Motorsport is still regarded as a male domain. Now an all-women team is challenging the competition in the Golf GTI TCR – supported by Volkswagen. A visit to the pit with “Girls Only.”
It’s 9:36 a.m. and the car is coming in. On this stormy morning, the yellow and black Golf GTI TCR has already clocked two laps on the Nürburgring’s renowned North Loop. And in pit 23, the team members are buzzing about to get it ready for the third. Ideally in record time.
Janine rolls up the compressed air cylinder and lifts the car with the integrated jack. Lisa fuels up (“How much?” – “Depends!”). Corinna and Tamara check the tire pressure and fill out the lists while Chiara and Sarah are both tinkering with the anti-roll bars under the car. Jasmin, the driver, takes off her white and pink helmet and takes a few deep breaths. Until team director Ellen gives the signal. “Everyone finished? Let’s go!”
Although we live in the year 2019, and although “women driver” jokes are roughly as stale as a loaf of bread from the 1980s, seeing a pit-stop scene like the one just described in which only women are present is still something of a surprise. Janine, Lisa, Corinna and the others, the 20-strong squad of young women putting the GTI TCR on the Nordschleife this wet and cold training Saturday are none other than the members of the “Girls Only” team. And this is their story.
The wild one: Carrie Schreiner, 20, driver
When Carrie Schreiner did her driver’s license exam in Völklingen, near Saarbrücken, in 2016, she nearly drove her instructor around the bend. No matter how urgently he cautioned her, she approached intersections too fast, braked too late, barreled the driving school car into corners with bravado. You can’t turn off those racing instincts, not a chance. But she passed the exam all the same.
“The best moment is when you’re in the race and you suddenly notice: I am one with the car,” says Carrie, who is one of the four drivers on the “Girls Only” team. “When you find that rhythm, it’s an experience that you just can’t compare with anything.”
Her father is an amateur race car driver. Even when she was still very little, he would take her to the track. She got an early start in kart racing, and kept moving up in the ranks. When she got her driver’s license, things took an even more serious turn. In 2018, as one of many successes, she won a race in the Porsche Sports Cup in Spielberg. It was the first time a woman left the men looking lame there. At 20, Carrie is a speed-star.
Motorsport: Female passing maneuver
As mentioned, women like Carrie are rare in motorsport, but far from non-existent. As early as 1958, Italian Maria Teresa de Filippis became the first female driver in Formula 1 (and took tenth place at the Belgian Grand Prix). In 1980, South African driver Desiré Wilson won a race in the Aurora AFX Formula One series, and Michèle Mouton won at Pikes Peak in 1985. Susie Wolff and Carmen Jordá are celebrities today, and an all-women W-Series will kick off in 2019. The series is controversial, however. Many find that it reinforces gender differences rather than bridging them.
A team comprised entirely of women competing in a racing class with male teams – such was the formative idea by Nicole Willems in early 2018. Her husband, Thorsten – alongside Thomas Rehlinger one of the managing directors of Trierweiler-based WS Racing – and Nicole developed the “Girls Only” concept together. Supported by Volkswagen and tire sponsor Giti Tires, the women’s squad from WS will kick things off with three races in the VLN Endurance Championship before competing in the season highlight on June 22 and 23, 2019, the ADAC TOTAL 24 Hour Race on the Nordschleife. Casting began in autumn, 2018, and the team has been in place since March. Half of the squad are motorsport rookies. The other half are crafty asphalt queens like Carrie Schreiner.
“Most people think ‘Girls Only’ is cool,” says Carrie. “It’s not just four chicks on the hood of a car. We earn respect. We grind it out.”
The heart of the team: Ellen Lehmann, 51, Team Director
“Carrie, can you hear me?” Ellen, who is standing on the track in front of the pit with a hat and massive headphones on, checks in – by radio, that is, as the Golf GTI TCR is by now ripping through some distant corner of the Nordschleife, which is 25 kilometers long. Her sense of things so far: “If it continues like this the whole season, I’ll be pleased.”
Ellen Lehmann is actually a driving instructor from the Trier area. She, too, got into the sport through a man: her husband was a racer; she came along to races and caught the bug. In 2010 she got into team management, working for various brands and series. She read about the “Girls Only” project on Facebook. It was obviously directed at her. She applied without a second’s hesitation.
Now she’s the team director, in charge of dealing with every issue, be it of a technical or social nature. The decision as to whether everything is ready to go is up to her: “Then I’ll send the girls on their way!” When one observes how Ellen Lehmann directs the commotion of the pit, the way she calms people down, the way she issues commands that are as nice as they are strict – one would never imagine that she’s doing this for the first time. And that things are much more turbulent in this initial team-building phase than she might wish to concede.
The career-changer Lisa Mohr, 21, fueling and mechanics
Lisa can be spotted by her big, black hat. When she signed up for “Girls Only,” she thought she’d be more of a background player. Organization, timing, stuff like that. The kind of stuff that’s up her alley: Saarbrücken-native Lisa is studying tourism management.
But things turned quite a bit differently. At the first meeting it became clear that she’s a natural fit with the action of a pit stop. Lisa, too, is a kart driver, and has learned so much technical stuff along the way that it would be a shame to waster her talent. Now she’s responsible for refueling, and is always on call to pitch in whenever a handheld or cordless screwdriver is needed somewhere. Everyone on the “Girls Only” team finds their spot. And that spot sometimes turns out to be more of a handful than the members had originally had in mind.
What makes working on an all-women team so special? “Women are a bit more careful, focus more on the details,” says Lisa Mohr. “So some things might take a little longer in the beginning.” But that will soon change when the fine-tuning has been completed. When all the cogs of the “Girls Only” machine have slotted into place. “The boys are always winking at us at the beginning,” says Jasmin Preisig, 26, who has driven many races and has been tracked down by autograph seekers in pit 23 numerous times. “But when you drive faster than they do, they get indignant and don’t talk to you anymore.”
An initial success, a broad horizon ahead
In the first race of the VLN Endurance Championship on March 23, the Girls were already faster than most of their competitors, taking second in their class. Two further races will follow in April, and the ADAC qualification race is up in mid-May. What are their hopes for the 24-hour race in late June? No matter who one asks in the “Girls Only” team, they all give the same answer. To get through it. To hold their own. Whatever that means on the day.
“We all have the same goal, we’re all pulling together,” says an unruffled Ellen Lehmann as she sends the GTI TCR out for its final lap of the training day. What’s up next for the “Girls Only” squad after the 24 hours on the Nürburgring are finished? She pauses a beat, lets two cars whiz by on the asphalt before replying.
“Maybe completely new opportunities will arise at that point,” says Ellen Lehmann. Sounds promising. And logical. The “Girls Only” wasn’t conceived as a one-hit wonder, remarks WS Racing for its part: the effort and investment to build the team were far too great for that. At the same time, they say, it’s important to build the girls up slowly, not get too far ahead of the game. So if the dream comes true in 2019 and there’s an all-women racing team on the Nürburgring, there could be a very bright future in store for the squad. We’ll keep our eyes on developments. If we can keep up.