This week's WotW was written by guest writer Annika Göcke, who interviewed Mikaela at the ADAC GT Masters event in Hockenheim.
Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky, a racing driver from Sweden, first caught people's attention at the Norisring in 2014, where she became the only female driver in Volkswagen's one-makecup history to achieve a victory. Two years later, during the ADAC GT Masters final in Hockenheim, I again met with the 23-year-old. Whilst taking a seat in a place bustling with activity, she quickly caught my eye and I soon felt that at the crowded race track, that it's only the two of us.
Above all, her passion and love for the sport is like a virus, which is immediately contagious for anyone that comes into her proximity. With bright shining eyes, she remembered the moment of being on the top step of the podium after the Scirocco R Cup race.
"The win I took was exceptional, because I was the first woman in 17 years to gain a victory. So, people started taking an interest in me, and once they saw my name, which is without a doubt, special, they started to take notice of it as well. So there is still a lot of media interest in me, which is very nice,“ she said.
In 2015, she moved on to the Audi Sport TT Cup, which replaced the outgoing Scirocco R-Cup, as a support series for the DTM. For this season, Åhlin-Kottulinsky entered the GT Masters with Aust Motorsport, teaming up with Audi Sport factory driver Marco Bonanomi.
"I have to admit that I was quite shocked when I first got into GT Masters. I knew it was going to be hard, but now I can say that this is the toughest GT3 championship in the world at the moment“, she described, talking about her first experience racing against a field of 64 competitive drivers.
"But if you don't compete on a high level, you don't develop,” she went on to explain. “And I can say that I did develop during this year. I learned a lot, also from my teammate Marco, who helped me to try to convert my driving style from front-wheel drive to rear-wheel drive, along with looking at the data. I also want to thank my team who are also a big help to me as well as offering me the chance to race here in the first place.“
The biggest challenge for the Swede is to always get better. "This means that I am competing against myself, and I am always trying to learn more, to develop and to be faster to get better in the end. The biggest challenge is to always improve.“ She proved this at the season finale in Hockenheim alongside Pierre Kaffer, who took over for Bonanomi, as the Italian was tied up with other business, and in the process, took their first point in the championship.
"The plan is to do two more years in GT Masters, and then the goal and ultimate dream is to step up to DTM“, she admitted. Until then, the Karlstad-born racer would also be up for competing elsewhere, in addition to the GT Masters.
"Competing in TCR with the new Audi RS3 LMS would also be like a dream coming true. And the more you drive, the more experience you get. But for now, the main plan is to do two more years in ADAC GT Masters with the Audi R8 LMS.“
However, it is still a well-documented fact that motorsport is more than just trying to be the best in a race car, as talent also needs support and money. Over the years, Åhlin-Kottulinsky has found "a great group of people who are helping and pushing me towards my goals. First of all, without my co-operation partners I wouldn't be where I am now.
I have been working for a long time together with Audi Sweden and the Audi Dealers of Sweden, but now I also have two German sponsors helping me. Not to forget my business advisors who also make my team, and I am aware that my work as well as them all together make it possible for me to drive.
"In addition, I also have endless support from my family and mental coach, along with having a lot of friends who are really understanding in what I do. And right now, I do a lot of travelling and am away from home for at least a month.“
For Åhlin-Kottulinsky, it's a combination of sponsors and co-operation partners that make racing possible. "And this is not only about having a logo on my car, suit and my helmet. I am an ambassador for the company in which I am also doing a lot of events.
"For example, in October I have organised a go kart event for all the 47 Audi dealers in Sweden, where we start by having different competitions all around in Sweden, followed by the final in Stockholm in the middle of November.
"With these kinds of events, I try to give more back to my sponsors than just the marketing aspect. Besides, I also work as an instructor for Audi Driving Experience both in Germany and Sweden. So in the end, all these things come together to make racing possible,“ she said.
Beyond that Åhlin-Kottulinsky isn't afraid to face some gender talk and revealed she actually planned to have a “Grid Boy” in front of the car for the last race in Hockenheim. “It’s because that is something I am really missing. But generally, you can say that we are equal here. Even though I really think that every female driver should at least have a grid boy.“
The 23-year-old is aware that there will always be gender talks in motorsport and points out that when women step into the car and put the race helmet on, they want to acheive the same as their male counterparts. “We want the same which is to achieve a good result and then we are all the same. I think that it's more about the person who you are if you want to get accepted.
"Just put your feet down and show that you don't give up, as I am also here to win and here to perform! I think you shouldn't try to change the views of other people. In order to get acceptance, it's up to you as a person to have good results, to show you that you are as good as the others or maybe even better.“
Åhlin-Kottulinsky is convinced that women have already got there. "I can still remember when I started 5 years ago, I first received male team clothes, which didn’t fit very well at all. Now we have race suits and team clothing that are custom made for women, so we've already come a long way. I think in these 5 years, which isn’t very long, I have seen that women have become more and more accepted. This is also in comparison to other GT Masters drivers, as they have been racing for 5 years at the very least.“
Her advice to young girls and women trying to get a job in the world of motorsport, not just as a driver, is "just go out there, try and do it. The worst thing you can get as a response is a no. And if you get another no, just keep trying again and again. But you should also keep in mind that you have to be tough to be in this world. You need to have thick skin and don't be afraid to take some space. Just try and do it and always remember to be yourself and the world will accept you.“