When am­a­teur rac­ing driver Christina Nielsen, 22, be­came the first woman to lift the ADAC GT Masters Gen­tle­men tro­phy, she was thrilled but also grief-stricken at los­ing two co-driv­ers in fa­tal crashes. Anthea Ay­ache finds out what drives her

Friday - - Making Difference -

Hold­ing the sil­ver tro­phy above her head as she stepped on to the win­ner’s podium, Christina Nielsen couldn’t stop grin­ning. But as a bank of pho­tog­ra­phers cap­tured the vic­tory and the then 21-year old Dane made her mark in mo­tor­sport his­tory, sad­ness tinged the mo­ment.

She had fought hard to reach this place, win­ning the 2013 ADAC GT Masters Gen­tle­men class in her Porsche GT3, but it wasn’t a bat­tle she had fought and won alone.

Her co-driver and team­mate Al­lan Si­mon­sen had worked tire­lessly by her side. Yet the part­ner with whom she had raced, the driver who had mo­ti­vated her since the age of 15, was not on the podium; he had been killed a few months ear­lier while rac­ing in the world’s old­est ac­tive sports car race, 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Christina se­cured the ti­tle in the penul­ti­mate round of the sea­son at

Hock­en­heim. “It was a great mo­ment be­cause it was my first ti­tle win,” she says in an exclusive Fri­day in­ter­view dur­ing a re­cent visit to Dubai. “But al­though it was amaz­ing, it was sad at the same time be­cause it was the goal I had to­gether with Al­lan. It was what we had aimed for and it was re­ally tough win­ning it with­out him.”

Christina had part­nered with Al­lan, 34, for most of the 2013 ADAC GT Masters, a race in which pro­fes­sional and am­a­teur driv­ers share a car and swap dur­ing the race’s pit stop. The Dan­ish duo had al­ready posted the first Gen­tle­men class vic­tory of the sea­son in the open­ing race at Osch­er­sleben, Ger­many, step­ping on to the podium an­other three times be­fore his death.

The news that her long-time friend and co-driver had been killed while com­pet­ing at Le Mans – his As­ton Martin car sped off the track just min­utes af­ter the race started – is some­thing that de­spite con­tin­u­ing with the cham­pi­onship, Christina strug­gled with. “Al­lan used to race with my fa­ther Lars-Erik Nielsen, who was a rac­ing driver; he was a friend of the fam­ily,” she says.

“When you have a co-driver you’re to­gether 24/7 on the track, Thurs­day to Mon­day ev­ery week so you get close. You share one pas­sion and you see each other’s best and worst sides, you go through the good and the bad Ed­wards, 26, whose com­mit­ments to other races would see her also drive along­side other Porsche spe­cial­ists Ger­man Marco Seefried, Bri­ton Nick Tandy and Pol­ish Kuba Gier­maziak.

These part­ner­ships would see her go on to clinch the Gen­tle­men class cham­pi­onship, be­com­ing the first fe­male driver in the seven-year his­tory of the ADAC GT Masters, a rac­ing se­ries founded by the in­ter­na­tional Lon­don-based Stéphane Ra­tel Or­gan­i­sa­tion and sup­ported by the Ger­man ADAC au­to­mo­tive club.

“The best thing was when I won the cham­pi­onship I got a text from Sean say­ing ‘Good job,’” she re­mem­bers. “And he’s a re­ally good driver. So when you get a text like that from him, it re­ally means some­thing. I also knew Al­lan would have been proud of me.”

Sadly, how­ever, the bit­ter­sweet run was not yet over for Christina and just a month later, on Oc­to­ber 15 last year, Sean was killed while coach­ing a 20-year-old Aus­tralian driver when their Porsche hit a track bar­rier at a race­way in Queens­land, Aus­tralia.

“I was close to both Al­lan and Sean. First I lost Al­lan and Sean came in. Then he, too, went. Al­lan was one of the best GT driv­ers and he taught me a lot of things about rac­ing. Sean, too, took a great in­ter­est in my ca­reer.

“I still feel they are rac­ing with me. I al­ways feel they are sit­ting at my shoul­der. They are my great­est mo­ti­va­tion,” she says, ex­plain­ing

‘You share one pas­sion and you see each other’s best and worst sides, you go through good and bad’

times. Al­lan will al­ways be a part of my mem­o­ries.”

It was these mem­o­ries, along with her re­solve to win the race in Al­lan’s name, that gave the young Porsche driver the will to get back out on the track. This time Christina part­nered on and off with Bri­tish driver Sean

how she was able to carry on. “And I know nei­ther of them would want me to quit. They would both want me to keep on go­ing.”

Christina be­gan her ca­reer of­fi­cially in 2006 driv­ing for the world-fa­mous Za­nardi team, Chiese Corsa. Af­ter qual­i­fy­ing she com­peted in the world cham­pi­onship rac­ing in For­mula Ford in 2010 and the For­mula ADAC Masters se­ries in 2011 be­fore join­ing Porsche and com­pet­ing in the Ger­man Porsche Car­rera Cup 2012, where she was the only fe­male.

Be­ing a woman in the world of rac­ing is not easy, she ad­mits. “It’s a bit hard be­cause I have to do more to prove to the boys, for them to ac­cept me,’’ she says. “I love driv­ing; I want to show women that if you want to go for it, you should do it.”

Christina, who is in her fifth sea­son of com­pet­i­tive rac­ing, wants to fo­cus on the fu­ture and de­spite the tragic set­backs is firmly com­mit­ted to suc­ceed­ing with Porsche. “I was do­ing for­mula rac­ing be­fore rac­ing the Porsche,” she smiles. “But as soon as I stepped in­side [the GT] I loved ev­ery­thing about it. I loved the sound, the feel­ing, the smell, it was amaz­ing.”

Asked if she cur­rently drives a GT3 she laughs out loud, say­ing, “I wish!”

But what she loves most is be­ing part of a team. “I’d like to see my­self as a GT racer do­ing long dis­tance with co-driv­ers you click with,” she says. “Hav­ing a co-driver gives you the feel­ing of never be­ing alone. It’s re­ally a unique bond. If one of you leaves the track ear­lier than the other it’s like a lit­tle piece of you is miss­ing.

“You work to­gether on ev­ery­thing, dis­cuss ev­ery­thing, you fight to­gether; it’s you against the world. A lot of people say rac­ing is an ego sport be­cause it’s only you sit­ting in the car. But you have your team; your me­chan­ics, your en­gi­neers.

“Ev­ery­one who works for the team is valu­able and the team wouldn’t func­tion 100 per cent if even one per­son was miss­ing.”

Christina read­ily ad­mits she’s “very com­pet­i­tive and a per­fec­tion­ist,” which are qual­i­ties you need to be a suc­cess­ful driver. “Some­times you

‘I love driv­ing; I want to show women that if youwant to go for it, you should do it’

need to fight harder be­cause it’s just not as ac­cept­able for a woman to do well, as it is for a man,” she ad­mits.

“People are sup­port­ive un­til you do bet­ter than them but, to be hon­est, I’ve been a part of this world for so long now I don’t even no­tice any more. If the men have a prob­lem, it’s their prob­lem not mine.”

A nd her ad­vice for women want­ing to make it in the mo­tor­ing world? Get tough. “You need a tough ex­te­rior and an even tougher ap­proach. The most im­por­tant thing is to ig­nore what other people say and just do what you want to do,” she says.

“Find a team that be­lieves in you, sup­ports you, doesn’t have any­thing against you be­ing a fe­male driver. I have an awe­some team and their opin­ion mat­ters to me, no one else’s.”

Christina now has three people in her life driv­ing her to suc­ceed – her fa­ther Lars-Erik, him­self a suc­cess­ful GT3 and Le Mans race driver who she says “was not the rea­son I got into mo­tor­sport but is the rea­son I am still rac­ing be­cause he has be­lieved in me all these years” and, of course, the mem­ory of her friends, col­leagues and co-driv­ers, Al­lan and Sean.

“I just want to make them proud,” she says. Given her track record, un­doubt­edly she will.

Christina’s ca­reer has been touched by tragedy Christina and Al­lan Si­mon­sen in the open­ing race at Osch­er­sleben last year

The Dane was the only woman in the Ger­man Porsche Car­rera Cup 2012

Christina ad­mits she is a per­fec­tion­ist

Be­ing a woman in the world of rac­ing is not easy, she says

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