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
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