Mon 01 December 2014
Susie, how does it feel to be making your debut at this month’s Race Of Champions?
Any driver would love to be invited to do the Race Of Champions. It was an event that I always looked closely at and always dreamed of being part of – so I’m proud to have been chosen to take part. But the biggest thing is the fact that I’m just so looking forward to racing again. I have a full-time job at Williams which is great but it’s about getting that adrenaline of racing back. That’s what I’m looking forward to most.
What memories do you have of previous ROC events?
I’ve watched it every year as far back as I can remember. The thing I remember most is how close it is, because it always comes down to hundredths. What’s so exciting is the fact that you can see both cars out on track head-to-head so you can see who’s in front of the other. So it’s not like a qualifying session when you need to wait for cars to cross the line to know what time they’ve done. Then you add in the ROC Nations Cup element and obviously you always want to see your own nation doing well. So I certainly feel responsibility to make sure that we do well as a nation.
How happy are you to be teaming up with your old friend and DTM colleague David Coulthard for Team Scotland in this year’s ROC Nations Cup?
Poor David – he had to put up with me as his team-mate in DTM down the years and now he has to put up with me again in the Race Of Champions! To be part of Team Scotland alongside David is something that’s made me very proud. I rate him really highly and I know from our time in DTM that he’s a bit of a specialist in going round street circuits. So I’m going to have to make sure that I do well to keep up my side of the team.
Do you have any particular goals in mind?
I’m certainly looking forward to racing some of the top-rated drivers in the world but it’s very difficult to go in with particular expectations because I’ve never competed at the Race Of Champions before. But as a driver you always want to do your best. So I just want to go there and do the best job I can.
DTM had its own ‘super-special’ in the Munich Olympic Stadium, which bears similarities to the Race Of Champions and its flat-out racing in a confined space: how did you find that experience?
When I was asked to be part of the team, I immediately said to David: “Is it going to be like Munich?” Because, as you can imagine, Munich was a great idea but for a big DTM car that was tough. We had concrete barriers so if you touched the concrete you were just out. But David did very well there and he said the Race Of Champions was going to be much more fun because the cars are much more fun to drive. It’s also a bit more forgiving because you know that if you touch the barrier, unlike Munich and the DTM, you’re not immediately out…
The Race Of Champions always features a wide mix of exciting machinery. Are there any particular cars you’re looking forward to driving?
After spending so long in DTM I relished the move to Formula 1 when I could finally see my tyres again. So I’m looking forward to driving the ROC car – and the others where I can actually see the tyres. But I should enjoy the tin-tops too because I spent so long racing in closed-wheel cars.
How much do you relish the chance to try out a bunch of different cars in quick succession, jumping between them?
That’s going to be a real challenge and I’m really going to have to figure out how to prepare myself for it. If you’re jumping in and out of different cars you just need to make sure that your car control is as good as it can be. You don’t have time to get a proper feeling for the car, you just have to get in and go.
ROC 2014 features another stunning line-up of drivers from all over the world – are there any legends who you are particularly looking forward to taking on?
Looking forward to taking on? Most definitely not! They’re all at the absolute top of their game. I raced against Tom Kristensen in DTM so I know him quite well. But it’s a real challenge and those guys are going to be definitely very hard to beat. So yes, I’m relishing the challenge but I know it’s not going to be easy…
Looking back, how did you first get into karting when you were eight years old?
I was incredibly lucky to have such a good upbringing where I wasn’t told what to do or what not to do. I was told to do what I enjoyed doing. And my Mum and Dad never differentiated between my brother and I. So I was never made to believe that karting was only for boys. They said if karting’s what you enjoy then that’s what you’ll do.
In one of the great macho bastions you’ve no doubt faced plenty of extra hurdles along the way. How much extra mental strength has that given you?
It’s more a case of having to have thicker skin than extra mental strength. That’s very important – as is the ‘working hard’ part. I think many people see our lives as racing drivers as very glamorous, flying in and out of F1 races. But there is a lot of hard work, training and preparation that goes on in the background. Still, as long as you’re always willing to put in hard work you can make dreams happen.
How did you set about following that path all the way to Formula 1?
It’s all very well being super-talented and dreaming but you have to understand how you’re going to make that dream happen and set smaller goals along the way. I’m not one to sit still and wait for dreams to come my way. I’m a great believer that you’ve got to go out there and make opportunities. When I first joined Williams it was the next step to be closer to Formula 1. But the next goal was to be fast enough to show I was capable in Formula 1. Now I’m pushing hard to try and make the next stage in F1, which is not just testing but being active in a race again.
This year you had your first taste of driving during the Formula 1 weekend with free practice sessions at Silverstone and Hockenheim. Now you’ve been rewarded with an extended role as Williams Official Test Driver in 2015…
It has been a great opportunity with Williams this year – amid a great season for the team, which took third place in the F1 constructors’ championship. My free practice sessions were a success in the end too; I was able to go out and ultimately do a good job for the team. Now I look forward to carrying that on next year.
But first comes the Race Of Champions, which was co-founded by rally great Michèle Mouton – how much of an influence has she been to you down the years?
I always looked up to Michèle. Even when I was young and racing in karts I always heard people talking about this amazing lady in rallying called Michèle Mouton. And when I joined the FIA Women in Motorsport Commission it was fantastic to be in contact with her and both to be working on something so important. Now being part of this Race Of Champions is great because it was an event that she co-founded.
You will also become the first female driver to compete in the full ROC weekend. What extra pressures does that bring?
Motor sport is a very high pressurised environment for any driver, it doesn’t matter about your gender. Obviously I’m fighting a bit against the stereotype that women can’t compete and won’t be successful at this level. But when I’ve got my helmet on you can’t see if I’m a boy or a girl, it’s the stopwatch that counts. So I just focus on trying to do the best I can do and not let the whole issue of my gender become bigger than the fact that I’m out on track, ultimately, just as a racing driver.