Sun, Jul 16, 2006 - Page 19 News List

Cars out for the ladies

For years women in motor racing were just 'brolly dollies' or mascots. Now, though, a major event puts them in the driving seat

By Fanny Johnstone  /  THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

One of this year's FW Championship finalists, Vicky Lloyd, 22, is a nurse who is serious about trying to make it to the top. Racing is in her blood. Her father raced until he was paralysed by a crash at Mallory Park, racetrack in the UK before his daughter's birth. This has not dissuaded her from aiming to make a career out of racing. She is about to race at Mallory Park herself for the first time. When I asked her what racing felt like, her answer matched emotion for emotion the answer of every female racing driver I interviewed.

“It's probably the most exciting thing you could ever do,” she says. “The adrenaline is phenomenal because you're nervous someone might crash into you but still you want to overtake, get ahead and win. When I get out of the car I want to jump around because I'm so excited. The thing is, I've got the bug. It's highly addictive.

“That's why people continue to throw so much money at the sport and why my father has never tried to stop me.”

Although there have been, and still are, very successful female racing drivers such as Janet Guthrie, Desiree Wilson, Sarah Kavanagh and Susie Stoddart, they usually don't make it to the top because they can't get the financial backing and support that a male driver will. There's no fighting it. No matter how good a driver you are, male or female — if you haven't got one of the best cars and teams on the track, you won't win the race.

And sexism is widely acknowledged as having proved a major obstacle in procuring financial backing for women in motor sports. In Beverley Turner's recent book about formula one, The Pits, she writes, “(F1 chief) Bernie Ecclestone has admitted that women will probably never drive in the sport. He says: ‘In all likelihood they will never get the opportunity, because no one will take them seriously or sponsor them financially. Therefore they're never ever going to get into a competitive car.'”

And unless you, or your parents, are mega-wealthy, financial backing comes from sponsorship. This is a vicious circle because unless you attract big trackside audiences and widespread media exposure, sponsors are elusive. And yet, as former FW competitor Amanda Johnson explains, “Right now racing teams are screaming out for really good female drivers (partly) because of the media benefits they bring.”

“You have to start somewhere,” says Lloyd. “If you don't give the opportunity to women who haven't had it before, you'll never change the statistics. Luckily the FW Championship brings a TV deal which is rare in club racing and has widened the appeal and audience of women in motor sports.”

The person responsible for Formula Woman is former racing driver and instructor Graeme Glew, who counts grand prix driver Mark Blundell and the rally driver and TV motoring presenter Vicki Butler-Henderson among his past students. With 20 years of experience, Glew recognised that women were just as hungry for high speeds and capable of the necessary reactions, courage and fitness as men. “Women racing cars is just as exciting, if not more so, than men racing, because I think they show their personalities and emotions more,” he says.

What's more, to add to the excitement, “There are new records to be broken by women against women.”

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