Charlie was exposed to motorsport at an early age, accompanying a school friend and his dad, who raced a three-wheeled Morgan Aero 3, to the track. Following university, Charlie decided to afford a racing career, and started doing hillclimbs in the UK. Starting in a Peugeot 205, Charlie raced four years in the Pug before moving onto four years in a a Westfield SEiW, and then bought a Formula Renault car, which she now races without a crew - servicing and fixing the car herself between events - in events around France and Switzerland.
Bridget Schuil: What is your first memory of motorsport?
Charlie Martin: I think going to see Thunder Saloons at Mallory Park as I live in Leicestershire, I went with my eldest brother and remember there being some pretty awesome cars with V8's shoehorned into them. I must have been about 8 years old and we took a passenger ride around the circuit in a Golf GTi MkII.
BS What made you decide to pursue hillclimbing as a career?
CM I discovered the sport via a schoolfriend as his dad raced a Morgan 3 wheeler and the championship visited hillclimbs as well as circuits, the atmosphere was very relaxed and friendly plus you were always in the paddock so you felt part of the event unlike circuits where you're far away. After finishing my degree I was determined to start competing (my friend Hamish had joined his dad in his own car) and crucially it was affordable so it seemed like the obvious direction available to me.
BS How do you support your racing habit? Are you mainly sponsor-funded, or do you work alongside racing?
CM Currently a combination of the two, I write and blog for a number of websites & magazines alongside my GoCharlie website and this has helped me generate exposure which in turn has helped attract sponsorship. Doing both is time consuming and I'm lucky that my day job (in a family firm) allows me the flexibility to compete abroad as the schedule is quite demanding - of course my goal is to be able to focus 100% on racing and this is something I'm currently working towards.
BS What do you love about the industry?
CM In terms of hillclimbing I love the fact that it a very welcoming discipline of motorsport, it feels like one huge family and people look out for each other. In a wider sense I think there is a shared connection that you find instantly whenever you meet someone working within this industry - it's a passion that motivates & inspires us and being around people who share this feeling is infectious.
BS Where do you think the sport has room for improvement?
CM Again I'd come back to hillclimbing as it's what I know best, but I want to see the sport become more widely appreciated with better coverage. The level of skill required, the speeds we travel at and scenery we drive through produce some breathtaking footage which I feel is perfect to take to a larger audience - just look at where the World Rallycross Championship has gone once big brands like Monster Energy got involved.
BS What have been the highlights for you thus far?
CM Taking fastest lady and 3rd Formula Renault in class at St. Ursanne les Rangiers in Switzerland last year, it was my first FIA European Hillclimb Championship event and at such a legendary course it felt surreal even to be there. It has the highest average speed of any course in Europe and I drove harder than I thought possible in heavy rain - virtually the whole 5km is 5th & 6th gear! Standing on the podium felt like a fairytale.
BS Who has been the most supportive of your career?
CM It's hard to try and name everyone, I've been lucky to meet some very kind and generous people in the last 10 years - it's true to say that I've worked very hard to be where I am today but there are certainly a number of people who've played a key part in helping me along the way: Paul Buckingham and everyone from Guernsey for showing me how to race in France, Fabien Bouduban for inspiring me and making anything seem possible, Ralph Pinder for helping me get started in my Peugeot, & Richard Hinton for all his advice & connections.
BS What are the biggest challenges you face in racing?
CM This could be a long answer! Until now I've raced entirely on my own and it's a huge undertaking when you're racing abroad, especially when you are writing and blogging between races and working 9-5. I recently had the biggest crash of my career, at 5pm on a Sunday I had a car with no wheels, a Monday morning return flight and no one to fix the car in time for the next race - in moments like that you have to be strong to keep going and think on your feet. Funding is hard to find (the same for all drivers) and I realised two years ago I was quickly reaching the limit of what I could do on my own, so I've been focussing half my energy on raising my media profile in order to raise the budget to join a team and move closer towards my goals. I imagine the obvious question is whether being female has made it harder for me to succeed in motorsport... I wouldn't necessarily say that it has.
BS Have you experienced any sexism in the sport? If so, how do you deal with it?
CM Coming from an engineering environment (my day job) I'd say first that I have thick skin, here I regularly experience sexism - sometimes it a well meaning joke, the other end of the spectrum is not so funny... In France I experience a lot of surprise that I'm a lone English woman competing à l'étranger, but no sexism I'm aware of, in fact I think most people are impressed by what I'm doing and very complimentary. I tend to be a little coy with people away from the track, I give as good as I get so I think part of my defence mechanism is to play with people for my own amusement if they start trying to put me down!
BS In your opinion, what can people in motorsport do to be more queer friendly?
CM It's a big question to try and answer here and I can only speak for myself, but I would say much the same as wider society - give people the space and dignity to be themselves, try to understand them even if you don't identify with them, and remember that we are all individuals and that means we don't all fit in boxes. Although I don't tend to draw attention to being proudly LGBTQ within motorsport (I'm often unsure what reaction I'll get), people who know me personally around the track know my history and I'd like to think that just by being there and being myself I've helped educate and change a few peoples' perceptions within my own sphere. If more people can do this in their own way over time, then I think progress will come.
BS What advice would you give to girls and young women wanting to follow in your footsteps?
CM I think it's important for anyone to follow their heart and instincts in life, if you are interested in motorsport then don't be put off by ageing stereotypes - follow your own path and never stop believing in yourself. On a practical level, reach out to people within the industry whether that's at your local track or on Linkedin - I did a career coaching day recently and was shown how to use it to identify and approach people for advice and direction and it's led to some good connections. Social media and the internet have made the world a smaller place and you need to use this effectively as it's a huge tool, but ultimately you have to be prepared to work hard, meet people face to face and learn from them. If you're keen and highly motivated then that can take you a long way, be sure to communicate that and keep at what you're doing - Rome wasn't built in a day and everyone started somewhere.
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