The story so far:
Last year I applied to become a Formula Woman - a competition to find a totally novice lady driver who would learn to drive a very fast car in the 2022 British GT series. Applicants only needed to be female with a driving licence and no circuit or racing experience at all.
Eventually the car was chosen - the McLaren GT4, donated by McLaren Customer Services. Not to be put off, when full applications were called for, I put my name forward, paid my joining fee (£99) and, like every other applicant, was accepted to join the hundreds of other lady applicants. And then we waited to learn how the competition would unfold.
Details were slowly revealed with plans for applicants to take part in an assessment day in (unspecified) cars at an (unspecified) venue sometime towards the end of 2021. Naturally COVID restrictions had to be monitored as things changed on an almost daily basis.
Applicants also were advised to create a 'media buzz' and raise personal sponsorship to help with the expenses which were becoming more and more apparent. Arrangements were made with the i-Zone racing simulator at Silverstone to take small 'teams' of Formula Woman applicants and to give them training and experience of driving a simulated McLaren GT4 around Donington Park circuit. On top of that experience, days at Daytona Karting circuit were offered for those who wished to practice karting skills; and the option of Track Days at circuits round the UK, originally driving the Jaguar Project8, but currently the plan is to drive a series of cars at the venue leading up to the drive in the Jaguar - and training and supervision will also be provided.
So where do I fit in since I applied?
Having given some thought to how I would focus my participation and therefore generate interest both in the local and the national media, I decided to concentrate on two themes: the WI promotion of 'Empowering Women' using my membership and contacts within the local WI membership and organisation; and as a member of 'Racing Pride' and Motorsport UK's LGBTQ+ sub-committee, highlight the latter's policy to attract LGBTQ+ people into all disciplines of motorsport.
This second theme did push me to become more visible as a transfemale competitor - which meant I had to come to terms with my own mental health issues which I'd been keeping very quiet.
In the Media
I managed to generate local media coverage of my participation in the challenge through both the written word ('Lincolnshire World' and local press: 'Market Rasen Mail' and 'Louth Leader' published articles in their local region editions). I also contacted our local BBC radio station (BBC Radio LIncolnshire) who arranged an interview in Louth, correctly socially distanced, which was broadcast on one of the daily breakfast shows.
Through my contacts in the WI, I have been interviewed by WI Life, the national WI magazine (circulation of 20,000); a follow up photoshoot is to be arranged at a local race circuit with my rally prepared classic car (1966 Porsche 912 SWB Coupe). However, some photos were taken at a local village event where I helped at the WI cake and bread stall and a local 'Pride Picnic Lunch' held in a member's garden.
Under the current economic situation, sponsorship is proving hard to raise, although my current website is managed by Cat Lund as a sponsorship deal - so that has allowed me to use what she would have been paid for all the excellent work she does for me, to take part in the i-Zone simulated driver training.
I had a go with Karting as part of a karting day arranged with my local Porsche Club friends and colleagues. This did not go as well as I had hoped as I was suffering from a bad back and my short stint did not help any recovery - so I pulled in after the first session. I also found control of the kart impossible as I could not get it to behave as I needed, it seemed to have a mind of its own! Unfortunately, one part of the assessment is a drive in a kart...
I managed two full day sessions at i-Zone Driver Performance Centre in Silverstone during the year where I was instructed on race driving as well as having the opportunity to drive a number of simulated laps in a McLaren GT4 around Donington Park circuit. After very shaky start on the first session I decided to return and see if I could improve so signed on for my second session to have a more focused attempt at improvement - and I did indeed imrpove, getting lines correct and consequently improved speed and preformance.
I did not manage to take part in the Formula Woman Track Days owing to the expense and thererfore a lack of budget to enable me to drive the BMW and Jaguar. Disappointing.
I took part in my asessment at Bedford Autodrome in December and thoroughly enjoyed the experience as a member of a group of 10 girls, part of the total of 100 who were being assessed on the same day.
The assessment was arranged over five sessions: track time in a Vauxhall e-Corsa; a Karting session; fitness tests; a written tie-breaker test; and finally a short media interview in front af a camera and answering various questions.
The track session was fun - but not long enough! M<y instructor drove the first lap showing me the correct line before returning to the pits and getting me into the driver's seat, followed by a camera crew taking some stills of me! After two laps I was instructed to return - disappointing as I was beginning to enjoy myself and had even passed the car which had started in front of me. As I drove into the pits and got out of the car, I was taken to one side by the Formula Woman TV team and spent the next ten minutes or so being interviewed for the forthcoming TV programme.
This interview meant I was late for my next session, the karting, but as I'd been advised by my physio not to attempt the karting session, and as this session was mainly for fun, I just stood on the sidelines and watched. And then a short walk to a former hangar where we were all subjected to a number of fitness check arranged in a circuit where we were to carry out the prescribed tests in one minute whilst being assessed by a couple of very friendly assessors. I admit I surprised myself as I managed to complete every test bar one (owing to my osteoarthritic knee). But I was more than satisfied with my progress.
And then on to a short written test based on motorsport regulations and theories...this wasto be a tie breaker in the unlikely event of such an occasion as an eventual ti...And I admit I made some basic errors over which I shall draw a veil! And then the final five minute media interview in front of a video and an interviewer armed with a microphone. I found that fun and most relaxing - but as I've been involved in this form of media activity on both sides of camera and microphone I did not find this final session too much of an impostion, although some of the other girls in my group were a bit worried about it.
And then it was all over bar the final group photos of happy smiling and waving challengers taken from both ground level and, courtesy of a drone operator, from the air.