V8 driver Chelsea Angelo on raw talent, sexism and going really, really fast. By Yassmin Abdel-Magied .


Full speed ahead: Chelsea Angelo, 20, race-car driver

I’ve been surrounded by engines since I was a little girl. Dad was a real revhead. He had me on a Harley when I was two and got me my first dirt bike – a PeeWee 50 – when I was six. I would putt around my grandfather’s front yard in circles for hours. I loved it! 

I started competing at eight years old. I started on go-karts with my little sister and we did that for a few years together, although we competed in different classes. I made the jump into Formula Ford when I was 15.

I got the opportunity through a competition. Arrow, the go-karting team, was offering an opportunity for young guns to test drive a Formula Ford at Winton in Melbourne. They picked 10 drivers from around Australia and I was lucky enough to be one of them. I was over the moon, so excited!

2013 was my first full year of Formula Ford competition. I competed in the Victoria state series for six months then progressed to the national level. It was a competitive field but I got good results.

I moved to Formula 3 in 2014. I won four out of the seven races in the national class and came sixth in the entire series. I did a lot better than I thought I would.

School was hard. I was competing but finishing grade 12 at the same time. On a race weekend you have to take Friday off, or Thursday off as well if it’s interstate. I ended up having over 20 days off in the year. I passed my VCE though, which I was happy with. I got accepted into La Trobe University but declined the offer to study health science, deciding to focus on my racing.

I am now racing in the Dunlop V8 Supercars Series. It’s the level just below the main V8 Supercars Championship. My car is a Holden Commodore, modified to race in the V8 series.

We try to get a sponsor for each round. It’s hard to get one national sponsor to put in $300,000 to $400,000 for a year. I spend a lot of my time chasing sponsorship. I call or email people every day for support. 

Being female means I have to work harder to persuade people that I am serious. I’m not in it just to be looked at; I’m here because I am trying to beat everyone else on the grid. That’s not being cocky; I’m just here to do what everyone else is here to do – to win. 

It’s hard to be friends with the other drivers. They won’t talk to a girl that’s beaten them. It makes me a bit sad because the guys will talk to each other just fine but won’t talk to me. I think the parents might have something to do with it. They’ll say, “I can’t believe you let that Chelsea girl beat you!” and that becomes the attitude of the son. I don’t want to create animosity; there is nothing I can do about it.

People have always told me I have raw talent but I am very hard on myself. Yes, it gives me confidence, but I know I can do so much more. I am the fastest female in Australia but I still feel like I need to push harder.

I’ve had a couple of nasty crashes. In F3 I had one round the top of Phillip Island. There is a tricky turn called Lukey Heights where you’re supposed to hold it flat, but it’s quite scary. I did it on one lap, but then on the next lap something went wrong and the car did a 180-degree spin. I hit the back wall at over 217km/h. It was scary. But then I went back out and forgot all about it. The danger doesn’t faze me one bit.

The biggest thing I’ve learnt is to be more professional. Give the right feedback to my engineers; engage with my fans, improve as a driver, take everything more seriously.

Ideally I would like to race at the V8 Supercars Championship in the next two years. That’s my ultimate goal. If I can make that, oh my god – I can’t describe how happy I would be!

My main advice to others is never ever give up on your hopes and dreams. Motorsport is more lows than highs but opportunity is around the corner somewhere and if you give up you might miss it.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on July 23, 2016 as "Full speed ahead".

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Yassmin Abdel-Magied is the founder of Youth Without Borders, and a mechanical engineer and internationally accredited F1 reporter.

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