In this series I am looking into women’s role in a highly male-dominated field of interest - motoring and motorsports - asking females involved. Part I. - The Racing Driver from Belgium

Whether you are into motorsports or cars in general you might noticed that the world of racing and motoring is mostly a “boys’ toys” thing. At one point in history, women were strictly excluded from pit lanes and everywhere where “men were going about their manly business”. There was no place for handkerchiefs or “girly activities” in Marlboro country and that image - in some respects - has not changed too much. I am asking females about their opinion and their role in the industry - of those being in the midst of all happenings - to find out how they see their level of acceptance.

My first guest is Belgian racing driver, driver manager and model, Angélique Detavernier - recently contracted to Maserati on and off the race tracks - and we start off where the journey started.

Racing is just in my vains. Ever since I was little, I was into cars. At the age of two, I shocked my mum (for the first time) when we went to an amusement park. I asked for a drive in those bumper cars. When I got in, my mum realized there were only 8-year-old boys, who were actually driving quite brutally. Everyone was expecting me to start crying, but it appeared that I had found my perfect playground. A few years later, I kept on begging my dad to fix the two-horsepower car in the garage. We spent hours driving in the fields with a phone book underneath my bum. I was only child and my father was more into soccer, so when I look back now, it was already pretty obvious then.

One thing lead to another, fast-forward in time to prove there is talent along with the passion, too:

Two years ago, I was one of the five fastest finalists in a karting competition and went to the final. The three winners won a free championship with Caterham-Westfields. I was one of the winners and did a very good job at my first outing ever on track. It was at Spa-Francorchamps and I did the 2nd best time of the day, in my second flying lap of my life. Unfortunately, after the first race already, the organization went bankrupt and I did only one more race in the VW Fun Cup that year.

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The year after, I came in contact with Maserati, through a modeling job. It is very hard to convince people to participate in a Maserati Trofeo World Series race, without any experience in a high performance car at all, I can tell you that! I was three seconds faster than my team mate - who had been racing for 20 years, with a lot of experience in GT3 - in my first session already and I finished 10th of 23, while everyone expected me to finish last. A lot of people had been watching and that’s how I got contacted to drive with Vandereyt racing with a Porsche GT3 997 cup in the Super Car Challenge. We ended the season with a podium, so I am looking back to a crazy year.

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There is - apparently - a psychological barrier going into the races, but what about the other aspects as well, then?

At my first race in Spa with Maserati, I was not physically nor mentally prepared at all. I always pay a lot attention to drinking water and eating the right food at the right time. But like for my last race in Abu Dhabi, I still wasn’t strong enough for two-hour races in total, in 30 degrees Celsius. Also, mentally I was wasted by the 3rd race and made a stupid mistake and spun. A lot of people were thinking “Lucky girl, racing in Abu Dhabi, nice weather, swimming pool...” But I don’t get it like this. I was doing photo shoots for the sponsor, interviews, video shoots, but also talking with teams of the Gulf 12 hours as a driver manager. So I was doing my three jobs that weekend, mentally I was dead at the end of the weekend. It wasn’t the best preparation, but sometimes I have no choice and I’ve learned to be happy with my results considering the circumstances.

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Seems to be a multi-tasking compromise, which could partially be channelled back to financing. As the astronauts of the Mercury program found out in The Right Stuff: “No bucks, no Buck Rogers”. Is modelling an obvious “go to” solution for women attempting to cut a teeth in the “men’s world”?

I never saw myself as a model, it just started when I had a few requests and the clients were very happy. My network expanded and I just love doing it. Only, I have no dreams or more ambition in modeling than that. I don’t have the confidence in modelling like I have in racing. Via modelling I was able to do my first race with Maserati. And I can also offer photo or video shoots as a return for my sponsors. So it’s a perfect combination. Modelling is not difficult for me at all. It’s just the best job I could wish for, next to racing.

Racing is where I can push my boundaries. [You want to] push yourself to a higher level each time you get in the car. One mistake and you can be in the wall - easily. But I just need it.

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One might wonder how someone like a pretty model can stand her ground when stepping into the world of big boys with fast cars and whether the same people show prejudice - even if the talent and the results are there.

When I arrive in the paddock, where nobody knows me, I really get no hello’s. They think “Oh, no! She will crash all the time and will be driving slow.” But when they see I’m quite fast, they are all amazed and very respectful. So it’s harder in the beginning as a woman, because they all have prejudices - which is normal - but after easier as a woman, because the expectations are lower, so people are amazed more easily.

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There is a decreasing but still very much consistent female presence in the paddocks. Where are the women in all of this?

For sure it’s dominantly a male sport, although I’m happy to see that there are more girls in karting nowadays, I think. I do believe not a lot of women are able to race and to be fast. For sure you need to be a very strong person mentally and physically, too. But that’s the same for men. Also, racing needs to be paid. Even when you’re the best driver in the world, in the beginning it always needs to be paid by somebody. They always need the budget - from the start - and the right connections. If you don’t have that, you can never get into IndyCar or F1.

With all that in mind, how does one see the future - how long the steam lasts, how far it can take one?

I try to see it more like dreams… because if you don’t achieve them, you will be less unhappy. If racing would have been my goal all my life and I didn’t race at the end, it would have felt as a failure. But if a dream doesn’t come true, it’s easier to accept. You just need to dream big enough.

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In part II, we stay with motor sports, but head to North America this time.

For more on Angélique, visit http://www.angeliquedetavernier.com/

Images of Angélique are used with permission and courtesy of http://www.angeliquedetavernier.com/

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Images of Maserati Trofeo and Spa-Francorchamps are of Creative Commons licence