in the pit lane, and remain ready to fight fires or push cars as the need arises.
‘Gridding up’ is fun – armed with the grid sheet and a yellow flag, you stand out on track to guide the drivers to their dedicated spot on the start line – sometimes they come at you in the correct order, and sometimes it is absolute mayhem! After the practice lap, usually the marshals responsible for pole position and second will go back out to the start-line, stand just in front of the markings and make sure these cars stop in the correct place. I love that feeling as they drive towards you – you leave, they go.
We also manage assembly, parc ferme, flags, message boards, lights and members of the public and guests.
JR: What has been the highlight of your motorsport marshalling career so far? CB: This is difficult, so I’ll let you decide…
– Obviously the first British Grand Prix in the pits – you’re just so close to the cars.
– Being asked to represent marshals at a reception at Number Ten Downing Street, mingling with the great and famous from all aspects of the sport – pinch me!
– My first MotoGP race.
– Being chosen the wave the start flag for each car at F1 Live in London – can you imagine?!
JR: You joined Susie Wolff’s Dare to be Different as an ambassador – what does being part of an organisation like that mean to you? CB: I received an email from MSA (now Motorsport UK) as they had been contacted by Susie, and she wanted to know if I would be interested in becoming the Marshal Ambassador for her new initiative. Having already been under the impression that motorsport was a largely male-dominated sport, I grabbed the opportunity to help get the message out that all areas were open to females. It has achieved so much in the four years since it launched, and it continues to offer advice, help and mentoring to all.
JR: What would you say to other people who are thinking of maybe taking up marshalling themselves? CB: If you enjoy motorsport, there are fewer ways of getting closer to the action that don’t cost you shed-loads of money. It isn’t particularly glamorous: you’re up very early, out in all weathers and the days are long, but, from that first time a car roars past you (or bike or truck!) at close quarters, you’ll want more! It also makes you feel very much part of everything that’s going on.