Chit Chat – Clare Vale

2012-01-14 12:21

Clare Vale was the first woman to take the V8 podium and is a force to be reckoned with.

What made you get into motorsport?

My husband Don raced off-road cars for years.

Shortly after he retired from racing, I went to Kyalami and did a High Performance driving course – I was totally hooked from then on.

When was the first time you raced and what did you drive?

My first race was near the end of 2004 at Aldo Scribante in Port Elizabeth, and I was very happy to finish in the mid-field with the car – Shelby CanAm, which is a Le Mans- style sports car – in one piece.

What was it like being the first woman to join the WesBank Supercar Series?

It was pretty daunting as you’re up against some legendary drivers with years of experience behind them.

A lot of people were sceptical about a woman driver in V8 Supercars, but in racing you have to earn respect.

I think it’s a tough class for any new driver, as the cars are complex.

With one or two exceptions, I think most of the drivers see me as just another competitor, rather than a woman driver.

What are some of the challenges in motorsport today?

The biggest hurdle is a lack of budget and sponsorship.

As a woman, you still have to prove yourself more than a man would at a similar level – the critics love it when you make a mistake.

I think it’s also more difficult for women to manage racing, a family and a career.

You need supportive people around you when you take on motorsport as it can be overwhelming.

How did you fare in the 2011 series?

We [the team] raced our Porsche 917 in the International Sports Prototype class with great success, finishing second in the championship despite only completing three of the races during the year.

What is your most vivid memory of your racing career?

Two moments stand out: my first win at Killarney in Cape Town with the Shelby CanAm and finishing third overall in East London in the WesBank V8 Supercars class.

East London is the fastest circuit in the country, and the V8s reach speeds of up to 300km/h – so doing well is a big achievement.

Finishing third made me the first female driver to stand on a V8 podium in the 28-year history of the class.

When you’re not on the race track, how do you spend your free time?

Catching up with all the work I neglect when I’m racing! To be honest, I don’t have a lot of free time as I am also the chairperson of Women in Road Safety (a forum of The Road Safety Foundation), and have been working hard to get the forum established.

When I do get a break, I like to spend time preparing a great meal for family and close friends, and I also really enjoy a good book.

Is racing your day job?

I wish! I’m the director of our family business.

We sell used trucks and trailers in Boksburg.

It would be difficult to make a living as a racing driver in South Africa, as paid drives are few and far between and there’s no prize money to speak of.

What did your family think the first time you started racing?

My son Dirk is also deeply involved in motorsport, so he supports my racing 100%.

I think it’s more difficult when you have younger children as you feel a responsibility to keep yourself safe in order to look after them.

They did worry about me when I started out, but now they just really want to see me do well.

When you’re behind the wheel in a race, what is your thought process?

It’s not really a conscious thing – you need to be very focused, as you have to drive at the limit, keep an eye on the important gauges and be aware of where the other cars in the race are.

Do your nerves still rattle when racing?

There’s always a sense of anticipation before you go out, rather than nerves.

You can have the best plan in the world, but each race unfolds differently, with circumstances beyond your control.

Is V8 racing more challenging than racing smaller cars?

Race craft is the same in any car, but the V8s are challenging as they are fast and powerful, and if things go wrong they happen very quickly.

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