From Toowoomba to Spain: a Kiwi-based racer taking on the world
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While the majority of New Zealand’s circuit-racing championships are currently enjoying a break, this year’s calendar is just heating up for 25-year-old Alexandra Whitley.
After getting selected as an initial finalist for Europe’s inaugural open-wheel W Series, Whitley was the only driver from Australasia to advance to stage two of the competition in Spain at the end of this month. There, she will compete with 27 other finalists for one of the 20 fully funded drives in the 2019 women-only series.
“Everyone congratulates you on how far you’ve come, which is fantastic, but I guess for me I’m always thinking ‘I want to go more’,” Whitley told Driven.
“But it is a really big deal. I’m super grateful for the opportunity. I think it’s fantastic not only for women in motorsport, but for motorsport in general.”
The W Series has attracted a mixture of praise and criticism since it was unveiled in 2018. Female racers like IndyCar’s Pippa Mann and Supercars’ Simona De Silvestro are among those to speak out against the category over fears of segregation.
“They copped a lot of shit at the beginning, and they continue to,” says Whitley. “There will always be people against it, but maybe we can change some people’s minds. The way the W Series works is that it’s not about segregation, but celebration of women in motorsport.
“If you look at the weekend I just had racing in the V8 utes, there was probably about 200 plus competitors at the whole meeting — and just two females. It’s just about getting more girls on the grid, giving us more opportunity, and then what we take away from the experts and what we learn from the series we can bring back and race at a higher level.
“It’s been 62 years since a female raced in Formula 1. So if they can help someone get back onto the grid, I think that would be amazing.”
Born in Toowoomba in southern Queensland, Whitley is now based in New Zealand. From a background in karting, she’s made strong impressions in the SsangYong Race Series and — more recently — in the NZ V8 Ute Racing Series where she’s grown into a race winner and title contender.
And while both ute-based formulae require very different skill-sets compared to those needed in open-wheelers, Whitley says the transition has been smoother than expected thanks to a pair of extended test sessions at Hampton Downs Motorsport Park in a Toyota Racing Series FT-50 open-wheeler.
The tests were made possible through support from a selection of local businesses including ITM, Wattbike, and Lucas Oil — with those efforts bolstered by the creation of a GoFundMe page by Chris Greaney, which raised $1840 with the assistance of online motorsport group Race Cars in Sheds.
“It’s been a huge step, to go from 1800kg utes to a 600kg weapon with slicks, left-foot braking, and aero. In the V8 ute you hold the brake all the way to the apex and then wait half an hour for it to turn before you accelerate, whereas these things are so nimble and fast. It’s a lot to get used to.
“I thought I’d struggle with the left-foot braking a little bit more, but after one or two sessions it just became really natural. At the moment the aero has been the biggest challenge. I want to slow the car down at times where it doesn’t need to be, but I am getting a hang of it.
“You’ve got to retrain your muscles at different strengths — your neck, for example, works a lot harder through the g-forces. There are a lot of things to learn other than just driving.”
Over the two test days, Whitley covered approximately 80 laps. And while the Toyota FT-50 chassis isn’t identical to the turbocharged Tatuus T-318 Formula 3 car that W Series finalists will race in Spain, it’s one of the closest platforms available in New Zealand.
“I wanted to do TRS this season, but unfortunately I couldn’t get the backing to make a deal happen.
“I’m 100 per cent committed to the W Series, but for whatever reason if that doesn’t work out then absolutely I’d like to get into TRS. After doing these tests and understanding the car, I’m on the pace … so I think I’d give the boys a hard time.”
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