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"I'm just a driver": A Canadian woman set the course for the glory of F1

For example, can a woman be a member of one of the world's most exclusive racing clubs? Nicole Havelda says it's a plan

Demi Chalkias, a 27-year-old race-car driver from Stouffville, Ont.
Demi Kalkias , 27-Old race car driver from Stouffville, Ontario. Photo: Philip Jarmain

MIRABEL, Que. — One thing about being a passenger in a car tearing a race track is that it's exhilarating.

Another thing about it is that it's scary.

I was quiet most of the time while flying around the ICAR complex on the outskirts of Montreal. It can be difficult to talk with your chin clenched, but I didn't want to distract the driver, Demi Calchias. She seemed to fill her hands. Literally, they wore red racing gloves and were wrapped around the wheels of the Mercedes GT-53, but she could afford to be busy. Exit. do not disturb.

It seems safe to ask her questions as Calchias softens the gas and pulls it into the pit lane. Was the G-force we felt in a luxury sports car exactly the same as she felt? Racing carrier. It was all I could do to hang it firmly on the door handle. Is it like a race? Maybe a little.

"Oh, not at all," says 27-year-old Kalkias from Stouffville, Ontario. "It was nothing."

Well then. I stick to writing.

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Calchias is one of three Canadian women who teamed up to drive an endurance night race in California and will be featured in the next documentary. Given the requirements of night racing, their journey, perhaps more accurately described as a test, was sponsored by the German carmaker Mercedes-AMG to promote female drivers in male-dominated sports.

Supporting an adventure is a simple question: can women climb to the highest levels of motorsport? There are notable examples of successful female drivers like Danica Patrick, but they remain very exceptions. It is overwhelmingly boys who take part in the race, which almost completely leads to a grid full of men. Despite the race, this allows for a relatively even stadium between men and women, as much of the power comes from the car when compared to sports like soccer and hockey. So let's get back to that question. For example, can a woman be a member of one of the most exclusive racing clubs in the world? Can she take one of the 20 seats owned by an F1 driver?

Nicole Havelda says it's a plan. A 16-year-old woman from Comox, British Columbia, was one of Calchias' partners in the Endurance Night Race. She is also in the middle of an intensive training and testing program, racing in Formula 3 before the end of the season and next year in the W Series with a grid of all women. Long term. “I want to be the first woman full-time in F1,” she says.

Nicole Havrda, 16, should soon be racing in Formula Three, despite only recently getting her learner’s driving permit.
Nicole Havelda (16 years old) will play in F3 But just recently, I got a driver's permit for her learner. Photo: Philip Jarmain

It may seem like a long way, but Havrda has traveled some distance in a short amount of time. She was 12 when her family went on a trip to Europe and bought a ticket for an F1 race in Austria.

"When we walked there and heard the car passing by, I was like," Dad, can you take me there? " I don't understand what I wanted to do.

Havrda says she sent an email to the driving school and began investigating the cart program as soon as she returned to the hotel.

Soon she was racing in the cart. This is the starting point for almost everyone who becomes a professional driver. Since then, she has climbed the ladder to the point of testing in F3. That is, two. Series under F1. This is a development series, a car that is more uniform than the top cars, but can still reach speeds of 270 km / h. It's an extreme race.

Therefore, looking down on a test track outside Montreal raises obvious questions. Does she still have a driver's license?

"I just got my L," she said, referring to her provisional license in British Columbia. This means she can drive, but she has only one of her parents on a shotgun.

"I hate it," she says with a smile and laugh. She has learned to drive in a race car with her left foot braking and her right foot stepping on the accelerator. When she does it on the tram, she is very lurking. "I'm learning right foot (braking)," she says. "And the speed will be 50 (km / h)." It's very slow. "

OK.

While there have been notable examples of successful female drivers, such as Danica Patrick, they remain very much the exception.
There are notable examples of successful female drivers, such as Danica. But Patrick, they remain very exceptional. Photo: Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images / File

But if she sounds like a typical teenager at this point, that's it. Every other week, the family board the RV and drive from Comox on Vancouver Island to California. In California, Havelda spends a few days in a racing car. Her parents are exchanging driving shifts overnight, so she can travel in 24 hours one way. They ran thousands of kilometers so she could get more time to grab the steering wheel of the race car. Her father, Martin, explains that this is true and he told Nicole that they would support her racing career as long as she was willing to do her job. And they did the job.

The Canadian Grand Prix weekly trip to Montreal is a bit off schedule, but I was also given the opportunity to meet F1 legend Lewis Hamilton. A person who drives for.

"Insane," says Havrda, and sounds like a teen again. "I can't get over it. But the thing about meeting him was to realize that he was a normal person. Obviously he's a world champion, but with others. Just like a normal person. "

This is one of the interesting things about motor racing compared to some sports. There is no advantage to being 6 feet-8 pounds or 350 pounds, or being blessed with unusual fast muscles. Racing drivers come in many shapes. Being a relatively small person like a young woman is not necessarily an obstacle.

Havrda agrees and nods. "Similarly, I don't want to say this, but Lewis is a little short," she says with a laugh again.

She is not wrong. Lewis Hamilton is far more intimidating to hold the handle of a Mercedes than to stand next to you.

This is one of the reasons why drivers like Calchias, who have won the Sprint Championship twice, and Havelda don't mind the idea of ​​competing with men. The car is a big equalizer.

"Honestly, I don't even think about it," says Havrda, a young woman in sports with few of them. "I'm wearing a helmet. I'm just a driver."

Partly because his father was a professional driver, Kalkias started the race at a 25-hour endurance race at a Belgian spa. An example where people are going to play in her set and like her set.

"She is looking forward to the day when the girl participates in the race because her mother was a driver," she says.

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