Michael Alexander and Nadia Vidinova speak to two Scottish petrol heads carrying on the family tradition of racing and hoping to be crowned Formula Woman champion.
Shifting through the gears as she took her first ever spin around the track at Knockhill under the watchful supervision of her instructor, Victoria Wright couldn’t help but think of her late father David and her late brother Willie who used to race at the Fife circuit.
An original petrol head, her farmer father, who died in April just days after his 80th birthday, was a well-known go-kart racer in his youth, and also had a lifelong passion for classic cars.
Willie, meanwhile, who died suddenly in 2013 aged just 47, liked to race his Datsun and was perhaps best known locally as the farmer who established Crail Raceway.
Ever since Victoria decided recently to enter Formula Woman – a UK-based international contest to find the next female motor racing champion – she admits it’s been something of a “distraction” to help her get over the death of her father, brother – and mother Elsie who died in February 2012.
However, as a 52-year-old woman, who’s also loved cars for as long as she can remember, Victoria knew from the start that it was an opportunity that’s right up her street and she’s determined to help put female racing on the map.
“Recent times have been hard to get my head round given that mum, Willie and dad have all gone within nine years,” says Victoria, who lives in Bedfordshire with her husband, travelling up to Fife to run Crail Airfield events.
“But before dad went, I was able to tell and show him all the information about Formula Woman before he passed away. He was really excited and he told me to ‘go for it’ and ‘be better than your brother’!
“I guess, having always been a petrol head I am following in both dad and Willie’s footsteps! But I’m also determined to do this for myself!”
Formula Woman was a successful motor racing competition back in 2004, where 10,000 women of all ages and from different walks of life entered to see if they had what it took to become a racing driver.
The video below shows a clip from the 2004 competition:
Three thousand five hundred women took part in assessments at race tracks across the UK and 100 finalists participated in a three day shoot out to find 16 racers. They then went on to compete in the first ever Formula Woman Championship.
The competition ran until 2007, but was then shelved for over a decade. It re-started in March 2021 as a televised championship, offering female drivers track days, ice driving, simulator training, and fitness and mind coaching.
When Victoria spotted an advert for the new contest on the Knockhill Facebook page, she thought: “Oh my God, this is a huge opportunity, this is right up my street!”
Open to any woman aged over 17 who has a full driving licence and little or no racing experience, the advert for the new contest simply asked ‘are you a good driver? Do you love speed? Could you be a Formula Woman?’
With her official assessment taking place at Knockhill on November 1, Victoria did her first training session there on August 27 and has another practice booked for October.
While she went round the track in one of the racing circuit’s Hondas, she will do all her assessments in an electric Vauxhall Corsa-e.
There will be five tests in all including a go-kart session – something that she used to enjoy as a child growing up at Crail. The finalists will then be selected during the winter of 2021/2022 for the final ‘shoot out’.
The six winners of the competition will receive training and coaching between February and April 2022 in fully sponsored Formula Woman McLaren GT4 race cars and compete in the televised UK GT Cup Championship.
Victoria, who used to work in recruitment, sees it as a “massive opportunity” to compete in something she never thought possible alongside like-minded petrol head women.
However, in addition to her love of cars, the former Lathallan Prep School and St Leonard’s School, St Andrews, pupil, who owns a Porsche, also hopes to draw on her experience of another type of racing – horses.
“I started riding horses at 3 years old,” she says. “My dad bought a Shetland pony for a tenner in the local pub. He thought ‘this will put her off’! But little did he know, it made me love it more!
“I stopped competing in 1986 when I left school and moved to Edinburgh. I was always into cars, and when living in Edinburgh, would visit Willie at Crail. But there was never really the opportunity to explore it when working full time.
“Dad always said I was better than Willie because having ridden horses, I was always looking ahead to the next corner or the next jump.
“When you race cars, looking ahead is quite important. As you come out of one corner on a track, you need to be looking at the next corner. But you also need to feel the car.”
Women in motorsport
Victoria follows F1, British Touring Cars and the vintage car racing at Goodwood. Thanking Laird Performance for sponsoring her, she’s also delighted to be taking part in something that helps promote female motor sport.
“One thing the Formula Woman organisers have said is even if you don’t get through to the next phase of the competition, they are still going to support you if you still want to be part of women in motorsport,” she adds.
“They are trying to raise the profile and encourage women to do it, because I think women just think ‘it’s a man’s game’.
“But there are loads of young women I’m aware of at Knockhill who are racing, and junior rally racing as well. It is getting more exposure, and I’m just excited to be part of it.”
A family legacy
Another entrant into Formula Woman is Angus-born Emma Dawson, who spent whole days in her grandfather’s garage in Arbroath, learning all about cars.
Her grandfather, Olly McLaren, ran the West Newgate Garage and was an avid fan of car racing, winning the Scottish Hillclimb Championship in 1977.
“It would be the opportunity of a lifetime to race in a McLaren GT4”, says Emma, a geologist who now lives in Aberdeenshire with her partner and their pets.
Scottish Hillclimb Champion
“These race cars are way beyond what ordinary people could afford. At the moment I race in a Mini Cooper that myself and my partner bought. We changed the wheels to make it suitable for driving on the tracks.
“I’ve always been into cars, but this is the first time I’ve actually entered a race – so I’m a complete novice. My granddad was a big influence on me when it comes to cars and racing. During the school holidays I would go to his garage – I spent a lot of time in the workshop, watching cars being fixed.
“His racing days were behind him by the time I was born, but I enjoyed hearing all about it. He drove a Hillman IMP, which he built up to be a race car, and was the Scottish Hillclimb champion in 1977. As a child I would also watch Formula One with my granddad, uncle and cousin.”
Going her own way
Emma got a car of her own when she was at university and took it to various shows around Scotland, as well as going to watch drag races in Crail.
Recently, she bought an Audi RS4 SM2012, which she has enjoyed taking to racing tracks and car shows.
One thing Emma has noticed over the years of following her passion is the shortage of female racing drivers, compared to the number of those who are male – especially at elite level.
“It’s a sport where you need to start out really young in order to have a chance, and I guess more boys are steered towards cars at a young age. But things are changing, and in recent years there has been a lot of progress.
“Formula Woman is specifically for women who are new to racing, and it’s open to all ages – it provides an entry point for women who otherwise wouldn’t have the chance to race.”
Emma discovered the competition by chance, after seeing a post on social media advertising for entrants.
“I had done a day of racing as an experience day in 2019. It was such an adrenaline rush, so I decided to enter Formula Woman after seeing the advert. Things snowballed after that.
“Since I entered this competition, a lot of my family have also got in touch. The talked to me about my granddad, who died in 2011. My uncle has given me a stopwatch that my granddad used during his racing days, as a sort of lucky charm. I didn’t even know of its existence but it was lovely to receive it.
“It’s been a hectic summer but so worth it, and I’m really looking forward to the championship.”