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British youngster aims for Le Mans

6 August 2012

Young British racing driver Louise Richardson will hope to take more small steps towards her goal of one day competing in the Le Mans 24 Hours when the Michelin Ginetta GT Supercup season resumes at Snetterton this weekend.

Her entry into the G50 class of the BTCC-supporting Ginetta series is the latest step on Louise's journey, which she hopes will end with her becoming one of a select band of female drivers to compete in the biggest endurance race in world motorsport.

The journey towards the Circuit de la Sarthe started when Louise was just eleven years old when she first got behind the wheel of a kart, and what was initially meant to be a bit of fun soon became much more as she joined older brother Andrew in moving towards a career in motorsport.

“I started karting when Dad took me and Andrew when I was eleven, and I continued in karts until I entered the Ginetta Junior Championship when I was 16,” she says. “When I first went karting I really enjoyed it, and I moved up to compete in the national championship. I started to improve and then decided to take it more seriously.

“At first, there was an element of me wanting to do what Andy was doing - he was going karting, so I wanted to go karting. When I got into Cadets however, I wanted to do it for the love of it and my desire to go further just grew.”

Being run by dad Gwyn from the rear of the team's van, Louise forged a successful career in karting before she was given the opportunity to compete for a scholarship with Ginetta.

Despite the fact she hadn't been behind the wheel of a car before, Louise impressed the judges enough to secure the scholarship and with it, a place on the grid for the 2009 Ginetta Junior Championship.

Moving into cars with a British Women Racing Drivers' Club Elite Gold Star under her belt as a reward for her achievements the previous year, Louise finished inside the top ten in her debut season despite a lack of testing and also used her move into cars to help promote the Teenage Cancer Trust.

A second season in the Junior Series followed, with her scholarship extended due to the progress made on track in 2009, and Louise took the opportunity with both hands to come of age on track.

During the season she secured no fewer than twelve podium finishes, including two victories, to end the year third in the championship – being nominated at the end of the year to take part in the FIA's Volkswagen Scirocco Cup shootout where she was the fastest driver but was selected as the runner-up.

She had however made people sit up and take notice for her performances on track, which came in front of some of the leading figures in UK motorsport and legions of fans both trackside and watching the action unfold live on ITV4.

“Getting the scholarship with Ginetta is probably the biggest opportunity I have had in my career so far,” Louise reflects. “I don't think I would be where I am now if I hadn't got onto it. I don't know if I would have got the opportunity to step up into cars and would probably have still been karting.

“The Junior championship was good for me as it allowed me to learn my racecraft and it also gave me the chance to compete on a package where there was a lot of people able to see what I could do. It was daunting at first with the size of the crowds as the biggest crowd I had probably raced in front of before that was a few hundred at Kartmasters. Suddenly, there was a huge crowd watching on.

“I can remember my first race at Brands Hatch. Practice and qualifying passed normally but when I pulled up on the grid for the first race and looked to my left, I could just see this huge crowd and I didn't know what to think. Some people would get more nervous in that situation but I'm lucky in that I was just able to focus on the job at hand.

“I learnt a lot from the Juniors and gained a lot of exposure from it, but the only disappointment is that I wasn't able to win the championship. I took a lot of podium finishes and got my first victories in car racing and it would have been nice to win the title at the end of it.”

Graduating into the GT Supercup for 2011, Louise showed her pace even if the end results didn't reflect her potential behind the wheel – with a number of incidents not of her own making having an impact on her programme during the season.

However, even in the face of adversity, she continued to increase her racing experience and gained more knowledge about what is needed to succeed on track.

“It wasn't a big step into the G50 for me, although it was a tricky first season as we had a number of problems to deal with,” she admits. “We had some issues with the car, which we eventually traced to a bent chassis, and it made things tough. I showed my speed but it was a difficult season, although I did come away from it with three podium finishes.”

The 2012 season started with another podium finish at Brands Hatch and by the time the third meeting of the year arrived, Louise was able to celebrate her first victory with a stunning performance in challenging wet conditions at Thruxton, which would catch out a number of more experienced drivers over the course of the day.

However, that victory at the quickest circuit on the Ginetta calendar would be her final appearance prior to the summer break as a proposed sponsorship deal fell through, but despite the obvious disappointment of being sidelined, Louise remains as determined as ever to get back on track and continue on her journey.

“It's been difficult to miss races, but at least I've been able to secure a victory this season,” she said. “Last year I showed I was fast enough to run at the front, but I didn't manage to get a win. I would have been more frustrated if I'd been sidelined and hadn't had the opportunity to show that I can be a race winner. It's still difficult, but at least I know I have shown people what I am capable of.

“The problem I have is the same as everyone who needs a budget to race, and that is that sponsorship is really difficult to find in the current economic climate. If you are able to find a big sponsor, you are very lucky and sometimes it is a case of being put in touch with the right person at the right time. So much time and effort goes in to searching for sponsors and I'm working hard to get the funds needed to get back on track.

“In the past few weeks, I've even auctioned off some signed Lewis Hamilton memorabilia that I won while karting in Belgium for the most overtaking. It meant a lot to me as I'd earned it by showing what I could do on track, but every little bit towards a budget will help.”

With her dream being to compete at Le Mans later in her career, Louise now heads into the second half of 2012 focused on getting back on the grid to continue her rise up the motorsport ladder.

“I want to be back out again this season, and it would be nice if I could get the backing to move up into the G55 class next year,” she says. “Ultimately I would love to one day race at Le Mans, so I think that getting into a G55 and then looking to make a move into the BTCC would be the best route for my career as it would keep me in the public viewpoint and allow me to get more exposure. If I could then move into something like the DTM or WTCC, it could help me move towards my goal.

“I do have a love for single-seaters, but in reality, I think that sportscars and saloon cars is a better direction for my career. To be successful in single-seaters, you need to have a lot of money behind you and it is more difficult to get into it if you don't have a big budget. Motorsport isn't cheap, but for a family run team like ours, the Ginetta series is more manageable as you don't need as much of a budget.

“When it comes to Le Mans, age isn't as much of a barrier as it is elsewhere as you get a real mixture of ages competing. I have time on my side and I'll continue to work hard to get there.”


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