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Volume 6 No. 264
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Hangin' With ... IMSA SportsCar Championship Title Winner Christina Nielsen

CHRISTINA NIELSEN made history when she became the first female driver to win a major, full-season North American sports car championship. The 24-year-old Dane won the title in the GT Daytona category this season in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship together with co-driver ALESSANDRO BALZAN. Driving the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3, Nielsen also celebrated her first two victories in Sebring and Watkins Glen. Nielsen, who grew up in a racing family, recently spoke with SBD Global about winning the championship, sponsorships and attracting girls to motorsport.

On what the title means ...
Christina Nielsen: I get this question a lot. People always ask me what it’s like to be a female in a male-dominated sport, and I always respond: “I’m not a female who’s a race car driver. I’m a race car driver who’s a female.” Because at the end of the day, I am proud to be a female who is competing on such a high level, but most importantly, I am proud to be a driver who competes at that level. I want to compete on equal terms with the guys, and most importantly of all, I want to beat them. I try to focus on the people who have an influence on my career -- the rest is noise to me. I believe nothing, including your gender, should stop you from pursuing your dreams and doing what you want. When I went onstage at IMSA’s WeatherTech Night of Champions to receive my GT Daytona Championship award, I didn’t prepare a speech; I chose to speak from the heart instead. I was surprised by the overwhelming amount of emotions I was feeling. I could have said more while thanking my team, Scuderia Corsa, my co-drivers, and my dad, but I didn't have to. I think everybody in that moment knew how much this season meant to me.

Nielsen and co-driver Alessandro Balzan in the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3.
On the challenges of being a female driver ...
Nielsen: I think in terms of females winning championships, a big factor is the fact that women drivers are fighting against the odds. If you compare how many male drivers there are every year competing for a championship compared to women, they have a much higher chance in terms of numbers. The attention does add some pressure, of course, but that attention is normally also given to the championship leaders, which Balzan and I have been since round three this season. The attention might be bigger because I’m also a woman, but, in general, I think it is something that most high-performing drivers experience to some extent. It is something that takes time to learn, handle and cope with, but at the end of the day, it’s a part of the job, and I was very lucky to be with a team this year that is very supportive. Being surrounded by positive and supportive people makes it all a lot easier to handle. I never felt alone. There is no “I” in team!

On opportunities for female drivers ...
Nielsen: My dad, LARS ERIK NIELSEN, raced for many years, including at the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans, so racing has always been a passion and an integral part of my life. I think the American fans have been really supportive of female drivers, including myself, which is great. As far as opportunities in America vs. Europe, I think no matter the continent or gender, you need to create a position for yourself where you are offered these opportunities. When a girl can drive, she might get more opportunities than the men but with these opportunities also comes responsibility and sometimes difficult choices to make. However in the end, if you work really hard, it will pay off.

On securing sponsorships ...
Nielsen: I believe if you use the fact that you’re a female driver for commercial reasons, you have to make sure the advertisement is in alignment with your values and what you stand for. That’s what I’ve lived by throughout my career. In terms of media, it creates a much better opportunity to have company brands shown on television, social media, magazines and newspapers. However, to attract attention, you also need to perform and be on top, which is exactly what we have done this year. I am also with a great team, Scuderia Corsa, and with a great brand, Ferrari, where we have the opportunity to create unique experiences for companies, along with their clients and guests both on and off track.

On motorsports' appeal to girls ...
Nielsen: It would be great if stories like mine inspire girls and women who have a passion for racing to pursue their dream and understand they can be a top-tier driver just like any of the male drivers out there. Racing is so exciting, especially in person, so I think increased exposure to the sport will generate more interest from young girls and boys. I also think motorsport, and sports car racing, in particular, is a testing ground for incredible technology. So I think you could attract more young people by showing them all of the science, technology, engineering and math that is involved in racing and all of the roles in the sport that need and use those skills.

On falling attendance TV and attendance numbers ...
Nielsen: I think sports car racing is full of action, and we have cars that people can relate to because they are similar to road cars. People have obviously heard of a Ferrari before -- it’s sexy! So to put those types of cars, cars that most people dream of driving or even owning someday, on a track and racing them at 180 mph is thrilling. I think social media has done a lot for racing. Drivers and teams have social media accounts, and it adds a personal touch. You can post photos, videos, interviews, links, the opportunities are endless with social media, and I think it also helps with reaching out and enticing the younger crowd, the millennials, who may not be as into racing as their parents’ generation was. Let’s face it: Young people these days live on their mobile devices, so it’s really important for racing series, teams and drivers to connect to the next generation of fans through those digital platforms.

Hangin' With runs each Friday in SBD Global.