Caroline Candas crowned winner of the inaugural RAFA Racing Shootout
RAFA Racing Club’s championing of female talent will allow young French racer Caroline Candas to enter next year's Porsche Sprint Challenge North America, following her victory in the exclusive RAFA Racing Club Driver Shootout.
The story of the underdog has always been a captivating feature of motorsport and Caroline Candas epitomises this mantra. Arriving at the RAFA Racing Shootout in Texas as the only candidate with no competitive race experience of rear-wheel-drive machinery, Caroline came out on top against some of the best young female drivers in the world. Her prize is one of the most exciting on offer stateside, a fully-funded seat in Porsche Sprint Challenge North America, a rapidly developing single-make championship in America.
Just seven months ago, Caroline’s only circuit racing experience came behind the wheel of a TCA-Light specification Peugeot 208. Now she was ready to embark on her greatest challenge yet. Competing in a high-pressure environment on an unfamiliar track with a significant performance difference to anything she had raced before, Candas had one week to impress world-renown judges and change her career.
RAFA Racing Club has taken the motorsport world by storm, and with founder Rafa Martinez developing his skills as a racing driver in McLaren Trophy Europe, the shootout served as the next step on his quest to uncover a racing superstar. With this mission in mind, Rafa Racing Club launched the first driver selection aimed at female racing drivers: nine selected young female racers travelled to Rafa Racing Club Headquarters in Houston, America, for an exclusive shootout, with Caroline emerging as a sensational winner.
The experience of being part of the RAFA Racing Shootout was a surprise to Caroline; despite GT4 being a completely different style of racing to what she had experienced to date, the potential shown by Candas led to the belief shown in her being selected. Channelling her tenacity and determination, but most of all her talent, the faith shown in Caroline was repaid as she defied the odds to come out on top against drivers with past experiences in formula cars and GT3 machinery among others.
Rafa’s championing of female talent allows drivers such as Caroline the opportunity to realise their dreams, without the financial worries which are an inevitable feature of modern motorsport. Indeed, despite finishing third in the multi-class FFSA TC Series this season, Candas was unable to compete in every race due to a lack of funding. Her ability to maximise her performances saw Caroline claim a stunning victory at Val de Vienne on her way to a podium tally which reached double figures.
However, the shootout would serve as a totally new experience for Caroline who travelled halfway across the world in order to realise her dreams. Candas and her competitors faced an extremely tough five-day assessment, with their on-track and off-track abilities tested to the limit in a once in a lifetime opportunity. After a first day of sim and media work at the state-of-the-art Houston HQ, the drivers were prepared for their first on-track action with a seat fitting and a shakedown at the RAFA Racing Club facility.
Caroline and her eight competitors were given the chance to learn from world-class coaches of the likes of former GP2 Series driver and European Le Mans Series champion Jon Lancaster, as well as Porsche Carrera Cup North America racer Tom Sargent. As the top level of endurance racing in America, IMSA was also represented with both Cameron Lawrence and Alec Udell joining the team.
Female representation was also present with Indycar team owner and one of the leading figures for women in motorsport in North America Beth Paretta offering her expert opinion. Rafa also enlisted the help of his 2023 McLaren Trophy Europe teammate and RAFA Racing Club ambassador Jem Hepworth who assisted the drivers with a range of activities.
Caroline’s adaptability is undoubtedly one factor which set her apart from her rivals and this trait has been apparent throughout her circuit racing career to date. Less than two years ago, Candas was still yet to make her circuit racing debut which highlights the significant rise taken by the twenty-one-year-old Frenchwoman. Competing in a Peugeot 308 RC this season, she was the only driver competing in the shootout who did not have competitive rear-wheel-drive racing experience in 2023.
The difference in driving style required from front-wheel-drive to rear-wheel-drive machinery cannot be understated, with differences in throttle control and breaking input just the tip of the iceberg. In order to succeed in the shootout, Caroline would have to learn fast and put aside the experience of her rivals and focus on her own development. Throughout the week, Candas was incredibly motivated to rise to the challenge and this enabled her to impress the coaches and judges alike.
Although her performances in the fitness and media aspects of the shootout should not be understated, it was the time spent in the simulator which laid the foundations for her success. Unlike half of her competitors, Caroline had never raced at Circuit of the Americas and therefore building a strong working relationship with the coaches enabled her to develop at a fast pace. Equally important were the shakedown laps at Rafa Racing Club HQ as Candas got behind the wheel of the Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 for the first time, learning both the systems and mechanics of her new machine. Preparations had gone smoothly, however nothing could fully prepare her for the challenge which lay ahead, a competitive shootout at the formidable Circuit of the Americas.
Circuit of the Americas is one of the most demanding racetracks in the world and has been the home of Formula 1 in the US since 2012. The state-of-the-art facility in Texas tests every element of a driver’s skillset with a fast and flowing opening sector leading to a lengthy straight accompanied by challenging braking zones. At 3.426 miles in length, the circuit features lap times exceeding two minutes for Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 machines, and this would add to the challenge for Caroline as she would need to learn the track in record-quick time in order to be competitive.
Learning braking zones and turn-in points would only scratch the surface of the challenges Caroline would face, with the characteristics of the Yokohama tyres vastly different to anything she had previously driven. Therefore, extracting lap time in both qualifying and race trim would be a step into the unknown and would require remarkable skill and adaptability. Impressing the judges with every aspect of her performance, Caroline overcame the odds to be crowned the inaugural Rafa Racing Shootout winner and claim a fully-funded place on the Porsche Sprint Challenge North America grid.
Caroline’s development will continue in 2024 as she embarks on her biggest challenge yet, a full-season program with events at seven iconic venues stateside. Competing in the Cayman class for Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 RS Clubsport machines, competition will be fierce but Candas will believe she can fight for top honours from the outset. The season begins on the weekend of March 2nd/3rd at the iconic Sebring International Raceway, before Caroline will race alongside NTT IndyCar Series at Barber Motorsport Park. Round three will bring some familiarity for Candas with the drivers tackling COTA, before trips to Virginia International Raceway, Watkins Glen, Road America and Sonoma complete the schedule.
The #RaceAsFamilyAlways mantra was in effect as Caroline was announced as the shootout winner, with her fellow competitors quick to offer their congratulations. The shootout served as an unforgettable opportunity to the nine drivers and will inspire them to continue chasing their goals. Candas faced immense challenges throughout the week and despite lacking the experience, both in terms of the characteristics of car and track, she came out on top as a deserved winner.
Candas will now live the American dream and line up on the Porsche Sprint Challenge North America grid with her story serving to inspire fellow female drivers who are looking to overcome the odds and forge a career in motorsport.