The motor racing establishment has undergone many changes in recent years seeing a surge in talented female drivers taking to the tracks for the first time.
In a former life, working in hotels, I met and served James Hunt, the former British racing driver who won the Formula One World Championship in 1976.
As a child I had watched him on a black and white television race the orange and white coloured Ford-Cosworth powered, Marlboro backed, McLaren M23 to victory. He was a big personality. But as a hotel guest was a big challenge, being unruly, unkempt, thirsty and very gregarious.
In the late 1970s single-seat racing, rallying and all other forms of motorsport was male dominated. Well, move over boys, the new kids are in town.
I recently had the privilege of being able to chat with our Scottish homegrown female racing talent including Chloe Grant, Logan Hannah and Ashleigh Morris – and their CVs are impressive.
Chloe Grant (15) took time out from her Physics class to speak to me. She was crowned 2021 Junior Saloon Car Championship scholarship winner, which meant a fully-funded season in a Citroen Saxo race car. She’s also the youngest ever winner of the Scottish Motor Racing Club’s (SMRC) Rising Star award. Chloe aspires to join the senior grid and ultimately lead the British Touring Car Championship.
Logan Hannah is the reigning David Leslie Trophy winner, the first female to win a Scottish Formula Ford 1600 race. She started in cars aged six and was racing karts at 11. Today she is involved in testing cars and lives for single-seater racing. Logan loves open racing and the wheel-to-wheel action.
Ashleigh Morris, competing in the Ford Fiesta R200, is already established as a top-flight rally driver and instructor at Bedford Autodrome. Ashleigh Morris had a brilliant season last year, with two class wins and three other class podiums, as well as four top-20 finishes. December 2019 saw a class win for Ashleigh at her home circuit of Knockhill, a win she told me she psychologically needed after a crash there the year before.
This success is not enough for Ashleigh, though, as she has been back in the classroom to get her racing licence, allowing her to extend her motorsport repertoire. She started off by becoming an accomplished co-driver, before swapping seats to the driver’s side. Ashleigh tells me she’ll soon be back co-driving for her younger brother, helping him get traction with his motorsport career.
For 2021 Ashleigh will be competing in the Scottish Rally Championship, which kicks off next weekend (June 25 and 26) with the Argyll Rally.
In our talks some themes emerge; to race you need sponsorship, as motorsport is both hard work and expensive – and just getting practice time on track is a hurdle. It costs money, and there’s the risk of breaking bits on the car ahead of the actual race, so the women all use simulators to learn the tracks.
I round off by talking with Lucy Grant, Women On Track representative from SMRC, whose mission is to inspire and encourage more women to get into motorsport. Lucy tells me there is a very supportive female network.
Not sure how to get started? Lucy advises reaching out to the SMRC, or get involved with marshalling, media, driving or working as a mechanic. Lucy reflects that the world of oily motorsport can appear to be a male-dominated environment but in reality that’s not the case.
For example, Suzanne Wolff, from Oban, progressed through the ranks of motorsport, starting off in karting, then, in 2014, became the first woman in 22 years to take part in a Formula One race weekend at Silverstone.
Jillian Snedden is another role model, taking over as managing director at Knockhill in 2008 and successfully re-invigorating Scotland’s racing circuit.
And if you haven’t picked up on Extreme E, you need to. Extreme E is sanctioned by the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), the governing body for world motorsport and the federation of the world’s leading motoring organisations. This international off-road racing series uses electric SUVs to race in remote parts of the world, such as the Amazon rainforest or the Arctic.
Chloe, Logan and Ashleigh consider themselves elite athletes, and behave accordingly
Although there are some big male names driving such as Jenson Button, Carlos Sainz and Sébastien Loeb, the series also promotes gender equality in motorsport by mandating that all teams consist of a female and a male driver who share equal driving duties. And it’s a great spectacle!
All racing locations are chosen to raise awareness for some aspects of climate change and Extreme E maintains a “Legacy Programme” which intends to provide social and environmental support for those locations.
Ambassadors for motorsport
Meeting motorsport’s up-and-coming talent was in stark contrast to dealing with Mr Hunt all those years ago. Chloe, Logan and Ashleigh consider themselves elite athletes, and behave accordingly: no smoking, no drinking and lots of hard work to maintain their physical fitness.
Yes, it’s a different era without tobacco sponsorship, but with Extreme E both championing the environment and providing opportunities for talented male and female racers alike, these are changes to be welcomed.
These women are articulate, professional and – of course – driven, and are fabulous ambassadors for motorsport. And you could join them, too – these days, motorsport is for everyone.