Catie Munnings: Being A Woman in Motorsport Shows Young Girls What's Possible
To celebrate Internationals Women's Day on 8th March, we've dedicated an entire week to hearing from some of the most influential and inspiring female voices that we've been fortunate to work with.
Celebrating their sports, their training and their unique takes on the wellness industry, with advice and practical tips for both the current crop and future generations of women in fitness.
Catie Munnings is a professional rally driver, television presenter and columnist who is currently competing in the massively exciting 'Extreme E'.
In this interview Catie discusses the challenges she's faced as a female driver, as well as the positives she's felt, the value of staying optimistic and the importance of showing young girls what's possible now, for the good of the sport in the future.
You have a pedigree in motorsports, but what age were you when you took an interest in racing, personally?
I grew up in motorsport, and I think it was quite normal to me from an early age. My dad had been a rally driver and I grew up in a motorsport entertainment company that was based at the family farm, so I was always outside - I guess you could call me a tomboy. My mum said she used to really struggle to get me to come inside to eat dinner, as I just wanted to be outside running in the woods!
Historically motorsports may have been viewed as ‘male dominated’, did you ever have any sense of this when you were starting out? How did that effect you?
My parents were a big part of my encouragement, I always felt quite confident because they always reassured me that I was talented and I deserve to be there regardless of my gender, I think when you’re a novice and your learning, you put a lot of pressure on yourself if you don’t compare to the other drivers that are more experienced. I went straight into the European Championship and definitely felt this - I’m sure if I didn’t have as much support around me there were times when I think of giving up, especially after crashes that can cost tens of thousands.
Are people often surprised when you tell them what you do? What are some common comments you receive?
People are definitely surprised, I think they are surprised I’m a girl, but also I get told all the time I don’t look like I would be a racing driver, I’m not sure what that looks like though! I take it as a compliment though, I’ve always been the kind of person to be fuelled by people thinking that I couldn’t be successful in any situation in life, and it motivates to show that I can.
Most the time it’s really positive and people are happy that there are opportunities for girls in the sport because it’s not something you see everyday. Of course you get the odd comment about women drivers, or parking, which I even I will admit is not my greatest strength ha , but then it’s even greater when you do the talk on track. As they say 'when the stopwatch starts, it’s the same for everyone' and nothing else impacts the result. What I’m really proud of, is the industry and how female drivers have been accepted recently, with championships like Extreme E, we work in teams with the best male drivers in the world, I genuinely think there’s been a lot of respect for the female talent and I think people watching on have been surprised by the pace.
Are there any challenges you’ve faced, that you think are unique to being a woman in the sport?
People always say to me it must be easier to get sponsorship because you’re a girl, but I’ve never found that. We all know that motorsport is one of the most expensive sports and very inaccessible. At the same time, opportunities have been provided for women at the top level with new championships in the last couple of years, it’s great for us, but I think the main purpose of this is to show young girls watching it’s possible and hopefully get more starting out in club levels of motorsports, so in the future we have a much higher chance of finding a champion from the bigger pool of girls entering.
Have you seen changes in how women are perceived in the sport over the years?
We have had a successful females in the past like Michelle Mouton, however there’s been a gap in history since, and I think that slowly been chipped away at. I’ve noticed exposure has increased, which has also meant opportunities have increased and it’s really exciting to see that. I’m a real advocate for taking the fastest driver, not choosing a girl just because she’s a girl, and not just trying to beat the rest of the girls. So it’s important to me to be competitive against the guys, and I think that’s the only real way that will continue to improve the perception of females in motorsport. I do have to remind myself that I’m still one of the youngest in the paddock, Sometimes the competitive trait can take over!
You have to remember to give yourself the same time to learn and develop as a driver as you would a young male driver - the guys and girls I’m competing against are older and have got more experience than me, but it’s very motivating to see you can be there with them on times, and to race the people I looked up to when I was a kid watching. Maybe the pressure feels greater when you’re developing as a female driver, because there’s fewer of you, so more eyes on you to see if you’ll be fast.
What advice do you have for young women setting out to conquer motorsports, or any sport for that matter?
I would say go for it, there are so many times when you can’t see many opportunities ahead of you, especially in motorsport but I believe doors always open. I would really encourage you to get out to events and network as much as you can, meet as many people as you can in the industry and work really hard to perfect your skills with whatever resources you have because that’s what will do the talking at the end of the day. Most importantly have fun with it, we are so lucky we can do the sports we love and make sure you carry that fun with you through the whole journey because that’s what it’s all about!
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