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Women In Motor Sports: Nabila Tejpar

Nabila Tejpar by Sarah Lucy Brown

At 15, she was driving around fields when she got her first rally car, realizing her passion for racing. Being the 3rd generation of racers in her family, following in her grandfather and father’s footsteps, the sport is in her blood. Nabila Tejpar is a trailblazer in the field of rally racing and an inspiration to many women, especially those from diverse ethnic backgrounds, proving that her gender, ethnicity or any mental barriers are not a hindrance when it comes to her success.

British born Tejpar’s racing career truly began after she had put her education at the forefront and completed her degree, achieving a BSBA in International Business, Entrepreneurship and Management and International relations from Kogod School of Business in Washington D.C at the end of 2014.

Today, she is a British Ladies racing title-holder and competes regularly - sometimes against her very own father. caught up with the British rally racer to find out what empowers her and what it takes to race.

How does a young British-Asian woman end up a professional race car driver – what piqued your interest in the sport?
Well I am the third generation of rally drivers in my family, both my grandfather and father competed, so it is something that I grew up with.  I was lucky enough to be able to try out a rally car at the age of 15 and knew pretty much from that moment, it was something I wanted to do as well.  That first feeling of driving the car was incredible. I knew I wanted more.

Photo by AIFA

What does it take to be a professional racer?
You must work extremely hard to compete in rallying. It takes guts, determination, training, dedication and passion to even make it to your first event. Raising the funds to compete is also a tough one as its an expensive sport. In all fairness I believe anyone can achieve what they set their mind to, and becoming a racing driver is no different. As long as you are willing to work hard and push yourself to reach your goals and focus on what you want, you can do it.

Did you envision racing becoming your career – or did you have other ambitions growing up?
Funnily enough when I was younger, I always said that I either wanted to be a Racing driver or a spy. It’s nice to be able to say I was taking steps towards achieving my childhood dream!

For those of us who can’t drive above 60 mph without risking a speeding ticket, can you describe the feeling you get being in control of a car that travels at speeds we can’t even imagine?
Its hard to put into words what it is like, but I have always been the kind of person who doesn’t notice speed, it feels like second nature to me to drive fast. It’s the most amazing feeling and such an adrenaline rush. Controlling the car whilst both you and it are on the edge of your abilities does certainly focus the mind. At times you are so in the “zone” you really don’t notice anything else. It’s a real harmony between you, the car and listening to your co-driver who is calling out the next corner.

Racing as a sport is generally seen as quite a male dominated one, have you had to experience any gender bias within the sport and if so, how do you combat that?
Yes, of course any sort of motorsport is still very much male dominated, but I have always had the mentality that I can do anything I want to. As a woman in the sport, you just get used to being one of the few, and so long as you are there to compete like the rest of them there isn’t too much gender bias. One thing I think will need to be phased out are ladies trophies. I know I am a female champion, however I don’t want to win trophies just because I am a woman! I have to say, its one sport where you can compete completely on an equal and level playing field no matter what the gender and that’s important.

Photo by AIFA

What are you most proud of in your career so far?
That’s a tough question. I am proud of myself for getting to a pretty advanced level of the sport in such a short amount of time. It’s been tough, and I don’t have much experience behind me but I always want to keep pushing and progressing. Finishing 4th in the junior category in only my second rally was a great achievement and probably my first real taste of success. Managing to take some category podiums in 2017 in the British Championships was great for me as it was a sign I was still advancing. Now I must make sure I work harder to keep heading in the right direction.

Who are the women that inspire you and why?
I have always been the type of person who wants to learn from everyone around me. I would say particularly my mother and sister have always helped me to ensure that I do whatever I want to and aspire to be the best. From a sporting perspective, I would have to say of course Michelle Mouton. She worked so hard to achieve a professional drive in the World Championships in the 80’s which in those days was extremely difficult. She has continued her legacy within the sport within the governing body and now is the leader in motorsport safety, which is the perfect transition. I would love to even touch on her achievements and excel myself further in all aspects of motorsport, and she is wonderful role model for that inspiration. Another person within the sport who inspires me is Australian driver Molly Taylor. Her motivation and strength has allowed her to push boundaries and even when things became tough, she persevered which is how she became Australian rally champion. It’s also is great to see how she works to help others within the sport as well by talking about her experiences.

Why do you think there are not more women involved in professional racing? Is it a lack of opportunity or interest?
I don’t know if there is such a simple answer to this question. There is access if you want there to be and in many cases a woman driver is much more marketable. However, I think the main challenge for many people is that they see racing as a male dominated sport and maybe there just isn’t enough female influence to encourage women to join it, which is something that I hope to be able to change.

Photo by Bea Corto

In June 2018, Saudi Arabia will see women driving for the first time since the driving ban has been lifted. What are your thoughts on this and what challenges do you think they might face as the first generation of Saudi women drivers?
I think it is great that this has been lifted, and very empowering for women, everyone should have the freedom to drive, and it is nice to see. Challenges wise, I don’t see anything too major. Driving is something that is an everyday happening across the world and can be very uplifting and certainly enjoyable. I would hope that women embrace it, go out and drive and not worry about it just because it is something that they couldn’t do before.

Do you hope to see Saudi women eventually partaking in rally racing and similar motor sports?
It would be very nice to see more women from all cultures competing in motorsports. There is such a lack of diversity as well as females within the sport, and I think it’s about time we see more women take on sports like this. There should be no barriers in any sport, so instead of seeing things as male dominated or less diverse, I think it should be something that you say, I want to go compete in motorsport and drive because I love it!

Photo by Bea Corto

What 3 driving tips do you have for Saudi women who will be taking the wheel in June?
One of the main tips I have is be relaxed, I know many people that don’t feel comfortable behind the wheel, but being confident is important. The second tip I have is make sure you drive with awareness of what is around you, just because you know what you’re doing doesn’t mean the people around you do. Lastly enjoy it, driving is such a freeing thing, being able to go wherever you want when you want, is the best feeling.

What empowers you and how do you use your position as a female race car driver to empower other women?
I would say perseverance and achievement are what empowers me, I have always put over 100% into anything I do and that in itself is very empowering striving to be the best and looking for ways you can excel. In terms of empowering others I just want people to come into motorsport, I want to be an ambassador for access, and show you can do whatever you set your mind too. There aren’t boundaries stopping you, because you can always move those, it’s the mind that can stop you so don’t let it.

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