Pippa Mann

Susie Wolff a Role Model For Future Generations

Yesterday morning the motorsport world woke up to the news that Williams test driver Susie Wolff would retire from the sport at the end of the year. Whilst this may not seem that groundbreaking, the impact she can have on future generations of female racing drivers means her announcement is a big potential step forward for the sport.

Whilst throughout her career some may argue that her racing achievements do not merit her all this attention and scrutiny, but the very fact she was able to achieve what she did is noteworthy in itself. She is certainly not the first female racing driver and she won’t be the last, but she is one of several women drivers who can be a role model for future generations of young girls who dream of becoming racing drivers.

From an early age Susie Stoddart as she was then known had a deep passion for motorsport. She began go-karting early on and achieved some success as she was growing up. For four years in a row starting from 1996 to 1999 she was named the British female kart driver of the year, a good indicator of her talents early on. She was not just winning awards because of her gender however.

Susie Wolff began karting from an early age. Her she is aged eight. Photo copyright Susie Wolff.com .

She was both the Scottish Junior Intercontinental A and Junior Open Intercontinental A champion for 1997, before switching to the British Intercontinental A series for 1998. She finished 10th in the series, also finishing 11th overall in the European Intercontinental A series. For 1999 she moved up to the British Formula A series, finishing the year a respectable 13th. Whilst she struggled in the Formula A World Championship, finishing 34th, her progression and talent were clear to see.

2000 would be her final year in karting, whilst also managing to be her best year too. She improved to 10th in the British Formula A series, whilst also improving to 15th overall in the Formula A World Championship. Her achievements were recognized as she was awarded a prize for being the top female kart driver in the world.

From here on a progression to cars was inevitable, as she moved up to the competitive Formula Renault UK series, competing in the winter mini series initially. She joined the Motaworld team, although naturally her results were nothing groundbreaking as she acclimatized to the series.

For 2002 she made her debut in the full series, although with DFR racing she once again failed to post any notable results in a difficult season for her. 2003 would prove to be her breakthrough year, as she achieved her first podium in the series and finished the year 9th overall. She was nominated as a finalist for the prestigious BRDC McLaren/Autosport Young Driver of The Year Award, whilst also being recognized as the BRDC Rising Star of the year.

Wolff in action during her third and final Formula Renault UK campaign. Her she drives at Brands Hatch. Photo copyright Susie Wolff.com .

Stoddart returned to Formula Renault UK for her third year in 2004, joining the successful Comtec Racing team. She improved with three podiums during a year in which she finished 5th overall in the category. It was time to move up to British Formula Three for 2005, as she joined the established Alan Docking Racing team. Unfortunately for Stoddart her season was ruined by an ankle injury she suffered from the previous winter. She would only compete in the opening two round of the series. With her career momentum in the balance, her future looked precarious going into the 2006 season.

A rare shot of Susie in action during her injury plagued British F3 year in 2005. Photo copyright of SusieWolff.com .

Salvation would arrive from an unusual source for Stoddart, as she was signed by the Mucke Motorsport team to compete in the German DTM touring car championship. It was always going to be tough for Stoddart to make an impact in the series considering she was a rookie, and was driving a two year old spec Mercedes also. She managed to show some form with a strong ninth in the final round at the Hockenheimring.

Stoddart in action during one of her seven years in the DTM touring car series. Photo credit thanks to SusieWolff.com .

2007 was much a repeat of 2006 as Stoddart stayed with Mucke in a two year old car, with her best result a tenth at Mugello halfway through the season. With little progress in her first two years, Stoddart moved across to the Persson Motorsport team for 2008, although despite having former champion Gary Paffett as a team mate her best result was again a tenth, this time at the Norisring.

Wolff remained with Persson in 2009, and amazingly her best result all year was once again a tenth overall at both the Norisring once again and Oschersleben. After four difficult years in the highly competitive category, Stoddart would make a breakthrough in 2010. Once again with Persson she scored her first points in the series, with two seventh place finishes at the Eurospeedway Lausitz and Hockenheimring circuits. At the end of the year she was 13th overall in the category with four points.

Stoddart standing out in one of her DTM seasons. Photo sourced from SusieWolff.com .

After this breakthrough year Stoddart was expecting to step up again in her sixth year driving in the DTM. Unfortunately for Stoddart it would prove to be another frustrating year as she struggled as she had done before. Her best result was 11th at Valencia, leaving her unclassified at the end of the year with no points.

2012 would prove to be the now Susie Wolff’s seventh and final year in the DTM series, although she failed to go out with a bang. She once again struggled in a series where a tenth can decide the top six. Her best result would prove to be two 12th places, although by now her priorities had somewhat changed.

In early April 2012 it was announced that Wolff had joined the Williams F1 team as a development driver for them. Whilst some within the motorsport community questioned the team’s motives considering her husband Toto Wolff was a shareholder in the team, she would prove to everyone that she was ready to handle a Formula One car.

Wolff receiving instruction for her first F1 test with Williams in October 2012. Photo credit thanks to SusieWolff.com .

Wolff made her test debut for the Williams team at the Silverstone circuit in October 2012. She drove a 2011 Williams FW33-Cosworth and impressed the team with her driving. For 2013 attention increased on Wolff when she drove for the team at the mid-season young driver test. Her performance was scrutinized, as she finished the test 23rd overall from the combined times out of 33, although she was only a second off regular race driver Pastor Maldonado in the same car. It’s also very hard to read too much into testing times, considering they drove the car on different days.

It’s also worth considering that Wolff was not racing in 2013 at all, and besides her sole test run the previous October she had not driven a single seater since 2005. For Wolff her role within Williams stepped up in 2014, as it was announced she would compete in two practice sessions for the team across the year. This sparked a lot of media attention for both Wolff and the team.

Wolff showing her talents in the 2013 F1 mid-season F1 test at Silverstone. Photo credit goes to SusieWolff.com .

At her home British Grand Prix Wolff duly made history, as she became the first female driver to compete in an F1 weekend since Giovanna Amati over two decades before in 1992. Unfortunately for Wolff she was not able to fully enjoy her day as an engine failure ended her session after only four laps. Things went much more smoothly in her second practice run for the German Grand Prix.

After overcoming a first lap gearbox issue, Wolff was able to complete a good number of laps as she ended the session 15th overall, only just over two tenths of a second behind team mate Felipe Massa. This was a very impressive result for Wolff considering her lack of experience compared to Massa, an 11 time race winner in the sport.

At the end of 2014 Wolff’s efforts were rewarded by the team, as she was announced as the team’s test driver for the upcoming 2015 season. Her role increased with the team as she completed a day with the team in the second pre-season test in Barcelona, before she once again completed the opening free practice session for the Spanish Grand Prix.

Wolff steps out after one of her many practice runs for the Williams team. Photo sourced from SusieWolff.com .

Wolff ended the session 14th this time,only 0.9 of a second behind regular driver Massa. This was once again a noteworthy performance once again considering their relative experience in F1. Wolff would only have to wait a few months for her next run in the competitive Williams FW37-Mercedes, as she drove the opening day of the in-season test at Austria. After 39 laps in a rain affected day she finished ninth overall with a 1m13.248 lap time.

Whilst this was not necessarily was Wolff was hoping for, she had a chance to redeem herself with another free practice run for the upcoming British Grand Prix. Once the session had been completed Wolff would find herself 13th on the timesheets, with a time only 0.8 of a second behind Felipe Massa. Unfortunately for Wolff this would be the last time she would drive for the Williams team, as she announced her retirement from the sport only a few days ago.

Wolff leads team mate Felipe Massa during free practice one for this year’s Spanish GP. Photo sourced from SusieWolff.com .

The news of her retirement at age 32 has garnered a lot of press attention, now seems like a perfect time to look towards the future and to what her legacy can be for a future generation of female racing drivers. Whilst the results in her career may suggest that she is not possibly worthy of this role, the very fact she was able to establish herself a genuine F1 affiliated driver irrespective of her gender shows what she has achieved in the last few years.

Whilst she initially was questioned based on her relative merit for a role within F1, by the time of her announcement yesterday she was a fully fledged Williams test driver. Along with other female drivers such as Danica Patrick in Nascar, Pippa Mann in Indycar, Katherine Legge in Sportscar’s and Simona De Silvestro in Indycar have all greatly raised awareness of female racing drivers and have showed that they can be successful irrespective of their gender.

This wave of increased awareness of female drivers needs to continue, if the sport is to full shake it’s current tag as a male dominated sport. The seeds of change have been planted with the likes of Leena Gade, Audi sportscar race engineer, have shown that women can be just as successful in all aspects of motorsport as men. Wolff has already said she wants to work with the grassroots elements of the sport to promote female participation in sport.

For the likes of Wolff she has a great opportunity now to interact and help develop a wider female generation of racing drivers, therefore Wolff can act as a great role model for any future wannabe racing drivers. They can look of the example from the likes of Wolff and aspire to match or even surpass their achievements in the sport. The future could turn out to be very bright for the next few female generations of racing drivers.

What are your thoughts on the career and potential legacy of the likes of Susie Wolff? Please feel free to give your comments below and thank you for reading.

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Interview with Indycar racer Pippa Mann

Today see’s a first for this site as we recently completed an interview with Indycar racer Pippa Mann. For the die-hard motorsport fans that don’t know of Pippa Mann, she is a British racer who rose up through the junior single-seater ranks in both Britain and Europe, eventually spending two years in the highly competitive Renault World Series. Despite becoming the first female pole sitter and points finisher in the series her two years in the series were largely frustrating with issues beyond her control.

This severely derailed her career momentum in Europe, before she embarked on a career in the American open-wheel racing scene. After rising through the ranks she began to show promise in her second year of  Indy Lights. 2010 saw her become the first female pole-sitter at the hallowed Indianapolis Motor Speedway, before picking up a debut win at Kentucky to finish 5th in the standings with a highly respectable 312 points.

From here she carried her career momentum over to the premier Indycar series, where she qualified for her debut Indianapolis 500, despite a competitive field and a small team. From here she has carried on her momentum with successive part-seasons in 2013 and this year, making the Indy 500 both years. She has yet to display her full potential in the Indycar series, although that is down to unfortunate circumstances rather than a lack of talent. Here is the interview in full.

What made you decide to switch your career to America?

In 2008, I was going into my second year in World Series by Renault, and I had really started to get to grips with the car and the formula towards the end of the previous season. I was strong in the off season testing, and everyone, myself included, expected me to have a very good year the following year. But the new car for 2009 and I just didn’t mesh at all. From ergonomic problems I had fitting into it, to the fact it just didn’t suit my driving style with the set-ups we were running on the old car.

It took me all year to start to get comfortable again, and that meant that I just didn’t bring home the results I wanted. I was frustrated. I knew I had probably lost my opportunity to continue racing single-seaters in Europe, and I started looking to potentially race sports cars in 2009. I started to race a Porsche in the UK Cup Championship, and by my second and third race weekends, I was up in the top 10 of that championship on pace on a regular basis and starting to have a lot of fun. I thought my future was probably set, but then I got a call, asking me to come to the US and meet with a team, who were looking for a female driver for one of their sponsors in Indy Lights for the following season.

They had looked at who was racing currently in the US, then decided to cast the net wider to include Europe, and when they did that, I was the only one at the time who was racing in any of the big open-wheel championships in Europe. Given at the time I was the only female driver to have a pole in World Series by Renault, to have scored points and top ten finishes in some of their races, they were interested. So I packed a bag, got on a plane, and I guess the rest is kind of history now!

What has been your racing highlight so far in your career?

I think it probably has to be qualifying for the 2011 Indy 500. It was my first ever IndyCar race, and I had just one day of testing before we started running at the speedway with everyone else. I was with a small team, expanding from one car to two cars, and my team mate was struggling in his first full-time season of IndyCar, leaving my team boss worried he might not make it into the race.

There were 42 cars competing for 33 slots, and my job was simple. I was there to make sure we got at least one of our team cars into those 33 spots however long the odds against us seemed… We made it. Just. I was the only one-off rookie attempting their first IndyCar race at that Indy 500 to make it in.

Several full-time drivers racing all season long, including my own team mate, did not make the show, and yet with our shoe string budget, and two to three guys only working on the car, we made it happen. It’s probably not a highlight that other people expect me to think of, they expect me to talk about my poles in 2010, or winning Kentucky in that year, or even my first Indy 500 itself maybe… But all of those pale into the fact I was not only in my first Indy 500, I earned my way in the hard way, and together we were the little team that could.

What has been the best race of your career so far?

This is a tough question! The easy answer is winning Kentucky in 2010 in Indy Lights, but actually, despite not being a race that many people outside the team would notice, I think the 2014 Indy 500 was pretty special too… We had an issue at one of the pit-stops that put us several laps down at my second pit stop, but the car was fantastic all day long, and I learned so much from the fact we got back out there, and I was able to run in dirty air for the entire rest of the 500 miles.

The guys I was racing against in the first two stints of the race finished 12-17th place, and our goal going in was to try and bring home a top 15 finish. Given our pace was on a par with theirs even after our stop issue, and I was actually still running with that group all afternoon long, just laps down and unable to play – it didn’t come away looking like much on paper, but we as a team were all really pleased with everything but that one bum pit stop during that race.

Then of course the 2011 race itself being my first Indy 500 was pretty special to me too. I actually didn’t have a working water bottle in that race, and was pretty badly dehydrated – I was having searing cramps all up and down my right arm, and particularly in my right shoulder from where you’re muscling the car around the track, but I was absolutely determined it wasn’t going to stop me, and I was going to finish the race in my rookie year. I came 20th.

Have you started looking at your 2015 plans yet? E.g talking with teams?

Yes, absolutely! I think it’s no secret to say that Dale would very much like me to come back in 2015, and I would love to drive for him again too. His team has been the most incredible home for me the past two years at the Indy 500, and I really enjoy working with the great group of people he has put together.

Susan G. Komen also had a great experience this year at their first Indy 500, and they want to come back with us too, so the plan is to bring the pink car back for it’s second Indy 500. Right now I am working hard on the business side of that equation, so that we can put the funding in place to make this all happen!

What inspired you to become a racing driver?

Actually it was pure chance. I got to drive a go-kart on an indoor kart track when I was around 12 years old, and absolutely loved it. That was it. Bitten by the bug, and I’ve never looked back since!

What are some of your earliest memories of motorsport?

Being taken to watch the British F1 race with my Dad at Silverstone, and watching the standing start from the grandstands opposite the front straight. I was a race fan long before I ever got to drive anything, or the thought that I could one day drive had even crossed my mind.

What advice would you give to aspiring drivers?

Be determined. Learn the business side, and be just as determined in that too. Don’t let people tell you you’re not going to be able to make it happen. Expect to work really hard, and expect it to be hard – for most of us this life is not easy, and you have to be prepared to bust a gut 24-7 on the business side, always put time and effort into being prepared physically for when the next opportunity comes your way, and you have to be very strong mentally too.

There may be times when you’re out of a race car for long periods of times in your career, but you just have to keep digging, keep adapting, and be prepared to take on other work and diversify (such as instructing, coaching, etc.) to survive.

Would you ever be tempted to race in other forms of motorsport e.g Sportscars?

Oh absolutely. I think I mentioned earlier on in this interview that I got to race a Porsche a few times in the UK before I moved to the US, and I have never had the chance to drive a GT car since, but I had an absolute blast in those races – it was so much fun. If the opportunity arose, I would love to do some sports car races alongside my commitment to the Indy 500 each year, however with the current licensing system, it’s very difficult for someone like me to get those opportunities.

In terms of license grade I am ranked the same as someone who races IndyCar full-time, and has multiple IndyCar wins under their belt… Yet I only get to race a couple of times a year in open-wheel, usually only on ovals at the moment, and I only have those few races in a GT car in the UK under my belt… So if you were looking at taking on someone with my high a grade of license, you probably wouldn’t pick me!

It’s something a lot of drivers in my position, or similar positions to me in the US are facing right now, and to be honest, it’s something even some of the guys who are coming up through the sports car ranks themselves are facing. I understand why there needs to be a licensing system to make it fairer to the AM drivers who fund a lot of sports car teams, but at the same time, I do wish there was a little more flexibility in the rules. There’s an awful lot of us who would love to race, and who could do a good job, falling through the cracks with this current system.

If you could compete in one motor race that you haven’t already which one would it be?

Ooooh. Good question. I guess I would love to compete in one of the big 24 hour sports car races one day – either Daytona, or Le Mans. That would be pretty special!

Why do you feel there has been a recent spike in European interest for Indycar/Road to Indy scheme?

Drawing from my personal experience, and from recent conversations I actually had with European drivers when I visited Monza to watch the F1 race a few weeks ago, I think that often there is a lot of fear surrounding the unknown that is racing in the US, and racing on ovals in particular.

In Europe, you seem to race a lot of the time thinking you’re in a bubble where sure, motor sport is dangerous, but nothing’s ever going to happen to you… In the US, with the speeds we race, so close to the walls, you can’t live inside that bubble any more, and you have to accept that our sport can be brutal at times. Not everyone can do that, and I think it takes a lot of people some time to get past that mentally.

We strive to make our racing as safe as it possibly can be, but when something goes wrong at 220+ mph next to a wall, it’s unfortunately just physics that sometimes it can go really wrong. So I think that scenario, plus the fact guys find it so hard to believe that we’re cornering faster than they often go in a straight line, makes it tough for Europeans to get their head around. Combine this then with the old thing that someone who hasn’t driven an oval, and doesn’t understand one, thinks “it’s just too corners, how hard can it be?” and you get this odd juxtaposition of opinion surrounding what they don’t really know, but what they think they know about our sport here in the US… For years I think these opinions have all contributed to lack of interest, and not many people being prepared to take the leap.

However recently I think there have been a number of European drivers who have come across and made the transition well, and whom are happy to talk about how much they love IndyCar. I think someone like Conor Daly running the Indy 500 last year, then going back and telling all of his fellow drivers in the series he was racing in Europe a) how much he loved the experience, and b) how hard it actually is to race a car for 500 miles at those speeds in constant dirty air, and how incredible the challenge is… I think that helps educate, and as people start to understand better, there’s less fear of the unknown.

Then right now in the US, we have something which does not exist anywhere else in the world in terms of a concise, direct open-wheel ladder, where every champion gets help towards his crack at the next rung on the ladder. With the new Indy Lights car coming out in 2015, a much needed upgrade on the previous car I raced, that chassis is suddenly much more in line with what European guys have been racing.

The costs are still cheaper than most comparable series in Europe, and with the new championship prize rules, if you win, you’re effectively guaranteed a shot at next year’s Indianapolis 500 in an IndyCar through the prize money scholarship scheme, and potentially a few more races tacked onto that depending on the team, and what other money you’re able to put together too. If you win the GP2 title, there are no guarantees of anything.

In fact most recently Kevin Magnussen came from World Series by Renault, which I used to race, and by passed GP2 altogether on his way to F1. The ladder in Europe is complex, expensive, and winning the title lacks giving you that final push you really want from it. Here, winning means more than getting to write it on your resume. It means that shot I was talking about at the biggest race of the IndyCar season.

That’s a pretty massive prize and incentive right there. I know this is a long answer, but I also want to touch on one final thing before I quit talking about the ladder series. I think it’s very important for people looking at coming over from Europe to IndyCar and the MRTI ladder to look at Indy Lights before IndyCar. My reasoning? Learning the ovals. Learning them in an IndyCar is very hard, and for many drivers who come across it’s a very difficult and tough transition.

However, a season of Indy Lights gives you the opportunity to really get your head around them, and start to get your teeth into them. For the record, as the girl who is currently the only female pole sitter ever at IMS, I certainly didn’t do that in my first year, and I didn’t win a race on them in my first year either.

It took me two years to get comfortable, to learn what I needed from the car, when to push, and when to understand that just doing what you could with what you had was going to be the best decision for your race result. And now, I’m in a position where ovals are viewed as my strong point, and it’s where most of my opportunities to drive an IndyCar come from. If I had tried to rush things, and get ahead of myself, I’m almost 100% certain I would not currently have the opportunities I do to get in the car each year, and so I will always be very grateful for everything Indy Lights has taught me!

That was an amazing interview with British Indycar racer Pippa Mann, she provided some brilliant answers and for more info on Pippa’s latest news and goings on please visit her website http://www.pippamann.com or Twitter account @PippaMann . Please enjoy these great answers!