Sport

Leanne Tander talks about the rise of women of motor sport. By Richard Cooke.
Credit: AAP image

In the driver’s seat: Leanne Tander, 35, race-car driver

Being female in such a male-dominated industry for so long… The role of women in motor sport had always been on my mind. I wanted to get to a point where I could help other women. As I made my way through the junior ranks, there was no one to sort of look out for me or help, or even just to chat to about some of the unique challenges that you do face as a female in this sport.

I wanted to try to get together a group of women from a broad range of roles, so that we could represent the entirety of women throughout the sport. It wasn’t just going to be all about me and my personal experience; you could encompass other women’s issues as well. And so that’s sort of where it all started. I started getting in touch with a few of the other women that I knew and eventually we all got together and started talking. That’s how Women of Australian Motor Sport began.

Motor sport is unique because it doesn’t have a female category. Women have never really taken to it or been taken seriously because it was originally started with men and by men. That’s probably why it may very well be the most male-dominated sport. I think women have always been able to compete equally against the men given the right opportunity. But now everyone is entrenched in this psyche that it is a men’s sport. It’s really hard for women to break through.

Danica Patrick has changed things in the United States. And probably a bigger name now is Susie Wolff. Even though she’s not racing, because she’s involved in Formula One she’s probably permeating the Australian media a bit more than say [NASCAR driver] Patrick would. It’s great that worldwide women are starting to make their way to the top categories of motor sport in their countries, but Australia seems to be a little bit backwards in that. There’s a whole lot of reasons why we don’t have a full-time V8 Supercar driver who is a female. But I think the more women who become successful, the more girls are likely to become involved in the sport. Already you go to a kart track and there are just so many more girls than when I was racing nearly 20 years ago.

It’s kind of embarrassing sometimes to see the way Australia reacts to certain things. Marriage equality it’s just so backwards – we’re sitting here arguing a basic human rights issue. It shouldn’t even be an issue. I don’t know what it is. It must be something in our culture that makes it that little bit harder.

Discrimination is very subtle. In junior go-karts it was not so much the competitors but their fathers who would have an issue with me beating their sons. For some reason that seemed to be a negative for their boy. He could be beaten by 20 other boys and that would be fine but if he got beaten by a girl then that was just not on. The fathers would say, “I can’t believe you let a girl beat you.” So in the next race the son just wants to make his dad happy, so if I pass him or go in front of him, he’ll just cut me off. My dad just had to say, “Hey, you just have to hold your ground because people are pushing you out of the way.” Eventually people learnt that I wasn’t going to be a pushover.

One official told me that I should just go and get a pink suit and a pink car. That was when I was moving from karts to cars. “And go and do some hill climbs” instead of actually getting involved in the real furious racing.

What has motor sport taught me? That life isn’t fair. I don’t mean that in a negative way. But if you’re a swimmer, and you are the fastest swimmer at the trials, then you’re going to get the spot to go to the Olympics. It’s pretty cut and dry. Motor racing – you can be the best driver but if you don’t have the money, or if you’re not in the right car, or if you’re not there at the right time, you’re not going to get where you want to go. There are other people who get to the top of the sport – they may not be as good a driver as you but, for whatever reason, it’s gone their way. And that’s probably reflective of life in general.

This week’s highlights…

NRL: New Zealand Warriors v Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles

Saturday, 3pm (AEST), Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland

Rugby Championship: Pumas v Wallabies

Sunday, 8.40am (AEST), Estadio Malvinas Argentinas, Mendoza

Cricket: Women’s Ashes ODI – England v Australia

Sunday, 7.30pm (AEST), Worcestershire County Ground, England

Formula One: Hungarian Grand Prix

Sunday, 10pm (AEST), Hungaroring, Hungary

NRL: North Queensland Cowboys v Parramatta Eels

Monday, 7pm (AEST), 1300SMILES Stadium, Townsville

AFL: Hawthorn v Richmond

Friday, 7.50pm (AEST), Melbourne Cricket Ground

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jul 25, 2015 as "In the driver’s seat". Subscribe here.

Richard Cooke
is a journalist and writer for television. He is The Saturday Paper's sports editor.