Shifting the Focus - fueltopia

A Story about women in the automotive world. You'll find some of the most resilient women in the automotive world. Michelle Westby, Nathalie McGloin, Alex Denham and Sophia Flörsch are just a few examples. They're making positive changes in a world that was heavily dominated by men in the past.

You’ll find some of the most resilient women in the automotive world. Michelle Westby, Nathalie McGloin, Alex Denham and Sophia Flörsch are just a few examples. They’re making positive changes in a world that was heavily dominated by men in the past.

Michelle Westby, 32, is a stunt driver who is a strong advocate for women in the automotive world. In an interview with Michelle she explained that motorsport is a very competitive industry, therefore thick-skin is a key quality to have. Women may often feel higher levels of pressure due to being the minority, but this is where they can learn resilience and gain something positive from what has always seemed to be a negative.

“Front wheel drive was still a learning experience for me, so to do such a complex sequence in a car I didn’t feel 100% confident in, in front of thousands of people was a lot of pressure!”

“The best feeling ever was completing that sequence…driving backstage and hearing everyone cheer was just amazing. That’s definitely something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”

The excitement in her voice grew as she told me more about the complex driving manoeuvres she had to be so precise in carrying out.

“You couldn’t even be half a second out or the sequence wouldn’t work…That was my greatest experience and achievement within motorsport”

In 2018 there was rising controversy surrounding grid girls and whether it was inappropriate to have them involved at motorsport events. Being a grid girl herself, Michelle felt very strongly about this issue and spoke up about it. Her words quickly caught the interest of the ITV show, This Morning, and she was invited on to discuss the topic. In my interview with Michelle she stated that grid girls are a positive influence as the role provides an opportunity for women to get involved in motorsport. Her support for women in the automotive world didn’t stop there, Michelle also discussed how she helped to host an all-women’s drift event. “They’re a great confidence booster” she explains. It’s a great place to start but “at the end of the day I want women to get into mixed racing and not feel like they can only race against other girls”

Alex Denham, 24, is an automotive photographer who was told by her college tutor “you need to go into fashion…or something more female orientated”. Last year Alex was contacted by BMW and asked to fly to Germany to photograph their Classic Car Collection. Women like Alex are role models in leading others to “Do whatever you want to do…Don’t let anyone put out the fire within you…You’re absolutely capable of achieving whatever you decide if you put the work in”

I asked Alex if there was a time that she beat a man at something in the automotive industry...

“Every day since 2015.”

Now that’s something you can’t argue with.

“My career has been amazing but tough…the experiences and things I have done are worth every moment…it’s given me the opportunity to travel across the world”

I asked Alex what she’d like to see change in the industry to help support women. She suggested giving women more media publicity such as involving them in interviews, as this would help to normalise women working in the industry and make it common to see them involved too.

So why do things need to change? It has been over 40 years since Italian race driver, Lella Lombardi started her Formula 1 race at the 1976 Australian Grand Prix, making her the last woman to drive in F1.

Mercedes-Benz have created an initiative to tackle this issue called She’s Mercedes. It gives women in the industry a platform to help bring about change and drive others to be successful. Their website tells the fascinating stories of successful women in the car industry. One woman is German racing driver, Sophia Flörsch who is just 19 years old. Despite suffering from a serious accident which meant she had to have an 11-hour surgery, for her “quitting was never an option” and five months later she was back in the racing seat.

British former racing driver, Susie Wolff is an ambassador for She’s Mercedes. In 2016 Susie hung up her helmet but wanted to give something back, so she co-founded Dare to be Driven with Rob Jones, CEO of the Motor Sports Association.

“Our sport is performance based so gender is irrelevant. The opportunities are out there and with Dare to be Different we want to inspire and drive female talent to make sure in the long term our sport is more diverse” – Susie Wolff

One of Dare to be Driven’s ambassadors is Nathalie McGloin, the only female tetraplegic racing driver in the world. She’s a racer, speaker and ambassador who strongly believes that anything is possible. In 2015 she became the first woman with a spinal injury to be granted a racing licence in the UK, then in 2018 she achieved her first race win. A year after that she became the world’s first disabled female rally driver. Currently, she races in a Cayman S in the Porsche Club Championship and drives using a hand controlled system. She steers only with her left hand and has had the steering lightened with an electric pump to make this easier for her. With her right hand she controls the brake and accelerator with a hand lever mounted to the right of the steering column. Due to not being able to feel anything from her waist down, her seat is shaped to fit her ribcage so that she can still feel the feedback from the car.

“When I’m racing I leave my wheelchair in the pits. When I’m lining up on that grid with my helmet on, no-one knows I’m female or have a spinal injury. I’m just another driver – and that’s the way it should be.”