Racing IS a Girl Thing
Nigel Mansell, Ayrton Senna, Lewis Hamilton…. Think motorsports legends and these are the names that come to mind. In a male-dominated Top Gear and Formula One obsessed world, “Girl Racers” Author Lara Platman is on a mission to show today’s women that motorsports aren’t just for the boys….
For International Women’s Day 2014 we spoke to Lara about how she is inspiring change in motorsports by retelling the stories of generations of girl racers “ who simply didn’t know they couldn’t”. When talking with Lara, we couldn’t help but admire her can-do attitude to life in general. As well as a respected author of several books and active Huffington Post Journalist, Lara travels across the globe photographing her passions including art, theatre and amazing cars. She has also obtained her ARDS racing license to lead by example and take to the track herself this year.
Here’s what Lara told us about how she developed a passion for cars and racing, her “Girl Racers” mission and hitting the race track this season..
How did you first become interested in motor racing?
“I worked at Country life magazine and photographed people who had a story, Theatre . Dance, Living National Treasures and interesting people. This led me to a book about Craftsman at work the Art Workers Guild book… then another book about Harris Tweed… but in the middle of that I had been introduced to Goodwood Revival where, theatre and cars collided. Everyone was wearing vintage tweed and there were woman racing cars. Amazing historic cars. My world of photography and storytelling was slowly all mixing up and I found a place in my career that I was able to put everything together. The motor racing was a slow passion waiting to appear. I had seen Holly Mason race a vintage Aston Martin and thought…. perhaps I could have a go. So I took some track day lessons from James Wood at Driving Ability and took my ARDS racing test at Silverstone in a Renault Clio Club Sport. My instructor was a chap who races MG Midgets in the HSCC series. I am still in my career finding interesting people and asking questions. Taking their portrait and showing a new generation how amazing our craftsmen and women are.”
When were you first introduced to women racers?
“I was first introduced to woman racers about 16 years ago at Goodwood Revival from the editorial commission with Country Life magazine. I have always been interested in the Bright Young Things, that group of flying hipsters all had cars and flew planes! The women I knew about were the current women driving classic cars. I then started hearing stories about who actually drove those cars beforehand. I had discovered Desire Wilson had raced in Formula 1 and interviewed her as soon as I could.”
Was there a specific moment or a specific racer that inspired you to write your latest book “Girl Racers”?
“Julia de Baldanza who raced her Maserati at the Historic Grand Prix de Monaco in 2010 told me about Mrs Mildred Bruce, who raced the Monte Carlo Rally in her AC in 1927. She came 6th overall and 1st in the Coup de Dames…. The Coupe de Dames??… so there were more women driving the rally?? I immediately started researching all the women I could lay my eyes on. I went to the Brooklands Museum Archive, the Royal Automobile Club Library, The Vintage Car Club Archives and the amazing knowledge of Peter Bowman books, where I purchased all of the Mrs Mildred Bruce books, others by Dorothy Levitt, Kay Petre, The Bugatti Queen and some compilation books and articles from archives. I started a file and note book and filled it with every fact I could find. I joined the British Woman racing drivers Club as an associate and spoke to many women racers who all encouraged me to get cracking. They produced an amazing book covering the 60’s to 90’s so that was a good reference.”
Why is Mrs Victor Bruce your favourite girl racer?
“She symbolised a whole generation of women who just knew they could. She was determined to drive the whole of the Monte rally then the Swedish rally and then drove around the whole of Europe and Africa, then bought a fold up plane and flew solo around the world.She just said to the world… I am doing it. Her freedom just made me so inspired.”
What motivated you to write “Girl Racers”?
“I want to show younger generations that us woman can do it. We have done it before and despite a huge gap of a flux of women racers recently we have actually been very much part of the history of racing drivers so long may it continue. There are so many dusty books about these women on shelves… I want to shake off all the dust and get people to take note of how fabulous they were.”
Is your book a celebration of girl racers for women or should men read it too?
“I hope my book will interest both men and women. There are beautiful historical photos and contemporary women racers from enthusiastic club racers like myself to professional racing drivers such as Alice Powell and Zoe Wenham. Men might enjoy seeing the competition! Actually, they might get some inspiration from us women!”
What inspired you to get your ARDs racing license? Was it difficult to pass?
“Well, I had thoughts about going racing, but it’s expensive. Eventually, I managed to do some track days… and then go to Silverstone for the ARDS. I passed my theory … well that was a really easy part… multiple choice and for anyone who has watched racing would pass it.. So actually doing the track days and doing some swatting up .. it was very easy. Then we had the track test, after the morning of doing skid lessons in the Caterham and Renault Clio Club Sport, we went on to the circuit. After being shown the correct line, and speeds, breaking zones and understanding the responsibility that each driver must observe to each other, it was time for the test. I was nervous, as … well, I had not been karting as a child, or had been on a circuit that often really. But once I got going I loved it. I got faster and faster, my line was almost right – roughly right and the more you drive on the same track you obviously get to know it more. Your line gets better and your speed with it. And with all of that my mind just wanted to go again and again and get better on each lap. The reality of coming into a corner with the correct breaking allows for such a smooth exit – is - utterly perfection. – It’s like printing a photograph then making it better and better. Anyway, I passed. I was so happy.”
Why have you decided to start racing this season and why classic car racing?
“I had photographed the Spa 6 Hours historic race many times and knew that it would be a race I could enter one day. There would be no point in trying to race at something like Le Mans 24hours, another race I have photographed. Firstly you need about £250,000.00 to bring to the table, then or more importantly you need to be fast.. and then on top of that you need to be invited in the February line ups and when all the Formula 1 drivers are jumping ship and joining the FIA WEC series, anyone would be crazy to seriously think about racing at the LM24, unless they were as fast as Andre Lotterer, Mark Webber, Alan McNish… and the women, Natacha Gachnang, Rachel Frey, Andrea Robertson, Claudia Hürtgen or Vanina Ickx. Those women are fast fast fast. All of those women have raced in GT, DTM and Endurance for years and years before racing at Le Mans. No amount of publicity hides the fact that if you are not as fast as that lot, you would have no chance of racing at Le Mans 24hours. So for me, the best way is to stay well away and enjoy historic racing where I would be able to mark my own groove, enjoy the cars I am racing alongside and discover more women that raced and that are racing…AND be able to race on those amazing circuits.”
We hear you bought a 1971 MG Midget road car to race in. Did you build it into a racing car yourself?
“The 1971 MG Midget was physically lying on the rack! I am sharing the car with my race partner and he had bought the road car 7 years ago and had started to work on his single seater Cooper Mrk5, leaving the MG lying there. When I saw the MG ‘resting’… I suggested we get it on the race track. I started to help build it…. but it is now with some amazing race builders who are completing the car for us as we need to get it ready for the start of the season.”
Caught the racing fever ladies? Then why not take a leaf out of Lara’s book and join her on the racing circuits?.. Or, at least read it. “Girl Racers” is a treasure chest of incredible photographs and truly inspirational stories which makes it an addictive read for anyone with an interest in motorsports. Mission accomplished Lara. We’re sold! Motor racing, from professional to grass roots, clearly is, and always was, a girl thing too.