This week we are featuring Geraldine Read as our Woman of the Week. A long-time motorsport fan, Geraldine discovered the joys of circuit racing after university. She was later selected for an all-girl Red Bull Rookies team for the Sepang 1000, placing a very respectable 12th. You can find her on facebook and Instagram. She also has a web series called Girl Torque.
Bridget Schuil: What is your first memory of motorsport?
Geraldine Read: I remember seeing a go kart in our car porch when I was a little girl. My dad was racing in a go kart race series in my hometown Kuching, Sarawak. I don’t remember what year it was, but it was 8 rounds around Kuching that was held as part of the Sarawak Championships. They closed the streets, and had the course run through the city and the entire town would come and watch and cheer. At the time, there weren’t any proper go kart tracks and the only place for them to practice was in an empty parking lot. I remember following my dad to practice and after he was done, he’d put me on his lap and let me “drive” the go kart – while his feet were operating the pedals.
I also remember watching the MotoGP and F1 on TV as a child. I was much more interested in bikes when I was younger, but never allowed to learn how to ride one because of my petite frame of 5’2” and also because I am a girl. Girls on bikes was unheard of and considered dangerous. I was determined to ride one but my first attempt nearly ended up in a drain so I stopped there. Learning how to drive a car was much easier and I didn’t have much problems picking it up. By my first official driving lesson, I was already driving on the main road (and in heels no doubt – but I highly discourage driving in high heels, I didn’t know it was dangerous then!).
My interest in cars grew when I was studying in Australia. The car modification scene there at the time was huge and I would be at every Autosalon that was held, even the drag meets that were insanely popular. I remember once I saw a girl driving and it peaked my interest even more.
Fast forward many years, I moved back to Malaysia and then was introduced to the Red Bull Rookie search in 2014. They were looking for female drivers to make up a full female team to race at the Sepang 1000km Endurance Race. At the time, the idea of me racing was far-fetched. By then, I had been to the race track with my cousins who tracked regularly but still, it had never crossed my mind to get behind the wheel at the track. I had never seen a female racer and had never even heard of Susie Wolff!
S What made you decide to pursue racing as a career?
GR Racing is my passion. I have a day job in an oil and gas services company still but hopefully I will be able to have the means to pursue this full-time. I fell in love with racing in 2014, when I joined the Red Bull Rookie search and made the full female team, earning my seat to race at the Sepang 1000km Endurance Race. Together with 2 other girls, we were given intensive training to prepare us for the gruelling 9 hour race. Up against factory teams and privateers alike, the race went well and we finished a commendable 12th place, and I was hooked.
BS What do you love about racing?
GR The feeling when I’m out there on the track, you’re forced to focus and concentrate 110%. Your day to day worries disappear and nothing else but driving in that moment matters, targeting to improve your timing one corner at a time. It’s also the challenge, the journey of getting myself onto the grid, it’s not as simple or straightforward as one would imagine. It makes you appreciate it even more when you finally get to the fun part - racing.
BS How do you support your racing habit?
GR Racing is expensive so I’ve had to look for funding and sponsorship to support my races. Currently I have a few sponsors that are supportive of my race journey - Lufter Cleanroom Builders, Auto Spahaus and Momentum Autoparts have been extremely supportive and I am very grateful for their support. I have also had help via Dream Chaser Malaysia which is a racing development program that also part funds my racing. I’m very thankful, because without all these sponsors, I would not be talking to you about racing today.
BS What are the highlights of your career thus far?
GR I haven’t been racing for very long so every race has been an achievement for me in its own way. From finishing my first race with the Red Bull Rookies to racing on my own in the local series, every race has had its ups and downs but most importantly are the lessons that I take away from it. I am happy that this year I am racing the full season of the Malaysia Championship Series. This is my first season racing in the MCS. It was a goal that I set for myself and it is what I am currently racing in, so I’m very happy that it’s come to life. We’re halfway through the season. I’ve learned so much along the way and looking forward to learning even more.
BS Who have you found to be the most supportive of your career?
GR I would have to say my partner is the most supportive of my racing. He himself is a racer too so he understands the challenges that I face and the industry that we are in. I’ve also had two special people who believed in me and encouraged me to dream bigger and they are the team that manage and provide the extra support to make racing happen. Thank you Alan, Sarah and Pete! <3 All that you see, would not be possible without them.
BS What biggest challenges have you faced in racing?
GR Funding. Funding is the single biggest challenge when it comes to racing. Racing is an expensive sport, and everything costs a lot of money. There’s just no way around it. You’d either have to be able to pay from your own pocket, or be able to raise the funds to pay for it. Balancing time away from work is also a challenge for me. I am lucky that my employer is supportive and understanding but, race weeks do take up a lot of time and I have to be careful not to abuse the privilege.
BS Have you experienced any sexism in motorsport? If so, how do you deal with it?
GR Yes, I think any female in motorsport is not spared from sexism, regardless of the role you play in the industry. Personally, the one that stuck out the most was when I was talking about my race with some friends and a guy exclaimed loudly that females can’t drive (let alone race) and all they know is how to crash cars. How did I deal with it? I just ignored him. There will be plenty of sexist comments that would come from many different kinds of people. Don’t think there is much point arguing with someone that doesn’t know what he is talking about.
In the CEO's quarterly update, I promised that we would start a business incubator to help cushion the blow of Brexit and the current weakness of the global economy. After some deliberation on strategy that provided opportunities for both scalability and redundancy, we've decided to start work groups on facebook.
We have created two work groups initially - one for business, and one for research. Both groups are moderated by two people, one of whom is an emotional wellness coach who can give advice and support to people whose struggles are more on that spectrum than on the strictly business spectrum. They are set up as safe spaces, where dignity and confidentiality are respected.
Both groups are topic-specific fora for finding helpful advice, collaborators, support, and other forms of help. One of the rules is that everyone acknowledges their sources. In part this is to bring accountability - only statistically valid data are usable to support one's point(s) - but it is also to make sure that everybody who contributes to a project is credited for their intellectual property, and remunerated for their contributions.
The initial promise was to provide fora for British people in response to Brexit, but this seems narrow and short-sighted. As an organisation that supports women on several continents, we thought it best to be most inclusive, hence the use of facebook as a medium, and the lack of a joining fee for the groups. While a local, physical business incubator facility would be most effective, those will come as finances are available, rather than accumulating debt to support start-ups and small businesses.
You can find the business group here. This group is for anyone who runs a small or medium-sized business in or providing services to the motorsport industry. The end goal of the group is to allow independent specialists to bid for projects that would normally only be open to large companies. In the meantime, the short-term goal is to build the brands of people in the group by collaborating and advising on each other's projects, facilitating introductions, trading services, building relevant work portfolios, etc. in a way that provides credible references.
You can join the research group here. We have known for some time that, largely as a result of the 2008 recession and its aftermath, there is a generation of university graduates who have been unable to find work in their fields, and/or unable to find scholarships to do more degrees to make themselves more employable. There are no real avenues to publishing for this group of people. We would like to facilitate research on topics related to women, motorsport, diversity, empowerment, human rights, marketing and PR strategies, etc. We will do our best to facilitate input from relevant experts to guide the researching and writing process. When papers or books result from these groups, we will make funds available for submission and publishing fees (usually covered by the university hiring the researcher, and an obstacle to independent publishing).
We reserve the right to write about projects spawned in these two groups - with the written permission of the people involved - once they have reached key milestones, and post them to our blog. This will provide you with much-needed free publicity, as well as keeping the content pipeline for our group filled up.
Born on 23rd February 1986, Switzerland’s Rahel Frey describes herself as an active person who always has to be doing something. Before she started her racing career, she tried out ballet, football, tennis and gymnastic. Fresh from her 3rd place in both races at Sepang International Circuit in Malaysia, she currently sits 3rd in overall classification in Audi R8 LMS Cup. She spoke to guest writer Sarah Sahadin about her love for racing, challenges she has face and her career so far, a day before the race day in Sepang.
Sarah Sahadin: When did you first get involved in motorsport?
Rahel Frey: I grew up around kart because my family have a car dealership back home, so that’s where is the interest comes from. My father brought me to go-kart, so I started in go-karting
SS: How supportive have your family been about your ambition to be in motorsport?
RF: As I said, the first step came from the family as they always support me. But mainly is my father, as well as my mother who is always behind my good performance in school so I had to do minimum A-levels which allowed me to racing.
SS: What do you love about racing?
RF: Everything! I love the speed, fight on the track, the team which I love to work with the mechanics, engineers to discuss how to make a car go quicker and how to improve myself all the time. So it’s a mix of everything.
SS: Please describe your racing career so far.
RF: I started in go-kart racing, then went to single-seaters – first was in the Formula Renault 2.0, International Formula Masters and then into ATS Formula 3 Cup (German Formula 3 Cup). I also did make a start in 2010 Le Mans 24 Hours in a Ford GT, and a year later I came to Audi for DTM. Since then, I’m in the GT3 programme with the marque.
SS: Have you encountered sexism in motorsport? If so, how do you deal with it?
RF: Not in a way that really affects me. I mean you’re always heard some jokes about female drivers can’t drive a car that is quick enough right? But, this is always be an extra motivation. When you’re quick, competitive enough and like to work to improve yourself to be on the top, they see you’re able to be quick and doing a good job. So then, you’re respected in motorsport even as a woman.
SS: What are your career goals?
RF: Always moving on to the next step!
SS: What advice would you give to women starting out on a motorsport career?
RF: Motorsport is really an expensive sport unfortunately, I have went from go-karts which need more money and sponsors. You have to bring a lot of effort in finding sponsors and everything, therefore you have to be tough anyway. But this doesn’t matter if you’re a girl or a boy. For a girl, you just have to double prove yourself all the time as you have to work hard physically and deal with the men and boys to compete with them. So you have to be a really, really strong girl and need to know what you want, what you need to be fast, need to explain it to the people that want to understand you and for sure you have to convince them to support you.