Charles Rainford: From History to the Modern World of Racing

Charles Rainford was a rookie Pro-Am driver for CCK Motorsport in the Porsche Carrera Cup GB for 2021 as well as racing at Le Mans for the Porsche Sprint Challenge France. However, the 23 hasn’t taken what is considered the ‘usual’ route to the series.

(Image courtesy of Gun Hill Studios)

“Dad bought my brother James and I go karts when I was 7 for our birthdays. We went testing a couple times at Bayford Meadows and seemed to be quite quick. But we approached the subject of racing and my mum said not yet so unfortunately was not able to race karts when I was young. She agreed that I could race cars when I was old enough to have my full race licence at 16.”

On his way to his racing licence Charles gained a passion for teaching ‘’I used to play guitar and was a dancer, both of which I also taught. I just enjoy teaching things and I really wanted to be an instructor.” And before long he passion for racing and teaching collided.

He continued, “I had been racing for a couple of years at this point and then raced at the Legends of Brands Hatch SuperPrix in 2017. The next morning the chief instructor [at Brands Hatch] Pete Alexander called me to come in and look at doing my instructor’s course. Brands hatch and MSV sponsored my licence, so now I can work at every circuit in the UK as an ARDS ‘A’ instructor.”

Having raced for a few years and now a driver instructor, it was a race at Goodwood Revival which started the ball rolling, “We came 2nd in a Volvo PV544 which was a really good weekend for us. A couple days later I got a call from Peter Dignan at Piston Heads and they were running a ford KA in MSVR Enduro KA series. They asked me if I wanted to join and of course I jumped at it! Racing a standard road going Ford KA, it was amazing fun, absolutely awesome!”

Volvo PV544 at Goodwood (image courtesy of CCK Historic)

He impressed by finishing in the top 5 at Snetterton and was asked to compete at Brands Hatch completing a 500 mile endurance race into a cold November night. Having had the roof of his car damaged in qualifying after another car rolled on top of it, his team worked through the night to get their KA in shape for race day. Charles started the race having been the quickest among his teammates.

“We got helped out by safety cars within the first hour. We would get 2 laps running and then a safety car, 2 laps, safety car, but in that time I was able to make up enough places to go from 47th on the grid, to 1st.” Being the first hour, Charles and the team achieved this without anyone completing a pitstop, meaning it was just pure pace.

He continued, “We manged to go on and finish 2nd in that race, so it was good. And from that I got more recognition from that first hour of driving than I had my entire racing career in historics even being on the podium at Goodwood so from that we knew that we had to move into modern racing.”

It didn’t take long for the team to decide where their next venture would be “We knew that we had to go onto the BTCC support paddock because it’s the place to be, it’s on live television. The racing is very competitive with all the different series and all the different cars.”

When it came to purchasing a car a Ginetta and Porsche were very available at Brands Hatch, but one series stood out. “There’s something about a Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car that is just so appealing. They sound fantastic and go so quick around the lap. We decided to try and buy a Porsche and thankfully got accepted into the championship.”

Charles and the team (Image courtesy of Gun Hill Studios)

2021 was set for Charles and the team at CCK Motorsport, but he was not expecting much from his rookie season, “I went testing for the first time early March, it was a cold but dry day at Snetterton and at first I couldn’t even get the car out of the pit lane. I was going down the pitlane, turned the pit limiter off and literally the car was wheel spinning in every single gear, I had no throttle control.”

But by the end of the season Charles and the team had racked up 5 wins in the Pro-Am class. “There was lots to learn with strategy, tyres and racing the cars. But if you had said after that first day we would win the most number of races in that year and could have won the championship we would have been like absolutely no way! It’s just incredible for my first season as a driver and for us as a team really, it couldn’t have gone much better.”

He does have a favourite of those wins, “For the Carrera Cup GB, race 2 at Brands GP. The car just felt so good, we were on pace with the Pros, and it was the first time all year that we properly out classed the rest of the Pro-Ams. I had Ryan Ratcliffe behind me who had just won the championship. I was pulling a gap, by a couple of tenths every lap by not even trying. So yeah, that’s definitely my favourite race of the year.”

In the action for Charles (Image courtesy of Gun Hill Studios)

The opportunities continued to arrive for Charles, with one of the defining moments being an invitation to the Porsche Sprint Challenge France support race at Le Mans. ‘’I was in 55th during the start of practice 1 but I was learning the track, focused on every single apex and braking zone before, with about 10 minutes left, I decided to see what I could do.’’

He began to climb up the field. Charles was putting what he learnt into practice. ‘’Back at the pit wall, the team thought, ‘’he’s coming round awfully quick,’’ and when they gazed up at the timing screens, they couldn’t find me initially expecting me to be near the bottom. After triple checking I was 2nd overall in practice! We qualified 4 seconds faster than anyone in our class and from this point I knew if I don’t win this race it will be a massively lost opportunity.”

Ford Chicane at Le Mans (Image courtesy of Gun Hill Studios)

Sunday morning and the race was on, “straight away I managed to pull a big gap. I was battling with a 992 and 911 R which was fun, they’d always disappear on the straights and I would catch them again on the brakes in the corners. It was nice because I couldn’t even see the car behind me, there was a massive gap. I was just in the rhythm, driving round managed to actually win the race!”

Podium at Le Mans (Image courtesy of Gun Hill Studios)

It’s been an incredible first year racing full time in modern cars, it was hard for Charles to pick a highlight. “If I’m honest it’s the whole thing isn’t it, the whole year has been a highlight and a big learning curve for me. Every circuit was fantastic for its own reasons, every weekend had massive positives in it, even if we hadn’t done that well it was still always really big positives to take from each weekend so the growth I think has to be a big highlight for me.”

Next year the Porsche Carrera Cup GB will see the retirement of the 911 991 GT3 Cup car as they switch to the 992. Charles has already had the opportunity to test the 992 “It was fantastic, I know it is a completely different car, but it feels like a completely different car. So much has changed on it, the driving style is nowhere near close to what you need for the old car.”

Charles and the team are looking for next season to be onwards and upwards, “At the moment the plan is to do the Porsche Carrera Cup GB next year, currently working on trying to get sponsors for the championship and trying to buy the new car. From there try and find the package and get some winter testing in. But looking for some sponsors to join us for next year to try and make it all possible.”

For Charles, after a successful year he has proven it was the right decision to go into modern racing. Should he be able to compete in the Pro-Am class again he will be able to put his year of experience to good use, to improve on last season results. 2022 could be filled with huge opportunities for the young talent and his team, it’s just a matter of time.

Porsche Carrera Cup GB at Silverstone (Image courtesy of Gun Hill Studios)

Feature image courtesy of Gun Hill Studios

“I hope we will fight for the top positions in the general classification until the end” – the interview with Kuba Śmiechowski

Polska wersja:

Many motorsport fans get a thrill at the thought of the LeMans 24. As every year, we celebrate this legendary race with great enthusiasm. This year we have a special honor to cooperate with a team from Poland – Inter Europol Competition.

The team  were second in the European Le Mans Series in 2018, 2019 and 2020.

On this occasion, we had the pleasure to talk to Kuba Śmiechowski. This is the third race at Le Mans for Pole and he is still hungry for successes. Currently, in the WEC classification (LMP2), the driver from Poland is 6th with 37 points. Kuba has had great success in the past – winning the Asian Le Mans Series (LMP3) in 2019 or finishing second in the European Le Mans Series (LMP3) in 2018.

Julia Paradowska: Comparing to your preparations for LM24 for last 3 Le Mans – have they changed? Have you discovered something new about you?

Kuba Śmiechowski: Have I discovered something new? I’m not sure about it.

The preparations are getting easier every year because now I know what to expect and I am more and more mentally prepared for this race. When I started in LM24 for the first time, I didn’t know what it looked like because at that time I had never competed in such a long race.

Now I know what awaits me, also the preparations are easier for me to adjust and I know better what I have to work on.

JP: What do you think about Circuit de la Sarth? Do you have a good memories from this place?

KŚ: The track is really great – it is one of the best I have ever raced at. It is truly unique, it is wonderful.

Do I have any good memories? The previous two Le Mans 24 hour races didn’t go as we planned. We had a car that was not quite able to keep up with the others, so I don’t have particularly good memories, but … The first stint was something special and at the moment it is probably the best memory of this event.

Photo credit: Inter Europol Competition

JP: This season the team has had really good form, do you think it will be an advantage during LM24?

KŚ: Yes definitely. We have an experienced team. Alex and Renger have been in Le Mans many times so they know very well how to drive in a race like this. Unfortunately, we had some bad luck during the qualifications. I believe our pace would have been good enough to make it into the Top 10, but unfortunately we weren’t able to put together a clean lap. It was especially bad in the third sector – GT cars or other LMP2 cars were jumping out in front of us, which prevented us from completing a lap that was satisfactory for us.

We are a bit disappointed after qualifying because I know we have a good car, so we should be in the lead.

JP: The forecast says that it’ll rain during the race. Do you think that It will bring more action at the track?

KŚ: Definitely – it can always mix up a lot. Especially when it comes unexpectedly.

At a some stage of the race, there are drivers from different experience levels in cars. When someone is inexperienced, they are more likely to make a mistake, but even experienced drivers do so.

Rain is especially important for such a long track – it can happen that at one part of the track is raining and the other is completely  dry. Then it is not known what to do with the tires and what strategy to choose.

JP: You said that one of the most important decisions in your motorsport career was switching to endurance racing. Why? When did you come up with this idea?

KŚ: I feel very comfortable here in endurance races and I like driving very much here. I think it’s a really great part of racing.

How did it happen? At one point, we knew we just had to finish our single seater career. We had to choose something else. By pure coincidence, we headed towards the LMP3 cars and decided that it would be the right choice.

Photo credit: Inter Europol Competition

JP: You’re really close to 4th place in championship. Do you think that this battle will continue until the end of the season?

KŚ: I hope so. It is well known – in Le Mans you can get more points than for a regular race. I have a feeling that what’s going to happen here might define the last two races of the seasons and the championship a bit, so it’s hard to say. I hope we will fight for the top positions in the general classification until the end.

I am a bit disappointed that we did not make it to the podium at Monza because during this race we lost the opportunity to fight for third place due to a very late neutralization. I hope it was not our last chance and our car here and in Bahrain will be able to continue fighting ahead.

“Mam nadzieję, że będziemy walczyli do końca o czołowe pozycje w klasyfikacji generalnej” – wywiad z Kubą Śmiechowskim.

English version:

Wielu fanom motorsportu na myśl o LM24 przechodzi dreszcz ekscytacji. Jak co roku będziemy hucznie obchodzili ten legendarny wyścig. Tym razem mamy szczególny zaszczyt współpracować z zespołem z Polski – Inter Europol Competition.

Drużyna zajęła drugie miejsce w European Le Mans Series w 2018, 2019 i 2020 roku.

Z tej okazji mieliśmy przyjemność porozmawiać z Kubą Śmiechowskim, dla którego jest to już trzecia edycja Le Mans i cały czas jest głodny sukcesów. Obecnie w klasyfikacji WEC (LMP2) zajmuje 6 miejsce z dorobkiem 37 punktów. Kuba w przeszłości odnosił wielkie sukcesy – wygranie Asian Le Mans Series (LMP3) w 2019 roku oraz  zajęcie drugiego miejsca w European Le Mans Series (LMP3) rok wcześniej.

Julia Paradowska: W porównaniu do Twoich wcześniejszych przygotowań do LM24 – czy zmieniły się w jakiś sposób? Odkryłeś coś nowego o sobie?

Kuba Śmiechowski: Czy odkryłem coś nowego? Nie jestem pewien.

Przygotowania są coraz łatwiejsze, ponieważ teraz wiem czego mogę się spodziewać i jestem coraz bardziej mentalnie przygotowany na wyścig. Kiedy startowałem pierwszy raz w LM24 nie wiedziałem jak to wygląda, bo w tamtym momencie jeszcze nigdy nie brałem udziału w tak długim wyścigu.

Teraz to już wiem co mnie czeka, także też przygotowania łatwiej mi dopasować i wiem lepiej nad czym muszę pracować.

JP: Co myślisz o Circuit de la Sarth? Masz dobre wspomnienia z tego miejsca?

KŚ: Tor jest naprawdę świetny – jest jednym z najlepszych, na których miałem okazję się ścigać. Jest faktycznie unikalny, wspaniały.

Czy mam jakieś miłe wspomnienia? Poprzednie dwie edycje nie poszły nam tak jak planowaliśmy. Mieliśmy samochód, który nie do końca był w stanie nadążyć za innymi, więc nie mam szczególnie miłych wspomnień, ale… Pierwszy wyjazd to było coś specjalnego i na ten moment to chyba najmilsze wspomnienie z tego obiektu.

  • Photo credit: Inter Europol Competition

JP: Ten sezon jest naprawdę dobry dla Waszego zespołu. Czy uważasz, że regularna forma zespołu będzie atutem podczas LM24?

KŚ: Tak, zdecydowanie. Mamy doświadczony zespół. Alex i Renger byli wiele razy w Le Mans, więc doskonale wiedzą, jak powinno się jeździć w takim wyścigu. Niestety podczas czasówki mieliśmy trochę pecha. Uważam, że nasze tempo wystarczyłoby na dostanie się do czołowej dziesiątki, ale niestety nie byliśmy w stanie złożyć czystego okrążenia. Szczególnie źle było w trzecim sektorze – co chwile samochody GT albo inne LMP2 wyskakiwały przed nami, co uniemożliwiało nam złożenie zadawalającego nas okrążenia.

Trochę jesteśmy zawiedzeni po tych kwalifikacjach, ponieważ wiem, że mamy dobre auto, więc powinniśmy być czołówce.

JP: Prognoza mówi, że podczas wyścigu będzie padać. Czy myślisz, że wprowadzi to więcej akcji na torze?

KŚ: Zdecydowanie –deszcz zawsze potrafi dużo przemieszać. Szczególnie jak nadejdzie nieoczekiwanie.

Na danym etapie wyścigu w samochodach są kierowcy na różnym poziomie. Kiedy ktoś jest niedoświadczony, to jest większe prawdopodobieństwo popełnienia błędu, ale to robią nawet kierowcy z dużym doświadczeniem.

Deszcz ma szczególne znaczenie na tak długim obiekcie – może być tak, że na jednej części toru pada, a na drugiej jest sucho. Wtedy nie wiadomo kompletnie, co zrobić z oponami oraz jaką strategię wybrać.

JP: Powiedziałeś, że jedną z najważniejszych decyzji w twojej karierze było przejście na wyścigi długodystansowe. Dlaczego? Kiedy wpadłeś na ten pomysł?

KŚ: Bardzo dobrze odnajduję się tutaj, w wyścigach długodystansowych i bardzo mi się tutaj podoba. Myślę, że jest to naprawdę świetne ściganie.

A jak to się stało? W pewnym momencie wiedzieliśmy, że po prostu musimy skończyć karierę w oneseaterach. Musieliśmy wybrać coś innego. Czystym przypadkiem skierowaliśmy się w kierunku samochodów LMP3 i uznaliśmy, że to będzie odpowiedni wybór.

Photo credit: Inter Europol Competition

JP: Jesteście naprawdę blisko czwartego miejsca w mistrzostwach. Czy myślisz, że walka potrwa do końca sezonu?

KŚ: Mam taką nadzieję. Wiadomo – w Le Mans można zdobyć więcej punktów, niż za zwykły wyścig. Mam wrażenie, że to co tutaj się wydarzy, może trochę definiować ostatnie dwa wyścigi i punktację, więc ciężko powiedzieć. Mam nadzieję, że będziemy walczyli do końca o czołowe pozycje w klasyfikacji generalnej.

Jestem trochę zawiedziony, że nie udało nam się zdobyć podium na Monzy, ponieważ podczas tego wyścigu przez bardzo późną neutralizację straciliśmy możliwość walki o trzecie miejsce. Mam nadzieję, że to nie była nasza ostatnia szansa i nasz samochód tutaj jak i w Bahrajnie będzie mógł dalej walczyć z przodem stawki.

Le Mans Interview with Renger van der Zande: “Top-Five Should Be Our Aim.”

Inter Europol Competition are entering their third Le Mans with big hopes and big hearts. Photo Courtesy of Inter Europol Competition.

From WeatherTech Sports Car Prototypes to European Le Mans Series, DTM, and Porsche Supercup, Renger van der Zande has had a very interesting and successful career. He is one of many single-seater racers to find their feet in Endurance Racing, and perhaps has grown to become of the best in the business with two 24 Hours of Daytona wins, a championship to his name in IMSA, and having raced alongside such names as Fernando Alonso, Scott Dixon, and Kevin Magnussen to name a few.

This weekend he races with Inter Europol Competition at the 24 Hours of Le Mans alongside co-drivers: Alex Brundle, and Kuba Scheichowski. He was kind enough to speak to us after an incident-filled qualifying session, lining up  18th for the race on Saturday.

#34 Inter Europol Competition during Le Mans Free Practice. Photo Courtesy of Inter Europol Competition.

Inter Europol Competition is a relatively young privateer, entering their first European Le Mans Series Championship in 2016. They now come into this weekend with three years’ experience at Le Mans and Renger was keen to highlight the amount that had been learned in the time he has been with the team: “You know, we started this program this year, with Inter Europol, where everything was kind of new. The car is new, new crew, new package, everything was new. So we had to learn a lot, we have learned a lot these past three races. Le Mans is the big one so we wanted to be ready before this one.”

For such a young team, the pressure is perhaps less than for a larger manufacturer such as Jota or United Autosports. However, he spoke optimistically of their chances: “I feel we are ready for it. I don’t feel we have that kind of knife-edge decision-making yet to be on top of every session. But for the long runs, we’re pretty good.

The 35-year-old Dutch driver has finished inside the top five in both of the World Endurance races with the team at Spa and Monza and is pragmatic about their approach to a good result this weekend: “I think we have a really good race car […]  I think the only thing we should do is focus on ourselves and not to make any mistakes, on the team side and the drivers’ side.”

I think we can go a long way. If you have a clean race, and you have the reasonable pace I think you can finish Top Five and I think that should be our aim, and if we can finish any higher then would be a bonus.”

We also discussed how his season has gone so far, splitting his duties between Chip Ganassi in IMSA and Inter Eurpol Competition in WEC: “it’s a great opportunity when you get a chance to do both the biggest World Endurance Championships this year and I’m racing in both of them so that makes me proud.”

“With IMSA I’m part of a factory program […] Over there I can push really hard for the last details, and I think with Inter Europol we are still in the process of learning. There’s nothing wrong with that.

“It’s building on the future. So to have those two elements combined in one season is pretty cool.”

In IMSA he races for Cadillac Chip Ganassi Racing Prototype, teammates with both six-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon and ex-F1 racer Kevin Magnussen. Notably, he won the Daytona 24 Hours in 2019 and 2020, one of those while partnering alongside Kamui Kobayashi and two-time F1 champion Fernando Alonso.

He currently has a win and two other podiums to his name in 2021, but despite this knows he could have achieved more after a puncture in the final fifteen minutes while leading this year’s Daytona 24 Hours and a backmarker collision while leading in Sebring: “If you look at the results, I think it’s not been good enough because if you look at IMSA in the first four or five races, with the fastest car, we only won one race.” Had bad luck not befallen then Renger would have likely been sitting here having won the last three consecutive Daytona 24 Hours and be leading the championship.

However, there were still positives to take away: “That program was put together in January, so if you look at that, it’s pretty impressive with how fast the car has been so it’s how you look at it, you know.”

His form has been one of the best in endurance racing, and claims this allows him to remain unfazed when lining up alongside his all-star teammates: “I drive with former F1 racers like Fernando Alonso and Scott Dixon who  is a six-time IndyCar champion […] But then Kevin Magnussen and all of those guys. They went to Formula 1 and I didn’t. And I think one of the reasons for that is I am typical one of those Endurance drivers.”

“I’m happy in that spot, and if you know what your strengths are, you can really use it. And then going into the race, for example, I’m very relaxed and come to know what to expect. And I think that makes a difference in how you approach it.”

Renger van der Zande makes way for Alex Brundle during Le Mans Free Practice. Photo Courtesy of Inter Europol Competition.

Renger is teammates alongside Alex Brundle and Kuba Śmeichowski and has praised the work of his co-drivers: ” I get along with both of them really well. I think Alex is a really nice guy. He knows his car really well, so he has a lot of set-up knowledge […] I think that helped us quite a bit in the beginning.”

Kuba is obviously not a pro-driver but he’s a very good teammate, there’s a good combination with the three of us.”

We also discussed the momentous occasion of fans returning to Le Mans for the first time since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is expected that over 50,000 fans will be in attendance for what is set to be an emotional return for some.

“Yeah, it’s the first time my Dad’s coming back.” Renger said.

“Last year he couldn’t come, so it’s really special. To be honest I’m probably used to it a bit more due to everything in America opening up. The first time you see fans again it feels a bit weird. But once they are there it’s really cool and makes a big difference to the atmosphere.”

We wished Renger and Inter Europol Competition the best of luck for this weekend but had just enough time to ask how he coped during the time outside of the car. Would he be ‘glued’ to the coffee machine? Does he have a very strict sequence of power naps?:

“I think I learned during all of those long flights and experiencing jet lag from America that when I get on an airplane I can sleep, just as when I get out of a car I can sleep straight away.

“Getting a five-hour nap during a 24 Hour race is fantastic and keeps you fresh.”


Le Mans 24 Hours: A chat with Alex Brundle

At Le Mans this weekend, Inter Europol Competition are making their first LMP2 entry into the event, and we sat down with one of the experienced drivers spearheading the team’s effort: Alex Brundle. Alex has contested seven Le Mans events before this year, and he gave us some wonderful insight into his career, his Le Mans journey over the years, and his nickname “The Cookie Monster”.

Q: Alex, thanks for your time, you’re entering your eighth 24 Hours of Le Mans this weekend, talk us through just how special a Le Mans race week is and how much hard work goes into it.

 AB: I mean it’s different to any other race, in that some teams will prepare in days of old for a whole year for one race weekend, and it’s a very drawn out affair, less so in COVID times when things are a little more compressed, but it’s still a longer race weekend than any other. Of course in the race distance and also in terms of the full experience, and the whole thing is just a race, but double the size. The track’s double the size; the speed’s higher; the race is incredibly long, and it blows your mind honestly the first time you come here. On the eighth time, you start to feel a little bit like you know what you’re doing, but this place still always surprises you.

Q: It must be a really unique race!

 AB: It’s completely its own thing, like the Nurburgring 24 hours or the Isle Of Man TT I imagine. It’s its own event where really you have to just orientate yourself to the fact that you’re out on public roads in a proper sports car, racing an F1 top speed racing car, and that is something that takes a lot of getting used to, along with the sheer number of cars on the race track, and the speed differential between those cars. It’s something you can’t just jump into and do well, without a significant car advantage or a team that are really set up around you, so it’s hard and you need to grow experience here to be reliably successful I think.

Q: Your father won Le Mans in 1990 not too long before you were born. He had relative success in the motorsport world, but where does your passion for racing spring from?

 AB: Really that [my dad], over the few years dad spent at Le Mans, I spent a bit of time around the programmes, particularly the Toyota GT1 programme, when I was a little guy. I went to lots of the testing when they were testing at airfields and race tracks with dad. They were really the first race cars I saw in the flesh, out on track and the first time I was involved in the programme. And I actually came to Le Mans with the Toyota GT1 as well, so it’s been a huge part of my love for racing, but I don’t really remember a time when I didn’t want to be involved. All the way through my junior life, it’s been the direction I wanted to take, and I’ve had a singularity of purpose ever since then to try to get as far as I can in racing.

Photo credit: Inter Europol Competition

Q: You raced with him in 2021 as well in Le Mans, talk us through how special and emotional that was to race at Le Mans with your dad.

 AB: It’s really cool. We’ve done a couple of races together but that was probably the biggest event we’ve done together, and it was a really special experience. It was my first Le Mans as well, and it was a tough weekend actually, because you’re going to Le Mans for the very first time; there was no hiding from media attention or hiding from scrutiny for me because we had a full Nissan media machine behind us, so not only was that a brilliant thing and amazing to share that experience with him – it was something that I will never forget – but it was also quite challenging because I was coming into Le Mans for the first time as a rookie, and I really had to learn a lot from him. I think Le Mans over the last few years has become more approachable, but back then you really had to lean on your team mates if you were coming to Le Mans for the first time. And he was great, in terms of teaching me the ropes round here and then of course I came back the next year and I was able to be on the podium, so he must have done a pretty decent job of it!

Q: Let’s talk about 2016 shall we? You got three wins on your way to championship success in the European Le Mans series, how did it feel for all those years of hard work to yield a championship success?

 AB: Yeah, finally! It was a beautiful moment for me actually, because I had had a couple of years out with a muscular issue around the top of my pelvis, and that was not a quick fix, it was a long fix. After 2014 I spent most of 2015 unable to drive and there was a lot of work to do to get myself back in racing shape. And then to jump back in after putting all that work in, I was so determined to try to reboot my career, and I did so with United Autosports. It was actually their second year in that championship, but the first really strong year of LMP3 competition. If you look at where they are now and where I am now, it launched us both into a trajectory which was great. It was a case of coming back to racing in the most successful way, which was really great.

Q: You finished second in Le Mans last year; you’re now contesting this race with your sixth team: Inter Europol Competition. A polish team, entering in an Oreca for the first time. Does this feel special in terms of joining a team at the start of their journey and does it different to the rest of the races you’ve competed in at Le Mans?

 AB: For me, that’s the next stage in my journey. There’s only so much you can prove about yourself I believe as a sports car driver by jumping in one of the better cars and going and converting that into a race win, which is something I’ve done with G-Drive; something I’ve done with United Autosports, and Jota through the past. Then, you get to the point in your career where you’re a service provider to a team. You have to bring all of the experience you learned  through years of hard competition, and try to move forward and using their expertise and knowledge as well and find a way to be successful from base principles. That’s something which is really exciting about our journey right now, and something I believe we’re doing race by race.

Q: The car stands out pretty well too, right?

 AB: (Laughing) Yeah, it really glows doesn’t it? That helps actually; I mean nobody’s claiming that they can’t see us out on track that’s for sure! It’s cool and I really like the colour scheme of the car. It’s kind of Mantis-esque, isn’t it? And when we start winning stuff, which I’m sure we will, these things become iconic.

Q: I just wanted to ask you about the future of WEC (World Endurance Championship) . You mentioned LMP3 becoming more competitive, LMP2 as well. The number of entries in LMP1 had decreased before the Hypercar era. What do you predict about the format of WEC in the next few seasons?

 AB: It’s a very interesting time for WEC actually. It really depends on the success of the Hypercar Formula, which looks to be moderately successful at this point, but I think it will quickly trend towards being very successful, and then the question I believe will be: where is the space going to come from for all the other classes? Because there will be so many more manufacturers wanting to run these prototype cars, and where will the private teams stand in terms of getting an entry if they don’t want to buy and run a hypercar? It’s going to be difficult, so I think that we’re going to see a rich era of sports car racing, with some amazing cars and drivers. It’s definitely going to shift the tides in terms of what kind of teams you’re seeing running these cars in the world championship and what teams can and cannot get an entry for Le Mans.

Q: I was looking over your career, and I don’t know how interested you’ll be, but this is your 220th professional race start in your career since 2006. Does it feel like that many or has it just been so fun that you haven’t really noticed?

Photo credit: Inter Europol Competition

 AB: You caught me my surprise, that’s an interesting one! 220… yeah, seems about right. I’ve been around a few years and started some races, and it’s all about the journey and it’s been really fun, but it takes that. So many different things can happen on a racetrack when you press the button and the green light goes. I think it was Gil de Ferran that I asked for advice as a younger man, and he looked me square in the eye and said: “you’ve got to try to come to the race track and know what the hell you’re doing.” And although that maybe seemed like a platitude at the time, it was a great piece of advice – you really do. There’s just no substitute for experience, and it’s been great fun; it’s been a great ride. I’m 31 and I’ve got a lot of racing still to do, and I need to win this race overall, and to win this championship overall. That’s the aim; that’s what I’m going for, so I have to keep on pushing.

Q: On that point of experience, do you sometimes feel like you’ve gone full circle? Having more experience now, do you find yourself giving that advice to some of the younger drivers?

AB: Definitely, that’s a big part of our function as well in sports car racing. When you look through to making the jump towards being a pro driver here, especially in a 2021 grid where the cars are big downforce, paddle shift, a lot like a junior single-seater – plus a bit of weight and a bit of power. Am I going to go out and just put two seconds on somebody coming out of Formula 3? No, I’m not. They’re all very competent; they get more competent all the time. What I can do is do the job – my job – without giving myself a little extra time, and also to assist everyone around me and give that bit of extra time to everyone around me and become almost 10% team manager, in many ways. You give all of your experience; you help your team mates out, and you bring the right mentality and attitude to the race team, and I think that’s something you only really appreciate after a decent amount of time in the car. And I think it’s something that the teams really appreciate from you and that’s how you can stand out in 2021 by taking that approach.

Q: And just lastly from me, a nice little fun one to finish. I heard that you’ve earned the nickname “The Cookie Monster.” I was just wondering if you could tell us a little bit about that!

 AB: Yeah, it comes from John and Eve at Radio Le Mans. It must have been the second time I did Le Mans. I mean Eve’s cooking is notoriously fantastic. They had a jar full of cookies in the kitchen, and they tried to offer me one. I believe I got a piece of paper out and started to explain to them exactly how much time over a lap that cookie corresponded to in terms of weight. (Laughing) And so they’ve called me the Cookie Monster ever since – not because I eat them but because I refuse to! I’ve since apologised to Eve, because I’ve heard her cooking is legendary, but that’s where that story comes from.

RK: I did not regret asking that question! Thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it, and best of luck in the Le Mans 24 hour.

 AB: Thanks a lot!

International Women’s Day 2021 – The interview with Jennie Gow (part 1)

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.

Read 2nd part here:



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International Women’s Day 2021 – The interview with Jennie Gow (part 2)

Read the first part

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!


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International Women’s Day 2021 – The interview with Louise Goodman (part 2)

 The first part of the interview

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!


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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?
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?
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.

International Women’s Day 2021 – The interview with Louise Goodman (part 1)

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.


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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?
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?
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.

Read 2nd part

International Women’s Day 2021 – The interview with Kirsten Landman, South Africa’s top female Enduro Racer

Kirsten Landman, Dakar 2020

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, 1st lady

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


IMPI Gold class finisher : 25th overall & highest placed female finisher

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

Kirsten Landman

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 Landman

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!

Kirsten Landman

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.

Kirsten Landman

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.

Kirsten Landman

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 ……..

Kirsten Landman

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.


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