Sophie Gill is a 16-year-old kart racer to watch out for. At the BIKC regional finals in November, Sophie made history by winning all three heats and the final. ATRL sat down with the up-and-coming karting star to find out about her experiences and aspirations in karting and motorsports.
What made you become interested in motorsport and start karting? How old were you when this began?
My favourite film was always Cars and it wasn’t long before I was asked to race. My dad bought me a quad bike for my third birthday, which I would do laps of the fields in. Then when I was about eight we went to go look at a local kart track. I begged my dad for a go and eventually, he gave in. I did indoor karting at a nearby track for about 2 years before getting my own kart aged 10. I haven’t stopped since!
What advice would you give a young girl wanting to pursue karting?
Just go for it! The fact that you are a girl is irrelevant. It’s a sport. Go enjoy yourself. When you’re on the track you’re racing, focus on that. The boys will respect you for it!
Do you find boys in karting are hostile towards girls? Or is there an acceptance that girls belong there?
I’ve found most of the boys to be friendly and willing to help. When I first started I found a lot of boys were surprised at how fast I was! I don’t think anyone sees a difference anymore. I’ve never been treated any differently. The way to gain acceptance at tracks is by being a good driver, it’s not about gender. When you drive, you drive and when you’re off track you talk about driving!
What’s one thing that surprised you so far in your journey?
Probably the financial aspect. The money spent by drivers in the top levels of karting is crazy. I remember going racing outdoors and having our kart in the back of our Honda CRV, parked next to a 100k motorhome! Drivers would often have engines that cost more than my entire kart. Karting is very different from sports such as football or dance where it’s just you and your ability. Ability does come into play but also your ability to get to tracks, to spend money, to buy the best equipment. I think we should focus on making karting less about the money, as it’s often a barrier for some of the most talented drivers.
Is there a woman in motorsport that inspires or motivates you?
Yes, there are so many! Susie Wolff, to start. When I was younger she was one of few high profile female drivers. She runs Dare To Be Different, which is now evolved into Girls On Track, which helps encourage women into all aspects of motorsport. This was such a big inspiration to me and she encouraged me with my racing. Nowadays we are seeing many more amazing women racing. I’ve met Tatiana Calderon many times and she’s very inspiring on and off the track, as with Jade Edwards whose always made time to see me and is doing amazing in BTCC. Sophia Floersch is another inspiration of mine.
What would you say is your biggest achievement so far? What is your end goal, what would you like to achieve?
I am incredibly grateful for everything I’ve been able to achieve. When I first started karting, I raced at the NEC Autosport show, competing against the 20 best drivers in the country for a formula kart stars scholarship. Racing at Silverstone was a particular highlight. I even told Toto Wolff I would drive for him one day!
Off the track, when I was 11 I did work experience at Autosport magazine which seems crazy now as I was so young at the time. I went back twice. I also managed to get into Mercedes’ F1 factory for work experience which was amazing. I couldn’t believe my eyes the entire week! I even saw Lewis Hamilton in the cafeteria.
Getting 4th in my first year competing in the BIKC’s (British Indoor Karting Championship) national final is something I am very proud of. I’m competing again this year so I would like to further progress on that. I’d love to get into racing cars. I do love Porsches! I like to take things step by step and see how everything works out. Single seaters would be brilliant and also racing at Le Mans would be a dream come true.
What is your favourite part of karting?
The adrenaline rush and just being able to get in and put my foot down. I like being able to zone everything else out and just focus on the track!
Often we see drivers leave education early and have no qualifications, what’s your thought on this? Do you think education should take priority until a driver is 16 or 18 and has qualifications?
For me, I chose to go to Sixth Form and continue my studies. That was always what I had planned in terms of going to university. I think that it’s important to have a balance and to have something to fall back on if racing doesn’t work out. I’m happy going to school and doing work and exams while also racing, but the academic route isn’t for everyone and it’s a personal choice. You should just do what makes you happy and see how it works out.
We also saw how illness put you out of karting for a short time, how do you feel it affected you and what was it like being able to get back in a kart?
It was brilliant to get back into the race seat. I was out for a good three months, where I couldn’t do any sports whatsoever. I did spend a lot of time practising driving our Land Rover on our fields, but that was about it! I think I came back appreciating it more and having that drive to get back into racing.
What needs to change to get more girls into karting?
Since I first started I have definitely seen an increase in the number of girls in the pits. It’s strange because when I’m racing I don’t notice. It doesn’t come into play. However obviously the paddocks are still mostly male, and I think the way to change this is to promote karting to girls. Get the word out! Girls on track, which I have been a racing role model for, is doing a great job of helping girls get into motorsport by hosting karting events and creating a community for girls to interact within. Making girls aware of the opportunities open to them regardless of their gender is the way forward.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hi, I’m Chloe and I have a huge passion for motorsports. I want to work in media in the future and I love writing. My favourite drivers are Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo and my favourite team is McLaren. You can find me on Instagram @chloeharperdaly.
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