INTERVIEW | Here's why SA's Tasmin Pepper is not competing in the W Series - for now

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Tasmin Pepper
Tasmin Pepper
W Series Content pool

Tasmin Pepper has been racing since the age four.

She is the sister of GT3 driver Jordan Pepper.

Tasmin was elected to compete in her second season of the international all-female single-seater series but could not make it abroad due to travel restrictions.

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Competitors in the W Series started their 2021 season with a double-header at the Red Bull Ring in Austria over the past two weekends (25 June - 4 July), but one notable absentee was South Africa's Tasmin Pepper.

The Johannesburg-based racer and sister of GT3 driver Jordan Pepper was selected to compete in her second season of the international all-female single-seater series but could not make it abroad due to travel restrictions imposed on arrivals from South Africa; brought on by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. The inaugural season of the series saw Pepper finish in 10th place on the points table in 2019 with a best result of sixth place at the Circuit Zolder in Belgium. 

The 2020 season of the series was cancelled due to the global impact of the pandemic, but 2021 saw an extended calendar being announced, with the series also named as a support category for selected rounds of the Formula 1 season. This would therefore have been one of the grandest stages for Pepper to showcase her skill. Ironically, this article about a South African sports star's struggles with travel restrictions comes in the week after seeing restrictions on spectator attendance being drastically lifted at the Austrian races.

Tasmin Pepper
Tasmin Pepper

Restrictions and protocols

But this was not through a lack of trying, as Pepper explains: "With South Africa being on the red list with so many countries, it took a while to get clearance to travel. The pre-season test was scheduled to take place in Spain, I got permission to travel there and, upon completion, get into the United Kingdom, but then testing was moved to the UK."

She couldn't travel directly to the UK, and she consulted an immigration lawyer based there who advised her on travelling via the Maldives.

"I travelled to the Maldives for a quarantine period, but nine hours before I could depart to the UK, they placed the Maldives on the red list. I had an option via Turkey, but they also got added to the red list before I could action that. The other problem was, I would have had to quarantine in the UK again upon arrival, which would have resulted in me missing testing anyway."

READ: Women in Wheels | 25 years and counting: Tasmin Pepper's awe-inspiring motorsport career

Having missed testing and a permanently allocated car for the season, Pepper was announced on the reserve driver list for the season, quite to her own surprise as she explains: "It came as quite a shock as I only found out about it when the announcement was made. If I am able to get abroad, this will provide an opportunity to get back onto the starting grid as not all the girls have committed to compete for the full season. So there will be opportunities, although the dates for those are not set in stone."

At present, Pepper is not actively pursuing any options to get abroad: "I have to think realistically about things as well. Yes, it will be ideal to be located in Europe once an opportunity arrives, but with motorsport not being a full-time career for me, I have to prioritise business interests locally for now. For that reason, I cannot relocate in the hopes of stepping into a drive at short notice.

If W Series can provide me with some guarantee or date, yes, of course, I can pursue avenues for travel again. In the meantime, I have also prepared by having all my visas in place apart from the one for the United States of America as their application process is currently closed."

Tasmin Pepper
Tasmin Pepper

Temporary setback

With competitors being selected annually, this does not jeopardise her chances for competing in 2022, though. However, Pepper, who recently turned 31, is keeping herself fit for racing while in South Africa. "My training routine has not stopped at all. I am still doing a lot of gym work while revisiting my karting roots to keep my track-eyes focussed. My goal is to race, and if that opportunity comes, I want to be ready to take it."

Although disappointed to have missed the opening rounds, Pepper admits that the situation is beyond the control of anyone involved: "This has certainly not been through a lack of trying from any party. Covid-19 and the global response is out of our control, so too are the travel restrictions being imposed against South Africa. I will stay as determined as I have always been while remaining hopeful that an opportunity can come my way soon."

The remainder of the 2021 W Series Championship, headed up by reigning champion Jamie Chadwick, will see visits to England, Hungary, Belgium, and The Netherlands in the next nine weeks. The season will conclude with two fly-away races in The USA and Mexico in the latter half of October.

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