A Look Inside the 2018 Women’s Motorsport Development Program with Mel Valdes

WMDP Driver Training

Get the behind-the-scenes line on the Women’s Motorsport Development Program thanks to Mel Valdes, who shares her experiences of the 2018 program in this story.

2018 Women’s Motorsport Development Program (WMDP)

Thanks to Melanie Valdes

My journey with the Women’s Motorsport Development Program began on the Aussie Elises forum, when Drew Lydon suggested it to Gemma Gibson.

Rachelle Wilson, Program Director, established the Women’s Motorsport Development Program (WMDP) to take the intimidation out of motorsport for women. The WMDP is a ten part program run over five months which takes participants through various aspects of club level motorsport. It includes an L2S CAMS license as well as the first year of club membership with NSW Road Racing.

At the end of the program participants can enter supersprints, motorkhanas, hillclimbs and regularity events with confidence, knowledge and event readiness. The program is sponsored by the NSW Road Racing Club, Women of Australian Motor Sport (WAMS) a CAMS initiative, Sydney Motorsport Park, ARDC and Northlakes Wellness Practice.

Never to pass up a great opportunity, Gemma cast the net out wide to all the women she knew who had an interest in motorsport. Keen to develop my motorsport skills, and with Gino’s support to lend me his Exige for the program, I was in!

WMDP Meet 'n Greet

Part One: Meet & Greet

31st March, Sydney Motorsport Park

The program kicked off with a meet and greet at the NSW 6-Hour Regularity Relay. We met our driver trainers and the other twelve participants in the program.

A diverse group of ladies took part from different walks of life and locations including the Central Coast, Newcastle, Canberra, Hunter Region, Lake Macquarie and all over Sydney. Alexis, just 14 years old, drove a Subaru Impreza, Claire and Chloe, a mother daughter team, shared a Porsche Boxster S, Renee, a young mother from Glenmore Park, drove a Nissan Pulsar, Karen in an Mitsubishi Evo 6, Varvara drove an MX5 and does all her own mechanical work, Olivia, 16 years old in her Dad’s VZ Holden Commodore, Jess driving a Subaru WRX, Amanda with her Porshe Boxster, Trace in her Renault Megane, Liz in her Holden Torana, Karena with her BMW 318iS and Irene from the Coast with her Ford Falcon XR8.

I was very lucky to be paired with Bec as my driver trainer for the program. She was amazing and strategically methodical and structured in her approach. Her entire family is involved in motorsport – she was driving her mum’s car on day, due to mechanical issues on her own race car. Her brother is also an active competitor and her dad is the family team mechanic, but for many years competed in motorsport. Being on the track for them was a big part of the family spending time together. It was such a joy meeting her and the family.

We met many members of the NSW Road Racing Club and most importantly, many other female motorsport competitors. We also had the opportunity to do a passenger ride on the day with our trainers.

WMDP Motorkhana

Part Two: Motorkhana Training

21st April, Sydney Motorsport Park Skid Pan

Motorkhana training was hosted by BMW Drivers Club President & Motorkhana Director, Alex Wong. During the training we were provided with the patterns, specific instructions on key skills to focus on and given a demonstration of how to use (or not use) our handbrakes. Alex also provided in-car training during the evening event.

We lined up and did each run in parallel pairs. We tested our skill, courage and judgement to successfully handle our cars around the various cones and memorize the driving patterns.

WMDP Driver Training

Part Three: Driver Training

19th May, Wakefield Park Raceway

This would be our first experience of driver training on a circuit. The event was hosted by the Track Day Club and included a dedicated group session for WMDP. It offered a full day with high performance driving trainers Barton Mawer and Emily Duggan.

We started with a track walk, which helped us build a better understanding of the circuit’s layout as well as best practice principles for entering and exiting each turn. We then had tailored sessions with in-car mentoring that helped to develop our skills and confidence levels.

We also covered the basics of driving on the track with theory lessons and question and answer sessions with Bart and Emily between our group’s sessions.

Part Four: Supersprint Training

27th May, Sydney Motorsport Park Druitt (North) Circuit      

This event was hosted by the NSW Road Racing Club. It was our first supersprint event and our entry point into competitive motorsport.

There were over 80 cars at the event and we had a dedicated WMDP group session. It was an opportunity to meet people from the broader motorsport community, which was great.

We were given in-car mentoring for every session, and also learned about paperwork, scrutineering, driver briefings, the volunteers, safety protocols and everything in between.

Supersprints give people the opportunity to drive their road registered vehicle on a race circuit under competitive conditions. Competitors take to the track in order of faster to slower with the goal of maximising clear air and minimising the need to overtake. Each competitor’s aim is to set the fastest lap compared to other cars in the same class and it’s a competition against the clock rather than for track position.

Part Five: Officials Training

17th June, Sydney Motorsport Park

Motorsport events cannot happen without officials, who ensure the safety of everyone at the circuit as well as the smooth running of events. The vast majority of officials in club level motorsport are volunteers, and participating as an official is a great way to contribute to our sport.

Our officials training consisted of a mix of scrutineering, admin, flagging at different points around the track, race control, start finish line, marshalling and timing. We had a schedule for the day rotating in pairs between posts every hour.

The objectives for the day were to:

  • Gain a full understanding of how important officials are and the roles they fulfill
  • Learn what goes on behind the scenes at an event throughout the day & learn the reasons informing the instructions you’re given as a driver
  • Learn how to flag
  • Broaden our knowledge of competing in motorsport events
  • Earn a CAMS Accredited Official’s License

The process of becoming an official is a simple one, and it’s a great way to learn the rules of motorsport, which in turn will help you as a driver. It was a great experience and we were taken aback by the dedicated passion and commitment of the volunteers we met.

Some of the ladies (including our CLA Gemma) enjoyed it so much they returned the following weekend to volunteer at the State Championship event at SMP.

WMDP Mechanical Workshop

Part Six: Basic Car Maintenance Workshop

7th July, Pit Stop Tyre & Service

In 2018 the program introduced a workshop to teach basic car maintenance for track and road use. Peter Byrnes from Pit Stop Tyre & Service hosted and led the workshop.

Unfortunately I missed this workshop due to a work trip, however Gemma shared that it was another fine day with the ladies changing tyres, looking at each other’s engines and under the cars, which became lots of laughs when the Lotus and Porsche went up on the hoists, because you couldn’t see anything underneath. But at least on the Lotus everyone could see the engine from the boot, the Porsche engine was completely sealed with only two caps seen for oil and water however two areas of impressive boot space compared to the Lotus.

The objectives of the day were to:

  • Develop a greater understanding of our cars’ engine components
  • Learn how to take care of our tyres & monitor the life of tyres
  • Learn how to check our fluid levels
  • Learn how to monitor the life of our brakes
  • Learn what to do and what not to do if your engine overheats
  • Develop our pre-event car maintenance check list

WMDP Regularity

Part Seven: Regularity Training

15th July, Sydney Motorsport Park

Consistency is one of the most important qualities of a great driver, and is the defining aspect of regularity competition. In a regularity event, competitors seek to set consistent lap times, with victory going to the driver who runs most consistently to their nominated time.  Regularity events provide an opportunity for drivers to compete in a different style of speed event with less vigor than racing.

The objective of the training is to practice and develop consistent lap times over the course of individual sessions as well as an overall event. We learnt that achieving consistency requires the following from a driver:

  • Car control, to make sure that the car is always doing what you want it to be doing
  • Braking at the same brake marker each lap with the same amount of foot pressure
  • Changing gears at the same revs
  • Driving the same line each lap (which requires car control)

We had our own group and rotated throughout the day with other groups and competitors. We also had our driver trainer with us throughout the day.

The layout for the sessions were:

  • Session 1 – familiarisation of track layout
  • Session 2 – focus on driving lines
  • Session 3 – focus on gear changes and brake markers
  • Session 4 – set time & see how you go hitting it (using Harry’s Lap Timer)
  • Session 5 – set time & see how you go hitting it (using Harry’s Lap Timer)

WMDP Hillclimb

Part Eight: Hillclimb Training

22nd July, Huntley Hillclimb

Hillclimbs are conducted on both sealed and unsealed surfaces. These events put the driver and vehicle against a challenging (steep) uphill course with varying corners and gradients. At a hillclimb event cars are released one at a time and the person who is the quickest in completing the uphill course wins!

The objective of the training was to learn about the hillclimb discipline and develop the skills required to be competitive:

  • A good clean (standing) start – can’t bog down
  • Clean & quick gear change(s) – at the right revs
  • Clean lines

Our event was run in two groups. One group lined up and cars were released one at a time up the hill, with each run only taking about 30 seconds. Once up the hill the cars were held until the group completed their run. Once the cars are back down the hill and parked, the second half of the group was sent up. This was repeated about 5-6 times throughout the day.

The runs were manually timed, with times printed out during the day and placed on the notice board.

The Huntley Hillclimb was a good event for cars to be double-entered, so Gino and I were able to share the car on the day. We also met another Lotus owner Matt in his beautiful blue Lotus Elise.

This event was hosted by Wollongong Sporting Car Clubs.

WMDP Driver Training

Part Nine: Driver Training

18th August, Marulan Driver Training Centre Pheasant Wood Circuit

This was our second day of driver training with high performance driver coaches Barton Mawer and Emily Duggan and was the final step in preparing us for our competition supersprint event. The day was an open practice day at the Marulan circuit, which meant that it was run in a similar format to a supersprint, however there was no timing and it was not a competition event. The day started with beautiful blue skies and a guided track walk with Bart and Emily to walk the ideal line and demonstrate where to position the car and talk through the entry and exit.

We focused in more depth on the fundamentals of car control, lines and cornering control during laps of the circuit as well as vehicle set-up, throttle control and understeer/oversteer scenarios. Bart and Emily did theory lessons in between track sessions and we had one session each with Bart or Emily.

We had some dry runs early in the day but the heavens opened up and it rained heavily. This gave us the opportunity to train in wet conditions and better understand how our cars behave in different conditions. We all were challenged by the weather but continued on with our training and learnt to adjust to conditions.

WMDP Graduation

Part Ten: Graduation Day

19th August, Sydney Motorsport Park South Circuit

Participants graduate the program by being entered into a CAMS NSW supersprint competition. The five months leading up to the event had been excellent, so the format was familiar and not at all daunting. It’s still a track day, however, so we were all still a little nervous and excited. Cars were grouped together based on lap times. We all had a wonderful day and ran competitive times with everyone setting a personal best throughout the course of the day.

A presentation evening was held in September, and we were happy to have the opportunity to thank the volunteers of the program including our trainers, family and friends who supported us.

WMDP Graduation

So, what’s next?

I’m very pleased to say that many of the ladies continued their motorsport journey beyond the program. We continue to stay in contact, support each other and have become a mini movement to advocate women in motorsport.

The Women’s Motorsport Development Program was an incredible and unique experience that I’d recommend to anyone with an interest. So if you’ve thought about giving it a go, enjoy a challenge and are open to learning new skills to broaden your understanding and confidence behind the wheel, go for it! Gemma and I have made many new friends, have been exposed to new communities and enjoyed the experience together.

A few of us from the WMDP have formed an all ladies team “Throttle Sisters” to enter the 2019 6-Hour Regularity Relay. Gemma and I will also join the 2019 CSCA supersprint season, participate in various track days and do some official volunteering along the way. It’s going to be a full year of motorsport events, how wonderful!

For anyone interested in joining this year’s 2019 WMDP, the investment is $680 and places are still available. Please reach out if you’d like any further information or visit the program at website www.wmdp.com.au. You can also visit them on Facebook here.

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