Under the microscope: MINI CHALLENGE Girls
To celebrate Women is Sports week, I thought we would take a look at the Girls who form an integral part of the MINI CHALLENGE. What was originally thought to be a few actually turned out to be many!
Jessica’s debut year in the MINI CHALLENGE Cooper Pro class could not have been any better. 8 races, 7 podiums and 5 wins. At 22 years of age, she certainly has a very good racing future ahead of her.
Jessica started racing Karts in 2005, had a 1st place in the Daytona Kart Racing Club in the Open Cadet class. In 2007 was 1st in the British Regional Championship as a Buckmore Park Cadet. She was the British Open Champion in the Honda Cadet Championship in 2008. In 2011 she was 2nd in the Kartmasters British Grand Prix, (Rotax Junior). In 2012 she was 3rd in the Kartmasters British Grand Prix (KF3). In 2014 she tried her hand in the Michelin Clio Cup Road Series, entering 2 races and getting on the Podium in 1. She has entered and had limited success in Formula 2000 and the Volkswagen Racing Cup before turning to the MINI CHALLENGE.
Her MINI CHALLENGE Car is a BIZKARTS R50 Cooper run by Excelr8, her race day technician is Toyah Rule. So this is the “Girls Rule” team.
Rebecca is in her 2nd year of the MINI CHALLENGE, previously she has been in the “Guest” JCW car as part of her Journalist role. She loves the MINI CHALLENGE JCW class racing because it is at a high level, competitive, close and fun. The friendliness of the paddock combined with the competitiveness on track is an addictive combination. She also “rates having 30 cars on the grid, that is busy and exciting for the spectators and the racers.”
Rebecca learnt to drive before she was old enough – aged 16 on private land. Her “older” friend taught her how to do handbrake turns and J turns! She learnt properly on the road after her 17th birthday.
Her Racecraft was developed “on the job” by learning as she progressed up the racing ranks. She has had coaching and support in small doses and from many directions. She quizzed Allan McNish on how to drive Snetterton, received SIM coaching and data coaching from George Richardson, Tim Sugden’s protégé. She has also spent a day with Rob Wilson and Barry Lee which has been tremendously helpful.
In 2013, Rebecca set up a very ambitious project to race at the Le Mans 24 Hr, arguably the most prestigious endurance event in the world. At that time she was racing a 35-year-old Porsche 924 so she had a lot of work to do! Two years in a Porsche Boxster, followed by time in an ex-Carrera Cup 911 in GT Cup. In the third year, Rebecca had reached international GT racing and was racing a KTM GT4 in the European GT Championship and she fulfilled her dream of racing at Le Mans in the Road to Le Mans support race, this took part 3 hours before the main race. It was in a Ligier prototype LMP3 and is by far the most powerful machine she has raced.
This year will see her compete in the JCW class with her Excelr8 run car for the whole year.
Apart from racing her likes are keeping fit and healthy, steak and sushi along with the Sunshine and dancing.
Previously, in 2011-12 she raced in the Porsche 924 Championship, in 2013 she won the BRSCC Production Boxter Championship. In 2014 was class winners in the Birkett 6 Hour Relay race. ran a Porsche 911 in the GT Cup in 2015. 2016 saw her race in the Road to Le Mans race as well as racing a BMW M235i in VLN at Nurburgring and Dubai 24hour race. As well as racing in the MINI CHALLENGE Rebecca can be seen in the Ssangyong Pick Up Racing Challenge.
Jo started racing in the MINI CHALLENGE in 2014 when she ran an R50 Cooper for PowerMaxed racing. In 2015 she continued with the Cooper but now branded as Halliwell Jones and Corbeau. Jo won the Ladies Championship twice. Jo’s partner is Jeff Smith of BTCC fame and owner of Eurotech, which now runs Jo, his son Brett and himself as part of their team of three F56 JCWs.
Her biggest success was winning the Spa 24hr endurance race in a Classic Mini!
Prior to entering the MINI CHALLENGE, Jo did a lot of other Mini racing from 2006-2013, Jo has had 17 class wins, been on Pole a number of times and been the driver of the day in Mighty Minis. She has raced in Ministox, had 12 wins and 36 podiums, raced in Brisca F2 Stockcars. Jo is a member of the British Women Racing Driver Club and actively encourages other women to get into Motorsport.
Her father is the infamous George Polley of Hot Rod fame. He has passed just a few hints onto Jo!
Jo can be found at most BTCC rounds supporting the Eurotech team and contests all the MINI CHALLENGE JCW rounds when not on BTCC duty. The Eurotech team have put both Brett and Jeff on the podium so maybe it is Jo’s turn.
Young Chloe, at 17 years of age was the youngest competitor in the Open Class in 2016.
Chloe entered the MINI Challenge in 2016 when her Dad purchased an R56 JCW ex MINI CHALLENGE car that was originally built in 2008. Entering in the open class, Chloe found a place where she can hone her race skills, be competitive and have fun. Dad runs the race team, Mum cooks, and Chloe drives. Before the MINI CHALLENGE Chloe had not raced at all apart from obtaining her race licence.
With very little sponsorship this family team show how a low-cost race outfit can enter the MINI CHALLENGE, have great fun and run a competitive car.
Chloe is a brilliant starter and always flys off the grid. As Chloe gains experience she will no doubt become more competitive and climb through the field. One thing to notice is she is always smiling and her family are fully behind her back in the garage and pits. They are Chloe Hewitt Racing
Sophie Bull is one of the technicians supporting the teams in the MINI CHALLENGE. Sophie currently works with Aaron Reeve Motorsport. Sophie is qualified to BTEC level 3 in Motorsport, gaining 3 distinctions, Happy, smiling, hard working is how you can describe Sophie. That is probably why she is sought after by a number of teams! Sophie has been with the MINI CHALLENGE for 2 years, is very confident and a competent member of any team she works for.
Sophie is 20 years old and lives in Gatwick. Her family is also in motorsport, her Father is Head Mechanic for a racing team in the Porsche Super Cup and her sister works for Caterham Cars in a Marketing role. This has no doubt encouraged her to study Motorsport, she followed this with an apprenticeship with Oakfield Motorsport, a Race Team. who have achieved 2 Championship wins in the MINI CHALLENGE with Charlie Butler-Henderson (F56) and Neil Newstead (R56).
Sophie loves working in Motorsport, in her own words, “likes the attention to detail that you get working on Race cars rather than the usual approach in regular garages, where cars are just serviced and turned around. Race cars require so much more attention to detail. Requiring a thorough spanner check, tracking, wheel alignment and corner weights. Some of the things that are never done as part of a normal high street service.” She also enjoys the feedback from drivers and trying to determine what changes to setup are needed.
After some races, she can be seen doing a full strip down and rebuild in time for the next race.
Sophie’s long-term goal is to work her way up to the Porsche Super Cup.
Toyah is a fun loving hard working girl. She can be seen working on a JCW or a Cooper at most race meetings. She works for Excelr8. Currently, she is the No1 mechanic for series leader Jessica Hawkins. Girl Power is their buzz word.
At British GT meeting, she is a grid girl for Lanon racing. In the past, she has been a dancer and has done some track days, including the Nurburgring in her modified Audi A1. Has always been interested in cars and bikes and has a full licence for both.
In her own words, what she loves about motorsport “Is that everyone is there for the same reason. The atmosphere is indescribable but addictive. I love that there are not many females doing the mechanics side. It just shows the uniqueness of the few that do.”
She “hates being put down because she is female and is expected to know nothing, which in all honesty eggs me on to prove them wrong even more”
Toyah is well liked by her whole team and is well respected because of her professionalism and dedication.
“I’ve been a mechanic for approx. 10 years. Studying Car maintenance at Gloucestershire University and live in Cheltenham. When I started my training I had always wanted to do my motorsport engineering degree. However, most people said it was hard to get a job after qualifying and being a girl with little knowledge even harder. So, I did my apprenticeship at a garage and continued to gain as much experience as I could by thinking maybe I could go into motorsport later on in my career.“
She started a new job about 3 years ago and her luck changed as her boss was friends with Chris Boon, who was, at that time racing in the MINI CHALLENGE JCW class. He mentioned he had a new mechanic and that it was a girl, she also knew her stuff (go me!). Chris asked her if she wanted to join IGNIS racing and be his race mechanic. She then worked with Chris for the next 2 seasons along with his Son’s Nick Boon’s car. At the beginning of this season, Justina Williams, Excelr8 Director, asked her if she wanted to join Excelr8. She knew it would be the next logical step up as she would be independently running her own driver and car.
“I love all of it including the long hours and last second rushing. Cars have always interested me and the racing is even more involved and exciting. It is the small changes you learn about. The tracks, the setup and the driver makes so much difference.”
She loves the team atmosphere and the support “It is amazing. I think to be honest my only hate is not knowing more about it yet!”
She has always wanted to be the best at what she does, “not because I’m a girl, half the time I forget that, but just to keep working in a career that feels like fun and not just a job”. She is a sucker for buying lots of nail varnish as it never lasts more than a day.
Her future ambition is to do it as a full-time career and really be in a senior position for MINI, long-distance racing, GT or touring cars
Rhea is a mainstay of the MINI CHALLENGE, she is an integral part of the race series and has been so since it all started in 2003 Currently her role is that of Championship Coordinator. This involves running the races, making sure all the cars are in the right places at the right time. Races are monitored by her alongside the race officials to identify any driver they wish to know about. The smooth running of each and every race is down to Rhea. Her professionalism, passion and customer service strengths have made her a popular target for headhunters, but she has always had a soft spot for the MINI CHALLENGE.Rhea is also very well known around Tin Tops, she has been involved with them for 15 years.
Her CV is also very impressive, having run three teams in the BTCC, ran a team in the WTCC, ran RPM, a team in the Spa 24hr and the same team in the British GT when they won the GT Championship in 2007, Rhea has managed group C racing and EVO track days. The list goes on
Rhea has a full-time day job to manage as well! An Events Manager for the MOD Army, managing Army recruitment events over the UK, Ireland and Wales. This includes site identification, planning and logistics. Previously she has been a Police Officer, Bar Manager, Account Manager for Exxon Mobil and a Territory Manger for Pepsico.
Rhea is the main point of contact for anything MINI CHALLENGE related, basically the first point of call for any issues.
The smiling hostess who will meet and greet you as you enter the MINI CHALLENGE awning. Sarah manages the guest relations side of the MINI CHALLENGE and looks after our Partners and Supporters.
Sarah is from New Zealand and has a great passion for Motorsport, music, skiing and outdoor activities.
She moved to Austrailia in 2014 and then to the UK in April 2015. Sarah is a hard-working girl with a good head for business and finance. Sarah has a Bachelor degree in Health Sciences (Medial Imaging).
“Chloe, have you got one of these?” “Can I have one of these?” Chloe is the MINI CHALLENGE parts person. Always smiling with an “I can do that” attitude to life. She spends a lot of her time in the Big Black MINI CHALLENGE Lorry, collating and ordering spares. Be that a splitter, air filter or engine. With the JCW being so specialised all the parts must be sourced from the MINI CHALLENGE, so you can understand the importance of Chloe’s role.
As she says “I was never involved with motorsport until I started working with MINI CHALLENGE – I used to work at a theme park and a supermarket and then started admin work which is how I got involved with MINI CHALLENGE initially – Antony then asked if I wanted to be involved with selling parts at the race weekends – you’ll laugh, but I didn’t even know what a brake pad was! This is now my third season of working with the MINI CHALLENGE and I absolutely love it – I’ve learnt so much with big thanks to the team I have behind me and with so much more to learn in every aspect of motorsport – MINI CHALLENGE has introduced me to the world of motorsport.”
“The MINI CHALLENGE paddock is such a fun and friendly environment, I see each and every driver/team more as a friend than a client – love them all!”
“I can see that the MINI CHALLENGE has a great future and I cannot wait to be a part of it!”
Mrs ExcelR8, she is Team Principal and Managing Partner of Excelr8 Motorsport. Some weekends she can be seen managing upwards of 20 cars. In 2010 Justina successfully raced in the MINI CHALLENGE Cooper Class, she claimed a number of class pole positions, many fastest laps, been on the podium many times including being twice a winner at Thruxton, twice winner and lap record holder at Brands Indy circuit. Full of enthusiasm, exacting, demanding and charming. The many successes of Excelr8 are down to her hard work and drive to get the best out of the teams of people and resources that she has available.
When asked why she is so involved with MINI Motor racing and what are her memorable moments the following response was forthcoming.
• Enjoyment of beating the boys
• Improving on my driving to become a race winner
• Overtook at Church at Thruxton
• Growing Excelr8 into successful race team
• Having a great team around me
• Opportunity to own and build the MINI CHALLENGE to what it is today
• Building the new JCW race car
• Miss racing and would love to get out again!
Wendy has loved MINIs for too many years to remember. When asked why she said “Being an active member of East Coast Mini Club, she had a notion of why not Race Mini’s so both myself and Patrick (Mr Mortimer) took our ARDS licence and then the fun began, with Patrick racing in the Mini Challenge from 2011 – 2013 gave me many a heart-stopping moment!
Wendy started in the Track Day Trophy and then the Team Trophy with her son, collecting quite a few trophies along the way.
Wendy has also entered Patrick’s Cooper S JCW Challenge car in the record breaking All Ladies Handicap Race at Silverstone.
A new business venture UKI (Sudbury) Ltd car business meant Patrick and I were both a bit too busy to keep both of us racing, so now I am an Assistance Coordinator in the MINI Challenge learning a lot on the other side of the fence and loving every minute. Basically, Rhea’s right hand “girl”.
Wendy still, hopes to have time to maybe do an odd race one day though! ARDS up to date, maybe a shared seat in one of the track days?