April 14, 2022

Few racers on the planet can share a story quite like Pippa Mann. The pioneer of a racing generation, she doesn’t take no for an answer.

Pippa has fought tooth and nail for every opportunity she has achieved in motorsport – from humble beginnings in go karts and taking on the might of early-2000s British junior motorsport to chasing her dreams to America and forging an untrodden path to the history books.

The 95th running of the Indianapolis 500 in 2011 was an historic occasion. Lining up on the grid, Pippa became the first British woman, and one of only nine women in history, to compete in the race.

However, as Pippa outlines, the process of getting to the grid is an almost year-long process. Eleven years later, and with seven Indy 500 starts to her name, Pippa reflects on the experience of making the grid of that first race and how making history never crossed her mind at the time.

“I’ve been very lucky to get to compete at the Indianapolis 500 seven times,” Pippa said. “But something that I think people on the outside don’t realise is there was effectively an entire year’s worth of work in trying to find the money to go and do that race.

“I never earned any money doing that race. In fact, there would technically be several months of the year where I wasn’t working or earning to go and do that race. I was very lucky and worked very hard to get those opportunities at Indy.”

Pippa recalls the experience of making it to the Indy 500 grid, as she and Conquest Racing battled to be one of the 33 cars to form the entry list.

“I have to step you back a little bit to really tell you what that experience was like,” Pippa explained. “So in 2010, I had a pretty good year in Indy Lights and finished fifth in the championship – won a race, finished on the podium twice and finished in the top five several times. But I was upfront at every single oval we went to.

“In 2011, I was trying to figure out how to get to the Indy 500. Éric Bachelart of Conquest Racing gave me an offer to go and test one of their cars at Texas Motor Speedway. If you don’t know anything about Texas, it’s very high-banked. It’s very fast. And in that era of IndyCar, it actually wasn’t that easy and Conquest was not that good at that race track.

“The test went quite well and Eric found himself a driver for the full season. But I kept pestering him and pestering him. I was sitting at home during the Long Beach IndyCar race weekend when the entry list for the 2011 Indy 500 came out.

“So I pull it up, and I’m scrolling through and scrolling through, and there it is. The second Conquest Racing entry – driver to be determined. That’s my car! That’s my car.

“The car is on that entry list, all I have to do now is to stop Eric from chickening out and taking the car off the entry list. So that was the basic premise.”

With her foot in the door, Pippa did everything she could to ensure her seat in the car. The team ran on a tight budget with limited spares and supplies. Racing drivers operate under intense pressure at the best of times, let alone with the added anxiety of knowing that one accident – one mistake – could spell the end of it all.

“My car was their full season driver’s road course car. We didn’t have a spare. We were at the Conquest workshop until one in the morning trying to get me fitted into the car. Rookie Orientation was the next day at the racetrack.”

Far from the glitz, glamour and prestige that the Indy 500 is known for – Pippa’s story is one of remarkable strength and a case study in a collective of individuals bound by the same goal: to race at Indianapolis.

“There were 42 cars for 33 spots,” Pippa said. “It was going to be really close. And every run we tried to make the car a little faster and trim it a little more. In that era of IndyCar, it had a really low critical yaw angle and what that means is, if it gets even a little bit sideways then boom – it’s backwards and you’re in the wall. And that’s why, in that era, you had so many single car crashes in qualifying.

“So there was no spare car for the team. My teammate, their full season driver, was really struggling – they didn’t look like they were going to make it. And we were close, like, maybe. And so we get to the first day of qualifying and we send the car out for the first full lap. The thing’s slow. What do we do now? Bring it back to the garage.

“We try and solve the problem and send it out again. It’s worse. At this point, the team has two cars – neither of which are going to make the race the next day.”

Image: Jamey Price

After acquiring a radically different car setup from another team, Pippa’s crew spent the night before the start of qualifying getting the car ready – with only the morning warm up session to find out whether it would work.

“The team were still trying to put the car back together because the changes are so big. These are huge changes. They then tow me out to pit lane with somebody literally sitting on the front of the car, strapping me in as they’re towing me out. We got two laps before the chequered flag and that was enough to know that the car was really loose, like I’m going to crash this thing.

“I looked at Éric as we walked back out for qualifying. He and I both knew that if I crashed his car, that’s it. I don’t have enough money to fix it. I said to him ‘I’m going to go into turn one flat and see what happens’. He just looked at me and said ‘Okay.’

“I did it and it just about stuck. That four lap run was actually quick enough to put me 26th or 27th at that time. It meant we were pretty safe with my car but then at the end of the day, it started to cool off and when it cools off, the track gets faster and faster. People were going faster and faster. Back then, the rules were slightly different for qualifying. If you got to the front of the qualifying line after everybody’s done their initial run, what would happen is you can either pull out of the line and go to the back, or your team owner pulls your lap time. You have a choice if you want to go again but your previous attempt is null and void.

“You are no longer in the Indy 500 if you want to go again,” Pippa revealed.

“Eric now knows this part of the story, but he didn’t know it at the time. We got to a point, and I just sat and put my foot on the brakes so the car wouldn’t roll anymore because I knew that if we got in line and ended up at the front, Eric was going to panic and pull and send it. And frankly, this car was so on edge with this other set up this team had given us that we really didn’t want to go again. There’s this moment in time where even if everybody else goes quicker than you, you can no longer be bumped out of the race with around half an hour to go. My engineer said ‘We’re in, you can hop out of the car. Not enough people can go faster than you.’ But still you’re standing there and everybody’s coming. We ended up 32nd, the penultimate car in the race.

“With all of that going on, being the first British woman to be in the race wasn’t really part of the equation!”

Image: Ali Markus

“It took me a while to find – it took me a long time to get my first work as a driver coach and co-driving in this industry.”

Since first appearing at Indy, Pippa has developed a reputation as a successful and proven driver coach and co-driver – offering her guidance and expertise to racers looking to level up right across the States, alongside racing in endurance events.

Letting her skills and results do the talking, Pippa now has a self-sufficient line of work in motorsport – something she openly admits is a rarity – but also reveals it took a further two years after signing her first client for a male driver to hire her as well.

“Once the first guy hired me and we started getting results, all of a sudden it was normal. And now it’s not a thing anymore, but it was very much a process almost just like how you have to prove yourself on the racetrack. Like, yes, I’m here because I can drive a race car.

“It’s so much fun getting to race in paddocks where you not only see the people you work with improve, getting better and better, but also when people know who I am. They know that when I get in the car, it’s going to the front. It’s so nice working with teams, clients and co-drivers who appreciate what I bring to the table and appreciate what I’m doing.”

Understanding that she holds a unique position in the world of motorsport, Pippa now combines her coaching and tuition with a role as a staunch activist for women in motorsport – taking the helm of Shift Up Now, an organisation dedicated to helping young women achieve their dreams in motor racing.

“When I was younger, I just wanted to be a racing driver,” Pippa said. “l still am a racing driver first but there are some significant things about being a woman in this sport that you have to overcome. Quite frankly, the biggest thing is the lack of funding for women on the ladder.”

Image: Jamey Price

Revealing an astonishing statistic, Pippa puts the lack of funding for women’s sport into perspective.

“Roughly 0.5% of the money spent in sports marketing goes to women in sport. Factor that into something like motorsport, where money is critical to the opportunity to even compete, and it’s a really big deal.

“I’m one of the leaders of a group called Shift Up Now. We’re still a very young group but the goal is to change the game for women in motorsport. The goal is to try and get brands to buy in to backing women in this sport.

“I’ve been running it for 18 months and, in the grand motorsport scheme, the numbers are still way too small but this year all of the athletes who are associated with Shift Up Now are actually getting a small financial benefit from being associated with us.

“Whether that’s helping them pay for photography for their season or helping pay their travel costs. We’re actually starting to get brands involved – some who actually used to support me at the Indy 500 are some of the people I’ve managed to drag over kicking and screaming to help me do this and to get things going but we’re actually starting to build momentum.

“It’s something I’m very passionate about and something I intend to keep doing. It’s a really big deal to me because it’s one of the big things that holds back so many women in motorsport.”

When asked if she had one lesson to teach people through her experiences in the world of motorsport, Pippa delivers a clear message of strength and determination.

“It’s all about perseverance,” Pippa says. “This sport is really hard and it can be really cruel at times. I’m living the dream, I am fulfilled and I’m happy. But I’m gone 200 to 250 days a year. That’s a lot.

“It’s tough on you mentally. It’s so hard to get knocked down and find the inner strength to be able to come back. You go from hero to zero so fast. So perseverance and that willingness and drive to overcome. That’s what makes the real difference in this sport. The people who have that ability to just keep on getting back up, they’re the ones who will eventually overcome. It takes a lot of hard work, a lot of dedication and a lot of stuff not going the way you want it to.”

You can find out more about the work Pippa and Shift Up Now carry out by visiting their website.

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