Gemma Trotter is a Surrey-based racing driver. She secured a 2016 drive with Team Brit, with the ultimate goal of doing Le Mans. Ahead of the upcoming season, she'll be spending much of her time training at iZone, Silverstone.
Bridget Schuil: What is your first memory of motorsport?
Gemma Trotter: My dad used to have the Sunday afternoon superbikes coverage on really loud, but he wasn’t a car lover, unlike his daughter. After he decided to build a go-kart for all three daughters, including me, this was where my love for motorsport came in.
It may have been powered by a lawn mower engine, and achieve 33mph on the flat, I loved getting behind the wheel even more than just sitting on the sidelines, watching.
BS What inspired you to pursue a career in motorsport?
GT I always wanted to be a rally driver, which is such a raw form of motorsport, but I also loved the engineering of cars & felt I also wanted to work on them. I knew that the more I knew about the engineering side of cars, the better understanding I’d have when setting the car up for racing. Having that knowledge & close bond is a key part of getting the best out of any car.
Please describe/outline your motorsport career thus far?
I started racing hot rods when I was 17. I was a new above knee amputee and was finding my feet in life so to speak. I learned to walk and then a few months later, I started racing Hot Rods on dirt oval race tracks, going straight into the unlimited class called Super Saloons. The class was anything up to 3.5-litre engines, space-framed chassis, single bucket seat, rear wheel drive. My Dad & I felt going in at the top class was a sensible move, as the most progression I would make was in this class, plus I think he knew I wanted to go as fast as I could.
I wanted to race in a competitive, hungry class of good drivers, which gave me more hunger to win and improve. So I started out, a complete rookie, and consistently finished wet or dry. Finishing the championship 3rd overall was a real surprise, as I was racing against some very seasoned drivers. So I had the bug and we moved racetracks for the start of the new season - Tongham. This is where I stayed for the next 2.5 years, getting a 2nd in the year-long championship against 26 men! I was used to racing men, and being the one and only girl on crutches, it didn’t phase me!
After your accident, was it the prospect of potentially racing in the future that made you opt for the amputation, rather than life in a wheelchair?
My ambition was to race cars, to be the best I could, and this vision had never left my thoughts even when contemplating having my leg chopped off. I felt the leg I was left with after the accident would always hold me back and restrict my life, so going racing was definitely a great focus for me. It was the reason I got out of bed every morning and my main driving force to get me walking.
My leg was useless, painful and would’ve always held me back. I’d had enough of 2 years in hospital so my 25th operation was to get rid of my leg. I had 2 months to get back on my feet before I started my car mechanics course, which I was desperate to start. Life in a wheelchair was never an option, for me I couldn’t stand being in one, feeling like I had to break free from the life I was potentially forced to lead.
How did you come to be an ambassador for the Douglas Bader Foundation?
I knew of the Douglas Bader Foundation through their great work with both adult & junior amputees. I met Lady Bader early on in my recovery, feeling so drawn to the charity named after such a great man. I remember watching the film ‘Reach of the sky’ when I was an impatient at Roehampton, and Douglas became an instant hero to me.
I became a member of their cycling team, ‘Team Bader’ in 2015 and started competing in races and time trials on my road bike. I also competed in the London Triathalon as a part of a team and we loved raising awareness for the charity. Being their ambassador has always been a true honour and I love giving my time. Team Bader has enabled me to combine two passions, my voluntary work to help others and also to be competitive again.
How do you feel about the prospect of doing Le Mans in 2018?
To have the opportunity to race at Le Mans is a feeling you cannot describe or measure. For me, racing has been a big part of my life. But to race at the absolute pinnacle of the worldwide endurance race stage would be every dream come true. Everybody has an ultimate goal or ambition and Le Mans is at the very top!
Making history to be the first all disabled race team is going to inspire many worldwide to follow their dreams. It’s going to be a hard road to get Team BRIT there, but with the team’s grit and determination we will get there.
Have you encountered sexism in motorsport? If so, how do you deal with it?
I have earned a great respect from the majority of men I’ve raced against. Occasionally, you come across a man who thinks he’s a better driver, just because he’s a man. I find this a strange concept that someone can be better or worse, just because of their gender. Everybody should be on a level playing field and no assumptions be made of ability. The way I deal with it is to calmly say “We’ll see when we’re racing, eh?”
Talk is cheap, as I have always been able to hold my own with intimidating men. due to working in a garage & being surrounded by that sort of humour.
If there was something you could change about how the majority of people treat people with disability, what would it be?
I think too many people focus on what someone can’t do or what they’ve lost, rather than what they can actually achieve. Let’s celebrate what someone has achieved. People who have an injury don’t want sympathy, they just want to be treated normally. I think I have set myself some really big challenges since my accident, as a way of showing the world that having one leg doesn’t need to hold you back.
I get a buzz out of achieving things that you don’t expect to achieve with one leg. Everybody thinks it’ll never happen to them, but like my car accident, everything changed in the blink of an eye. It’s then about picking up the pieces and discovering a new you. I don’t regret the accident I was in, as I’ve seen such positives out of it that I could never regret the path my life took.
What advice would you give to women starting out a motorsport career?
The advice I would give any female starting out in motorsport is aim high and believe in yourself. It’s about having the confidence in both yourself and your ability to make it to the top. No excuse, no exceptions, just doing what you love doing and grabbing hold of your dreams.
It’s very male dominant and intimidating, but once you have the respect of others, you can just concentrate on being the best version of yourself behind the wheel. I feel the fire in my belly and excitement through my veins when I’m racing, as no other feeling comes even close!