Rebecca Jackson feels most at home behind the wheel – especially when she’s approaching hairpin bends at more than 100mph.
The slight 30-year-old is in her element on the track in her Porsche 924, racing fast and fiercely-competitive men and often leaving them behind.
Being in the minority as a female in the world of motorsport doesn’t faze her. In fact she quite likes moments when she finds herself being underrated.
‘I’m a bit of a surprise,’ says the racing driver from Horndean.
‘There aren’t that many girl racing drivers, so people don’t expect to find a really fast one. But I’ve been on the podium five times and won a race. Someone once asked if I was there to make up the numbers. It’s quite fun really, proving them wrong.’
Rebecca drives a Porsche 924. She began in 2011 after landing her racing licence and has scored several successes in just two seasons.
That’s quite a revelation for anyone she meets socially. The five-foot-four-and-a-half, eight-stone petrolhead loves to dress up for salsa classes and nights out, And while there’s no reason why a racing driver shouldn’t be petite and glamorous, her chosen sport doesn’t immediately spring to mind.
‘People believe me when I tell them, it’s just that they’re quite surprised,’ laughs Rebecca.
‘They’ll say ‘‘don’t take this the wrong way but you don’t look like you have anything to do with cars’’.’
What they soon find out is that Rebecca has had a passion for motors since she was a little girl and helped dad Jon work on his classic cars in the garage. Jon also did a race and Rebecca’s first experience of Silverstone was being in a pram at the famous circuit.
‘She was six weeks old,’ says mum Diane.
‘She slept most of the time and only stirred when a really loud V8 went past.’
So Rebecca was right at home already and says now: ‘I’m most comfortable and feel most at home when I’m in my car. It feels like my natural environment really.’
What makes that amazing is the fact that a few years ago she was involved in a serious accident in a taxi. Two cabs crashed and passenger Rebecca suffered injuries that led her to have three operations and put her out of action for three years. At one point she was in a wheelchair and needed looking after because she couldn’t cook for herself.
‘I’m emotionally strong and my parents were wonderful, but I know why people get really depressed when they can no longer do the things they love. I couldn’t dance or drive a car, it was so frustrating.’
Returning to the track wasn’t a problem and Rebecca only has concerns when she’s a passenger. When she’s in control, memories of the accident melt away.
That kind of confidence comes from natural ability and experience. It was during her teenage years that the future girl racer really got a taste for tracks and tyres.
‘That was when I became a proper petrolhead. I learned to drive and realised that I was naturally good at it. So I really decided to focus on it.’
Rebecca had a lot of friends with farms and persuaded them to let her practice hand brake turns and wheel spins on private land – all the time honing her precision driving skills.
When she was old enough she booked track days and eventually entered an autosolo (precision driving competition), beating all the other entrants including a police pursuit driver.
From that point Rebecca went into full throttle, buying her racing car for £6,000, getting her racing licence and pursuing her dream.
‘I don’t over-think things and spend too long putting them off. If I want to do something, I make the decision and then just do it. If you spend too long thinking about it, it might never happen.’
But she’s worked hard towards her goals and says she makes a lot of sacrifices for her sport. Motor racing is very expensive but Rebecca funds it with money-making motoring pursuits, as well as a little help from some companies. The business graduate, who now lives in Reading but frequently visits her parents who are back in Horndean, runs a business buying, selling and sourcing top-brand used cars.
She also writes for several companies and magazines, presents advice and review videos and is often on the race track testing cars for her articles and videos. Rebecca even has her own website rebeccaracer.com
‘I’m really lucky to be doing the things I love, I’m living the dream really,’ she says.
But racing at circuits like Donington Park, Silverstone and Brands Hatch is the biggest deal.
‘I must be addicted to the buzz,’ she admits. ‘I love driving really quickly and getting the most out of a car. It’s so great to have that feeling of control at those sorts of speeds. I love lining up on the grid, racing against people and beating them. It’s so exciting.’
Rebecca has been doing speeds of more than 100mph just 200 metres away from the hairpin bend at Rockingham, showing just how much control and courage she musters.
But she also enjoys a more laidback lifestyle away from the racing scene and says she steers clear of car conversations with some of her friends.
‘I tend to get really into it, so if they’re not interested I’d rather talk about something else.’
But her obsession shows itself eventually.
‘For my 18th birthday I had a track day. Every birthday and Christmas for the past 14 years I’ve asked for something to do with cars. For my 30th I had a tachometer for my race car.’
She says the camaraderie and atmosphere of the motor racing world is friendly and fun, but thinks it’s a shame more women aren’t taking up the sport. There is only one other woman racing in the same championship as Rebecca.
‘You have to be strong,’ she says, showing off some impressive biceps.
‘But women aren’t at a disadvantage in what I’m doing. There are a lot of other skills. It’s about being in tune with the car, knowing where to turn into the corner and what line to take on the race track. You need co-ordination and good peripheral vision, and of course you have to be brave. You can’t be cautious.’
She says she’s never shied away from anything.
‘I was even like that when I was little. I remember being about six and some boys, a couple of years older, tried to take something from me in the playground. I was having none of it. I was assertive from a young age,’ says Rebecca, grinning.
But she isn’t rash. Rebecca – who has received compliments from experienced racing drivers like Rob Barff and Tiff Needell, says she has the skill and confidence to be as safe as possible.
Now Rebecca is looking for sponsorship and is determined to leave more competitors in her tyre tracks, having been sponsored this year by Longlife Exhausts in Basingstoke, Porsch-Apart and Michelin.
‘I love the speed and the adrenalin, but it’s also about using your skills, being at one with the car and totally focused. And then if you win it’s just fantastic.’
But she’s also quick to reassure ordinary motorists and pedestrians.
‘I’d just like everyone to know that I stick to the speed limit on the roads. My mum’s a driving instructor.’
British Women Racing Driver’s Club
The British Women Racing Drivers’ Club was founded in 1962 with 30 members by the late Mary Wheeler, a woman who discovered racing as a grandmother and widow, because membership to the prestigious British Racing Drivers’ Club (BRDC) wasn’t open to women. This year, the club is celebrating its 50th anniversary.
Club chairman Helen Bashford-Malkie says: ‘Our membership has doubled in the past 10 years and we now have around 170 members. It’s about supporting and chatting to each other. ‘Hillclimbs and sprints are becoming increasingly popular with women because it’s not all about experience, I think it’s about £30 for a licence, and you can go with your boyfriend or husband.’
Helen believes the sport has changed a lot in the past 50 years since the club was started. She says: ‘Women will certainly have a much bigger presence in another 50 years’ time. ‘There are actually quite a few women competing in racing now, but in number terms compared with the men it’s hardly any.’
Helen volunteers with the club, as do the other members, and it holds its own awards and championships.
Although she doesn’t race any more, she’s now involved in the manufacturing of race cars. Helen believes the way women viewing racing is different.
She says: ‘With women everyone is supporting and talking to each other. It is like a network.’
Go to bwrdc.co.uk
Women may still be a minority in racing, but there are still some who have got to the top of their game. In April this year, it was announced by the Williams Formula One team that Susie Wolff was to be one of their development drivers.
Maria de Villota was also recruited this season as a development driver for the Marussia F1 team, but she sadly lost an eye in a freak accident during testing.
Although at the moment there is no female driver actually racing in F1, there has been in the past. Italian driver Maria Grazia ‘Lella’ Lombardi competed in 17 Formula One World Championship grands prix and is the only female Formula One driver in history to have a top six finish in a World Championship race, at the 1975 Spanish Grand Prix.
Divina Galica began her racing career following a stint in the Olympic women’s ski team, while Michèle Mouton took part in the World Rally Championship for the Audi factory team, taking four victories in the 1970s/80s. She is still the last woman to compete in top-level rallying.