Girls On Track - Rising Stars: meet Aurélia, Alice, Chloe & Chloe.
The third edition of the Girls On Track - Rising Stars has its four finalists: we talked with Aurélia Nobels, Alice Buckley, Chloe Grant and Chloe Chong in one of their biggest days of their career to date.
The third edition of the 'Girls On Track - Rising Stars' programme has its four finalists: after five intense days at Circuit Paul Ricard, South of France, some of the most promising young female racers selected from applications from all over the world were tested in a series of on and off track assessments, which culminated with 2 days behind the wheel of Formula 4 cars. Stakes were high: advancing to the final stage, the FDA camp in Maranello in November, where one of them will be rewarded with a life-changing opportunity: a contract with the Ferrari Driver Academy. All under 16 years of age, Alice Buckley, Aurélia Nobels, Chloe Anna Grant, Chloe Chong, Macie Hitter and Agustina Sanchez all pushed each other's limits throughout the selection process, overseen by representatives of the FIA Women In Motorsport Commission, Iron Dames, Ferrari Driver Academy, Winfield Racing School and training specialists 321 Perform. The first day was dedicated to physical and mental tests and both the Senior and Junior hopefuls were welcomed by FIA Women In Motorsport's Commission President Deborah Mayer's speech. The eight Junior candidates – who are competing for support from FDA in an international karting campaign – and the six Seniors then hit the track on Thursday, for a full day of karting in the Kart Republic karts on the technical 964m karting circuit within the Le Castellet complex.
Friday was all about absorbing as much information as possible: after really interesting workshops on topics such as nutrition and media awareness, the drivers moved to the home of the French GP for a track walk, followed by the seat fitting in the Mygale F4 cars operated by Winfield Racing School.
"The first two days were preparation in karting", explained Chloe Chong, one of the candidates from the UK. "I'm more familiar with that, so I had a really good day in karting, as well as physical and mental training with 321 Perform. Then we prepared for the F4 and then drove it for two days" – she continued.
15-year-old Chong, of dual British and Canadian citizenship, has made her way up the karting ranks in the British championship and was one of the least experienced in cars, having only had one single day of testing in a F4 car prior to the selections. "This year I'm doing the British Kart Championship and the IAME Ladies cup in France for Junior X30 and Senior X30"– she summed up. "Last year I did Rotax, as well as the year before - so no car experience. I haven't done Formula 4 at all before so this was a new experience for me." Similarly, Alice Buckley also had sat in a F4 car only once before travelling from Australia to France for the Girls On Track assessments. "I had one test day in F4 at home and before that I've only been in go karts" – Alice told us. "I still love karting, but it's great to take that little step up and I'm very proud of myself". Buckley has been making waves in Australian karting and was initially selected for the 2020 edition of the selections – before Covid-related travel restrictions prevented her from attending. The extra preparation time meant that the young driver from Queensland could continue her progress on home soil, before finally showcasing her talent at this year's edition.
"This week meant everything to me", she explained. "Just being accepted here was a great opportunity – especially coming from Australia, how far away it is, it was a massive deal. I'm so grateful for being the first Australian to come here for this programme." Despite different backgrounds and levels of experience, all the drivers really showed great improvements in the two days of Formula 4 testing – which included 5 practice runs on Saturday and a race-weekend simulation on Sunday. With a bit more of single seater experience under their belts, Chloe Grant and Aurélia Nobels pushed each other and kept improving and learnt from the reference times posted by former programme winner Maya Weug – now competing in Italian F4 for Iron Lynx/Iron Dames, supported by the FDA.
Chloe Grant, from Scotland, began karting on home soil when she was 7. She won the East of Scotland Karting Club championship in the Minimax category in 2017, and was second overall in the North of Scotland Karting Club championship in 2019 with wins and podiums to her name. She would then win the CKRC championship in 2020, before moving up to race cars in 2021, when she won the Junior Saloon Car Championship Scholarship.
When the GB4 Championship was announced in 2022 – a series using the Tatuus F4 T014 car – Grant joined Graham Brunton Racing with support from Laser Tools Racing for her first single seater campaign. Six race weekends into the championship, Chloe has collected 7 top-ten finishes, with two sixth places at Snetterton as her best results so far. At Paul Ricard, though, she had to adapt to a completely different F4 car. "The Mygale is very different to the Tatuus that I drive in GB4 Championship, but it was really good to learn how to drive it", she explained. "The steering was heavier so I feel that when I go back home and I jump back in the Tatuus, it would help me to drive it quicker and be more confident with it." Aurélia Nobels is also in her first formula season, having been a big name in the karting world both in Brazil and Europe. Aurélia, 15, was born in Boston, USA, from Belgian parents and raised in Brazil. In the past couple of years, Nobels has competed in the most important karting events, including WSK and European Championships – before graduating to Formula 4 in 2022. She is currently the only female racer on the grid of the brand-new Brazilian F4 championship, and has made one appearance in the Danish and Spanish F4 series respectively.
Just like Grant, Nobels had to adapt to the different car, as she has predominantly been racing the new Tatuus T021. "Everything was really nice, the track is fast and technical – and the car also is different from the one I'm driving in Brazil", she told us. "I drive the Tatuus and at the beginning I had to adapt to it in the first session, but then it was okay – I thought it would be harder." Obviously, lap time was not the only selection criteria throughout the whole process, as the jury kept a close eye on the drivers' ability to adapt and the progress and development after each session and coaching. The athletes had to learn the crucial steps in becoming a complete driver, from psychological, nutrition, fitness and media training, to tyre management. "I learnt a lot every day" – Nobels continued. "In karting, about nutrition, everything. I also improved a lot, and I'm really happy I gave it everything to advance to the final. It was hard, because Chloe [Grant] is really fast, but we worked a lot in Brazil and I will do my best to win this programme." "The coaches from Winfield were absolutely brilliant: I honestly don't think I've ever been coached this way" – echoed Chloe Grant. "They were explaining to us how to do things rather than just tell us to do it." "I learned so much about fitness as well – 321 Perform has taught me a lot nutrition-wise. I don't really warm up before each of my sessions, I usually just do a quick stretch – but I definitely think I should do a lot more now, and I will be." After an intense week, the jury announced Nobels, Grant, Buckley and Chong as the four finalists that will attend the FDA Camp in November to fight for that important contract with Ferrari Driver Academy. For all four of them, it was a brilliant achievement and one of the biggest moments of their careers to date.
"It was a really good week - and it was very tough I should say" – said Chloe Grant. "I didn't realize how far they were going to push us to our limits and they definitely pushed us really hard. It was worth every second of it." "It's been amazing for me and I'm so grateful that I've been given this opportunity and I'm really excited for Maranello. It's a brilliant programme to be part of." "Everything has been way above my expectations and people were lovely", Alice Buckley continued. "Everything just went to plan, so hopefully we can keep going like that." Buckley and Chong had a really strong day in F4, where they continued to set their personal best laps at each outing and showed the jury a big room for improvement. "It was incredible: this track and these cars - it felt like I was driving a F1" – commented a smiling Buckley. "It is a physical track, but pushing through was the highlight of my week because it showed what I can do and how I can improve and where my weaks spots are. When I come back, hopefully I'll be even more ready."
"It feels much scarier when you're actually in the cockpit, especially around fast corners like turn 6 and 7 for the 3.8 track at Paul Ricard" – continued Chong, describing her feelings in the first sessions behind the wheel of the F4 car. "But it definitely had more grip than I thought it would. Also, the steering wheel is very tough, so my arms will need to prepare for Maranello."
All of them are now certainly better drivers, and will be ready to fight their way up in their journey in the sport. Despite only being in its third edition, the Girls On Track - Rising Stars programme has provided a pathway for young drivers in the critical step from karting to race cars. With support from Ferrari and Iron Dames, the next generation of female talents increasingly have inspiring role models to look up to. "A programme like this is really important because despite the fact that there is such a small amount of girls in motorsport, we're so dedicated and love this sport so much", Chloe Grant perfectly summed up. "With it being unfortunately such an expensive sport, even a smaller number of us make it to the highest level. So giving us this opportunity is just unbelievable." "Even if I didn't win this, I would still be so grateful for the experience. I mean – get to drive at Paul Ricard and Maranello: that's something that I never thought I would be doing in my entire life!" The four finalists will give it their all at the upcoming Training Camp in Maranello in November, with some important lessons already being learned: "What I learnt from this is that you can't give up and you just have to keep going", Chloe Chong stated. "Some days it can feel like everything is really bad for you, but you do get rewarded."