26 October 2016Last updated

Features | People

In top gear

As the 11th Hankook 24-hour Dubai edition revs off at the Autodrome, British race driver Rebecca Jackson is gearing up for a podium finish, Georgina Wilson-Powell reports

Georgina Wilson-Powell
15 Jan 2016 | 12:00 am
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  • Racing sports cars is no easy feat, so Rebecca trains hard and remains super-fit with several hours of exercise daily and a strict diet.

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  • Rebecca has conquered this male-dominated sport, and now has her eyes set firmly on the ultimate endurance race – the Le Mans.

    Source:Supplied Image 3 of 3

Tyres screech around the corner and the car seems to veer off the tarmac to gasps from the crowd. Within seconds it snakes back on to the track and guns towards the finish line, leading the competition.

The rear tyre crosses the line, the crowd erupts, a chequered flag falls and there’s a clear winner. Moments later the car door opens and out steps the elated champion. Off comes the helmet, to reveal a waterfall of long brown hair and big 
brown eyes – Rebecca Racer has won another podium place.

It could be the ultimate dream for many girls, but it’s real life for Rebecca Jackson, aka Rebecca Racer, a 33-year-old single woman who has turned her race-driver dream into reality. And she will hopefully be racing to the top of her game at the 11th Hankook 24-hour race in Dubai today.

It is a race she has been training for the past two years.

As the owner of a successful used car business in the UK since 2007, Rebecca is lucky to be around what she is most passionate about – automobiles.

‘I have always been into cars and when I was a kid, instead of bumping into people on bumper cars, I just wanted to race,’ she says. ‘I’ve always wanted to be a professional race driver.’

She first donned her helmet and slipped behind the wheel on a racetrack in 2011. She’d been saving up for years to buy a Porsche 911 to kickstart her racing dreams. Rebecca today races sports cars or Grand Tourers, known as GT Racing.

‘My dad guessed I’d be good on the racing circuit and encouraged me to participate in local motor club events. Then I won a driving competition with [Spanish automobile manufacturer] Seat, who paid for my race licence. It was only in my second season with a race win and four podium wins [finishing second or third], did I realise that I could actually do this.’

Today Rebecca is extremely busy. Apart from being a regular on UK television as a motoring expert, she also fronts a show in which she advises viewers on which cars to buy. She writes columns in the British media reviewing cars, makes videos for brands like Audi… and still finds time to run her own business and train for the Hankook 24-hour Dubai race, which kicked off yesterday.

The annual endurance race is part of an international series that sees souped-up sports cars compete in seven cities for championship points and the overall title of 24H Series winner.

January’s race in Dubai will be her first championship endurance race in a GT car. She will be competing against 100 other teams (made up of anywhere between two and five drivers) on the chequered grid at the Autodrome. One of the most modern circuits in the world, Dubai’s track with its 16 turns will put Rebecca through her paces.

‘I feel apprehensive, excited and chomping at the bit. I have been on the course in a simulation and cannot wait to 
do it in real life.’

She will be driving a BMW M235i with former British Touring Car driver Chris James for Sorg Rennsport for up to two hours at a time, swapping back and forth with James over the 24 hours. It requires relentless concentration.

‘There aren’t many other women racing drivers, but I don’t do it to fly the female flag,’ she says. ‘I believe in achieving your goals and that anything is possible whatever gender you are.’

Aside from all things automotive, Rebecca has her own engines to fine-tune. She needs to be super-fit to race, fitting a couple of hours of physical training into each day and sticking to a strict diet that includes eight portions of fruit and veg a day, plus no processed food and no late-night carbs.

‘For a 24-hour race you need to be an athlete, rather than just being fit,’ she explains. ‘I do hot yoga [yoga in a room heated to 42°] to prepare myself for the heat of Dubai and the fact that it’s hot in the car with three layers of fire retardant suits on. I find yoga-inspired zen breathing really helps me focus, plus lots of cardio and strength training. I often combine yoga with running a 10k or doing 10k on the crossfit machine.

‘It doesn’t matter which way you look at it, men are naturally stronger, so I have to do a certain level of training so the car is easy to drive when I get into it.

‘These cars aren’t like ones you drive on the road. It requires a lot of concentration and mental strength. The cars don’t have the luxuries of a road car, you’re battling with the steering, it’s hot and all in all it’s a lot more demanding. Being stronger means I can compete on a level playing field, and there’s no reason why women can’t be as competitive as men.’

But an endurance race isn’t just about the physical strength of the drivers, it’s a mental test as much as anything. ‘Yoga helps me train my mind to stop it wandering off and a simulator also helps me visualise the laps, the grid, and the corners so I can prepare for eventualities – it’s a 24-hour race, so anything could happen.

‘I practise on a simulator at home that uses the same car and the Dubai track,’ she says. ‘It helps to get in that competitive mindset. But really the mental preparation started the moment I said yes to the race.’

The race in Dubai will act as a warm-up for her big goal – the 24 hours of Le Mans race in France in June this year.

‘It’s so important because it’s the ultimate 24-hour race, it’s the most prestigious and oldest and that’s been my goal – I’ve always wanted to race there,’ she says.

Le Mans is open to amateur and pro drivers but it’s invitation only – so drivers need to have got noticed with race wins, wins, endurance races and their overall performance. The race has taken over the streets of Le Mans every year since 1923 and represents the pinnacle of GT driving for racers who often cover 5,000km in their car during it. Many first-timers don’t even get to the finish – a lot can go wrong in 24 hours.

Rebecca started the engines on Project Le Mans at the start of 2013, with a four-year plan to make it to the starting line-up of the famous French race.

‘While four years to get to where I need to be is a challenge, it is doable. I’ve stepped up my experience and my wins across various GT races every year since 2013,’ Rebecca says. That year she won an eight-race Porsche championship series, and she’s been unstoppable ever since.

‘It’s not about points or any one win so much but you need to have the ability as a driver, your team needs to qualify and you have to demonstrate to your team you’re a safe pair of hands.’ The project, she admits, can be all-encompassing, but it’s wholly about time management and balance.

‘When I first launched Project Le Mans it was quite hard to get a balance between it and everything else in my life. But I believe we all have much more mind capacity than we think we do. Once you’ve got a method and a rhythm you can take on a lot more than you might realise.

‘I found balance by expanding the team of people I have supporting me and strict time management. Sometimes I don’t know how I do it all but it somehow gets done.’

Rebecca certainly isn’t someone to underestimate. The professional racing circuit is probably one of the most male-dominated sports in the world today. While there’s nothing stopping female racing car drivers entering professional races (other than qualifying), there have only ever been five women competing in Formula 1 racing and only 38 have ever finished the Le Mans race since it began in the 1920s. So far this year, there’s just one other woman on the grid for Le Mans – Christina Nielsen, the daughter of a Le Mans racing driver from the 1990s, Lars-Erik Nielsen.

‘I do not know her, however I firmly believe that anyone – male or female – who is striving to achieve their dreams, deserves to fulfil them.

‘You can do anything you set your mind to. Women do have opportunities that weren’t there 30-40 years ago and we should be grateful for that, but it’s up to each person to try and be the best at what they do – whether that’s staying at home or racing on a track. I totally respect women who do whatever they want to do.’

Running her own business and developing a media personality brand around her motoring expertise has also taught her some things along the way.

‘Under-promise and over-deliver,’ she says. ‘That’s the biggest lesson I’ve learnt; it’s the best way to operate a business and your life, really. And don’t be afraid of things going wrong. Anyone can make a mistake, and if you beat yourself up over it and can’t move on then you’re not going to learn from it. If you do learn from it, then you won’t do it again and your business or your life will be stronger and better for it.’

Rebecca believes in making dreams happen. And when they do, it’s usually down to her hard work and planning. ‘I write lists, I set goals with deadlines – it’s a good way to stay motivated and it’s great to have that direction. So if I’m going to do an hour’s worth of work, I set out what I want to get done and focus on that. It’s no good half working, half watching TV because it’ll take three hours to do the same work and you’re not really giving your best. I believe in quality over a shorter length of time.’

It helps that her goals are realistic, even when it come to her dream of Le Mans. ‘It’s my first Le Mans race and it would be easy to say I want to finish in a certain position but really it’s 24 hours, and anything could happen. I’ll be happy to finish and match or beat my teammate’s times. I think if I was going for a set time or position and it didn’t happen then I’d be really disappointed.’
But of course Le Mans isn’t Rebecca’s final finish line. Off the track she’s building her Rebecca Racer brand.

She’s already been a Michelin inspirational woman three times. The tyre brand picks 10 women a year and Rebecca is among female engineers and detectives speaking to school children about their careers and success.

‘I will be releasing a series of children’s books,’ she reveals.

‘When I’ve been into schools to talk to young children, I thought their role models could use some improvement.

‘I’ve developed stories around Rebecca Racer that educate and inspire both boys and girls to achieve what they want, 
whether it’s being a racing car driver or a businessperson.’

Inside info

The Hankook 24-hour Dubai race runs today and tomorrow at the Dubai Autodrome. You can follow Rebecca’s progress to the 24 hours of Le Mans race in France in June at 

Georgina Wilson-Powell

Georgina Wilson-Powell