How and when did you get involved in racing?
I started racing in 2004, although I’ve been a petrol-head my whole life. I did a high performance driving course with BMW at Kyalami, and decided I simply had to give racing a try.
Did you face any difficulties getting into the sport and if so how did you overcome them?
Well, starting late was a bit of a hurdle, as most racers start off in karts as youngsters and then move up the ranks from there. It was tough being thrown in the deep end at National level, but fortunately I had a lot of support (my husband, Don, raced himself for many years) and I made up for what I lacked in experience with enthusiasm!
What has been the biggest challenge in your career so far as a lady driver?
It can be difficult to be taken seriously in the beginning, but the trick is to realise that you have to earn your respect. You can’t expect any concessions just because you are female, and in fact, one of the best things about motorsport is that you compete against men on equal terms.
It’s clear to see that passion for cars runs in the family with your great uncle driving a Bentley to victory in the Le Mans 24 Hour race in 1924. You have achieved so much in your career, what is the one thing that you are most proud of?
Yes, racing clearly runs in the genes! I’m very proud of my uncle it was a real achievement to win Le Mans in those days, as motorsport was genuinely very dangerous and it took an enormous amount of courage to wrestle two tons of car around Le Mans for 24 hours. He also held many speed records at Brooklands and raced in the Indy 500 he was inducted into the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame a few years ago. I have a long way to go to live up to his achievements, but I guess I’m proud of being the first female driver to take on the big WesBank V8s and to stand on a podium in the class.
What is your racing legacy?
I need to do a lot more in order to leave a worthwhile legacy, but I hope that my racing career might inspire more girls and women to give motorsport a try and to believe in themselves. For this reason, I am involved with MSA’s Women in Motorsport Panel and we work towards getting more women into motorsport and try to support current female competitors. I would also like to raise the overall profile of motorsport in South Africa, which would make it easier to access sponsorship and increase the number of spectators at events.
What was it like becoming the first women to be on the podium in a V8 race?
Simply awesome! It was particularly special that this happened in East London, which is the fastest circuit in South Africa and the place where the V8s can reach speeds of up to 300kph. My first time on pole in the WesBank V8 class was also memorable.
Racing the V8 must’ve have been a challenge especially with heats the car reaches.
Physically, the V8s are challenging as the temperatures inside the car can reach up to 57 degrees. You need to be fit to cope with this, as the heat can be exhausting â€“ I can lose up to 2 kilograms on a race weekend!
Tell me a bit about your Fire-breathing Mustang. What is it like racing this beast?
You need to be extremely focused, and you have to get to the point where you are driving the car, rather than the car driving you. The cars are physical to drive, and need to be driven aggressively. The Gatorback RAM Mustang is an interesting contrast to the Porsche 917 replica we race in Historics, as the 917 is far more temperamental and has a twin turbo V6 as opposed to the Mustang’s 6.0 litre naturally aspirated V8. You have to drive the 917 with a far more delicate touch!
I drove a Shelby CanAm sports car for several seasons, and really enjoyed driving it â€“ I learned so much in the class, and it was a great introduction to a wings and slicks formula. I was also lucky enough to do a few laps at Zwartkops in a GT1 Ford Mustang that was out from Europe â€“ I could get used to that! My road car is a BMW 135i coupe, which is a fantastic all round car, a bit like a baby M3 here at altitude. My previous road car was a Renault Clio V6, which will always hold a special place in my heart and was the most fun car I have owned.
Derek Bell raced your 917 at the upcoming Top Gear Festival, what is it like being able to chat to a legend like him?
Derek is a total gentleman, and impressed us all by making the time to chat with fans, sign posters and share his experiences. He is an incredible driver and got to grips with the 917 immediately, giving us excellent feedback and useful pointers. He spent virtually the whole weekend in the pits with us, when he could have been cocooning in the VIP lounge a racer, through and through!
How has racing with the likes of local legends such as Willie Hepburn and Ben Morgenrood influenced you?
Both Willie and Ben are legendary drivers and gentlemen, in the mould of Derek Bell. They are always willing to offer good advice and help other drivers, and have made a point of encouraging me with my own racing. They are outstanding racing drivers and are capable of taking on any of the younger racers and giving them a driving lesson. It’s also interesting to note that they are also extremely good with the technical side of racing, and as a result are able to achieve optimum performance and handling from their cars. It’s a real privilege to race with men like them!
Racing in Soweto must’ve have been quite an experience. The Gatorback RAM team in particular spent a lot of time in the taverns etc leading up to the first Soweto Street Festival, what was that like for you?
The WesBank Street Race in Soweto was incredible! We took the car and transporter all over Soweto with the WesBank team, and were blown away by the response we had from the people. We spent time at taverns and car wash facilities, and learned that motorsport can truly cross all boundaries. The interaction with the crowd on race day was awesome â€“ people were waving and cheering, and there was just so much enthusiasm and excitement. We were terribly disappointed that the event was cancelled this year.
As President of Women in Motorsport, what are the challenges to get the women racers numbers up in 2011 and into the future? Are there any up and coming talents that we need to keep an eye on? Have the number of lady drivers increased in the decade?
Motorsport is still seen as male dominated, and we need to work hard to change this perception. We have many female competitors who are doing extremely well against the men, both in cars, karts and on bikes. One of our biggest challenges is a lack of funding the Panel does not have a main sponsor for 2011, which makes it difficult to accomplish some of the projects we have lined up. Sponsorship in general is hard to find, and this makes it tough for our lady competitors, too. We have many very talented ladies racing: Tasmin Pepper in Formula VW, Robyn Kruger in Engen VW Polo Cup, Nicole van Aswegen and Janine Mitchell on circuit bikes, Cindy Porobich and Dolly Mdiniso on offroad bikes just to mention a few. We currently have around 500 women with MSA licenses, which is virtually double the number we had before the Women in Motorsport Panel’s inception in 2007. There are also many women involved in motorsport as marshals and officials.
As a Road Safety Ambassador, what is your role?
My brief is to help raise awareness about road safety in general and specifically, from a female point of view. For example, many women are not aware that alcohol has a more marked effect on females than on males, so a few shooters on the way home from work can drastically effect our driving skills. I am also keen to help get illegal racers off the streets and into a safer environment for both drivers and spectators alike.
What can we look forward to in 2011 from Clare Vale racing?
Drifting! I first watched drifting towards the end of 2010, and was hooked immediately. We are currently building a Mustang V8 drift car with the help of Monstermob Racing, and I am also training with Otto Graven from Monstermob with an eye to our debut in August this year. The Gatorback RAM team is convinced that drifting in SA is going to grow in leaps and bounds, as it has elsewhere in the world â€“ it is the fastest growing form of motorsport in the world. I will also continue to race the Porsche 917 in Historics, and we are keen to make the move to Bridgestone Production Cars if we can find the right sponsorship deal.
As a driver making the switch to Drifting, what for you are the differences between this type of racing and the more traditional track racing?
There is a lot of skill involved in drifting, particularly during the tandem stages, where you drift against another competitor. Drifting is about carrying speed and weight transfer, and you need to be aware of the amount of grip you have and be able to adjust your driving accordingly. You also need to be able to anticipate what the other driver is going to do when you do your tandem rounds. Although the specific driving and set up skills differ between circuit racing and drifting, there are also many similarities. I think that drifting is a great spectator sport, as all the action happens right in front of the crowd and this adds to its appeal as an exciting, intense class of motorsport.
When can we see you going sideways at a SupaDrift event?
I will miss the upcoming event on June 18th as my car will not be ready, but I intend to be sideways at the Supadrift event at Zwartkops in August! I’ll be racing as part of the awesome Monstermob team so will be there in June to support them and all the other drifters, though.
When you are not driving a car, what do you like doing most? What are your other interests in life?
I used to do competitive horse riding for many years, but stopped when my racingÂ career began. National racing takes up a huge chunk of our time, so I donâ€™t really have time for any other sports or hobbies. I am also very involved in our family business (The Truck Man â€“ we sell used trucks and trailers) but I enjoy cooking up a storm for friends and family when we do get a weekend off. I try to stay fit by skipping at night and doing a bit of weight training but donâ€™t go to gym or cycle.
I am passionate about conservation, and I think the Ann van Dyk Cheetah Centre does incredible work with cheetahs and other endangered animals. Ann van Dyk is an inspiration and has dedicated her whole life to preserving the cheetah and ensuring its survival. The Centre gets very little support from official channels and exists on sponsorship and donations from the public, so the Gatorback RAM team does all it can to assist with raising awareness and funds. We hold an annual karting day in aid of the Centre and try to encourage people to visit the farm and support them by means of adoptions and donations. I also support the Vaal Hospice by driving in their annual 12 Hour Kart Race to raise funds every year.
And lastly, if you could give one piece of advice to other drivers with ambitions to go pro, what would it be?
There are very few pro drivers in SA, most drivers support themselves by other means as prize money here is virtually non-existent! You would need to look at racing successfully overseas in order to make a living out of racing. However, if you are serious about making racing your career, it is important to build your own brand and market yourself effectively. This will help you to gain sponsorship and raise your profile in the public eye. In South Africa, everyone knows our top rugby and soccer players, but very few of our top drivers are well known and recognisable. Talent alone is not enough.
How was your 2011 racing season?
2011 was a bit of an up and down year for the Gatorback RAM Team. Our drift car build took a lot longer than we expected, so the Mustang wasn’t ready to compete until the very last event. We had taken a sabbatical from WesBank V8s in anticipation of spending more time drifting, so we only competed in the last two races of the season and did not do much development of that car. We did well with the Porsche 917, however, finishing 2nd in the International Sports Prototype class despite not racing in all the events!
What are your expectations for 2012?
2012 is going to be a much busier year! We have already been competing in the National Supadrift series and plan to do all the events in the calendar. We’re also going to be racing the Mustang in the V8 Supercar class on the WesBank Super Series where dates allow, and will be racing our 917 in ISP again. Our focus will be on doing well in Supadrift, as we believe that this class is going to be high profile and a good place for the team to compete. We are going all out to find a top quality tyre sponsor for the drift Mustang and will be doing a lot of promotional events with this car.
What has been your biggest challenge going into 2012?
It’s a challenge getting to grips with the technicalities of drifting, both from a driver and a team perspective. We all come from a circuit racing background so we’re breaking new ground on every level.
Who do you think was the best local racing driver in 2011?
On the drift circuit, Wade van Zummeren has impressed us with his skill and humble attitude. There have also been some very talented young drivers coming through in circuit racing, both in cars and on bikes.
Where is your next event? And where can people find out information on you or the racing series you participate in?
Our next V8 Supercar event will be in Port Elizabeth on April 28th.
This is always a big event for us, as the Gatorback RAM factory is based there and we go all out to meet the staff and put on a great show for them. We’ll also be drifting at Phakisa at the end of March and competing in some drift events at The Rock over the next few months. Please stay up to date on all our news at our revamped
Your pick to win this year’s WRC and F1 titles?
I’m a big Renault fan, so I’m hoping that the new Lotus team will do well. I also fancy Schumi’s chances of upsetting some of the younger drivers’ ambitions, but Sebastian Vettel is probably the one to beat again. In WRC I think one of the two Sebastians will come out on top at the end of the day.