Meet Samantha Tan: A journey to the top of endurance racing
Discover 23-year old Samantha Tan - the young Canadian driver-owner of the Samantha Tan Racing BMW M4 GT4 in the 24H Series. We caught up with her during the Mugello 12H, second round of the popular endurance series that she is currently leading after two victories and a second place finish.
The 24H Series enters the heart of its European season, with the third round at Circuit Paul Ricard this weekend. After two races in the Emirates – the world-renowned 24H of Dubai and a non-championship round in Abu Dhabi – the popular endurance championship moved to Italy for the 12 Hours of Mugello. On the rich entry list, several female drivers went to the Tuscan venue with winning ambitions; one of them – 23 year old Canadian Samantha Tan – entered as the championship leader.
The young driver-owner had in fact been the protagonist of a remarkable start of the season, claiming two victories in the GT4 category. Sharing her BMW M4 GT4 with Chandler Hull and Jon Miller, Samantha targeted another victory at Mugello, but a broken wheel hub in the closing stages of the first 4-hour part denied the ST Racing outfit of the highest step of the podium on the Tuscan hills. Nevertheless, their second place finish still allows Samantha and her crew to travel to the 12H of Le Castellet on top of the championship standings in both the GT4 class and in the overall GT division.
A young woman driven by passion for the sport, Samantha has started her professional racing career relatively recently but has steadily progressed to the highest spheres of GT and endurance racing. Tan moved to the Pirelli World Challenge in 2016 in the TC class, before making the switch to GT4 machinery in 2018, always in the US-based and SRO sanctioned series. In 2019, she made significant improvements in the GT4 America championship, where she shared a BMW M4 GT4 with Jon Miller; they would finish third in the Silver category standings.
Most importantly, Tan cut her teeth among an extraordinary competitive field that ultimately proved crucial for the next steps in her and her team's career: behind the look of the young driver there is in fact a determined woman leading a growing organization that is expanding both in American and international motorsport.
With its beautifully striking BMWs – almost reminding of the famous art-cars – the Canadian outfit doesn't certainly go unnoticed on track. The Van Gogh's Starry Night inspired livery has been matched by Samantha's new helmet at Mugello – one more detail that describes Tan's character.
A bubbly personality, Samantha Tan is also using her platform for important causes: on April 17th, she was part of a fundraising event in association with the "Hate Is A Virus" organization, where she helped raise over 30,000$. The Ontario-based lady has in fact Asian roots and has witnessed with concern the recent spike of violence directed towards Asians in America.
On the back of her #438 BMW race car wing, a #StopAsianHate hashtag is just one more proof of her social commitments: Tan also announced that her team will be planting trees to offset the carbon footprint created by their racing activities.
We had the chance to meet Samantha during the Mugello weekend and were struck by her really friendly approach: always up for a chat in between sessions, her passion and enthusiasm are infectious. We got to discover more about her journey in motor racing – from her first steps in the sport, to her first important international victories. With an ambitious goal: the biggest endurance race on the planet.
We've definitely grown the team over the past few years and it's just been building up our credibility. We're winning championships. I'm very proud of my team.
RACERS: How did your adventure in motor racing started?
SAMANTHA: My love for racing started when I was really young. My dad has always been a race fan and car fan, and I grew up driving to school with him in a BMW E36 M3.
So I grew to love the feeling of speed at a very young age. I also used to watch a lot of F1 with him.
Finally, I got to sit in my first race car at the age of 14: it was a Ferrari 458 Challenge. I got taken by a pro driver around Circuit Mont-Tremblant and it was life-changing, to say the least. Just the intense braking, the G-forces... I loved every moment of it. And that was the moment I decided I wanted to be a race car driver.
R: In which category you then started racing yourself?
S: I started when I was 16 years old in regional racing, around the US.
My first race car was a 1991 Honda Civic – a little EF, it was a lot of fun.
And then that same year I ran the Canadian Touring Car Championship in a Mini Cooper.
R: You then switched to GT4 machinery quite recently.
S: Yes. I started racing GT4 in 2018, but we had driven the BMW M235 the year before. I'm just very very happy to be working with BMW.
R: Last year you did the GT4 America by SRO, with your own ST Racing – which is really cool. Tell us the history behind the team.
S: ST Racing started back in 2016, kind of out of necessity. We were renting cars from teams before and after our first race of the season that year the team unfortunately went bankrupt. So, we were left with the race car and we had to find a team and we decided to contact a few Canadians that we had worked with before. They are the same people we're working with today.
We've definitely grown the team over the past few years and it's just been building up our credibility. We're winning championships and I'm very very proud of my team.
R: You also recently expanded the operations – the team is growing and that's really exciting. This is also your first international season, how did the idea of the 24H Series come up?
S: I think my strength as a driver is my consistency and I think that's very important in endurance racing. You know, it's not always about being the fastest out there, it's about preserving the car: it's about the consistency. So we started to move towards endurance racing – also because my ultimate goal is to be at Le Mans – to be the first Asian woman to win Le Mans.
That's why we started to do more endurance racing, and yes, this is my first international series ever. I've only raced in the US and Canada before, so starting off the year with two wins is a dream. It's surreal, and I'm very proud to be here.
R: Talk us through the latest Dubai 24 Hours - which was the first big victory for you I think.
S: Yes. We had actually competed in the Dubai 2020 race as well, which got rained out.
But we were on pole at the start of that race, and we were very confident that we were going to finish on the podium. So, to finish with a seventh place in class after the rain it was just very disheartening.
But we came back this year, with a lot of determination to win – and that's exactly what we did.
R: You also took victory in Abu Dhabi one week later. It was a non-championship race, but still it built momentum. Is this your first time racing in Europe?
S: Yes, it is: I've never been to any of the racetracks on this calendar this year, except for Dubai. It's a really big learning curve for me, but I think I can do it!
R: A couple words about Mugello: is this your first time in Italy as well?
S: This is not my first time in Italy! I used to come here a lot when I was a kid – just on vacation. But it is my first time at Mugello: it's a beautiful track. You can see the mountains in the background, and you have these incredible high-speed corners with amazing flow. Definitely a beautiful track.
R: Where do you see ST Racing in five years time?
S: Hopefully winning many many more championships under our belt and hopefully at Le Mans!
R: In the past couple of years there have been quite a lot of very talented female racers at Le Mans: Manuela Gostner – who is also entering the 24H Series – of course finished in the top-ten, so hopefully we will indeed see you in Le Mans very soon.
My strength as a driver is my consistency – that's very important in endurance racing. It's not always about being the fastest out there, it's about preserving the car: it's about the consistency.