She's back: Emma Kimilainen returns in style at the Norisring
Updated: Jul 9, 2019
Exclusive interview with series returnee Emma Kimilainen, as the talented Finnish racer talks us through her W-Series first season, the recovery from her injury and combining a sports career with a family.
Emma Kimilainen was back this weekend behind the wheel of the Tatuus F3 car after having to miss two rounds of the W-Series calendar, following an injury that effectively ruled her out from the title chase at the Hockenheim opening round.
Kimilainen was one of the drivers I was most eagerly waiting to see on track. Her elite racing background strongly suggested that the Finnish racer would have been a championship contender and her series comeback this weekend in Germany proves it.
But Emma is also a driver that is not easily discouraged and, certainly, is used to comebacks.
After spending seasons in top single-seaters championships, her career went into stand-by mode at the end of 2009. Losing the support from Audi, the dream of F1 had become increasingly difficult to fund.
Fast forward four years: Emma has started a family and had a daughter. When she gets a call from PWR Racing, she makes her racing return in the STCC, Scandinavian's premiere racing championship. A driver like Kimilainen doesn't simply come back to race; she was back to win, in one of the most competitive series.
With now a successful career in touring cars, W-Series gave her the chance to be back in a formula car after ten years. As one of the most experienced racers on the grid, it wasn't hard to predict Kimilainen to be in the top five in every sessions.
If the unfortunate crash at Hockenheim may have deprived us of an exciting title hunt for the Finnish driver, Kimilainen's return on track in Germany was certainly up to her standards.
When the yellow flags ruined her last qualifying attempt and lined up in eighth, the 30-year old impressed with determined overtakes and found her way back into the top 5, also signing the fastest lap of the race.
We sat down with Emma on Friday's evening at the Norisring, after her two practice runs.
We had a chat about this season, what she likes about W-Series and her life as a racing driver and as a parent.
She has a strong personality: positive attitude, analytical thinker and certainly very aware of her potential. She has a very bright intelligence and is not afraid to speak up her mind.
Meeting Emma Kimilainen feels like meeting a young woman who is in control over her life, just as much as she's confident at the wheel of her Tatuus car, behind that beautiful white and blue helmet.
“It's all about who is the fastest and who is the best, but everyone is happy for everyone. That's the biggest difference with any other racing series.”
Racers: First of all, how are you? Are you ok now?
Emma: I'm good now. I'm feeling fine, it's a huge difference. It's really good to be back to be honest and I would have had no chances to come back if I still had my symptoms but now, for a while, I had them away, so it's good.
R: Take us through what went into your mind, when you had the news that you could not compete in Zolder and Misano.
E: Well, I can't say that I knew it, but of course I could feel it. Like, it was probably not clever. At that point I already had some support from the medical crew, Hintsa Performance, that said that wasn't clever for me to go and drive. And at that point I agreed.
And for Misano no-one had to tell me, because I completely knew that was not gonna happen because of the symptoms. Of course it was disappointing, but when things happen you can't change them, so it's just about accepting that it is what it is and move forward to make them better.
I've had such a great medical team behind me, they've called me like every day in the past two months. We've tried different treatments and because of them I'm here right now.
R: Were you expecting to be in the top five basically every session you got to run?
E: Of course! For me, I was expecting to be in P1. But today I practiced not to make together the fastest time but to try a different set of things, so that I know what works in qualifying and in the race. I tried different lines, different approaches and techniques to be sure it's the fastest, and when we put all that together, then I have created the fastest lap.
If I put all my sectors together it's the fastest lap of the grid. I'm more focused on my own performance more than what the others do.
R: Tell us about your best and worst moments of your career.
E: My best moments, I think even if I won a lot and I've been selected in Finland (which is a big motorsport country) as the motorsport athlete of the year, still I think the biggest thing has been after I was away for four years, didn't race anything, not even indoor karting, nothing. I had just given birth to my daughter and I was in a completely new situation family-wise, mentally and physically. But when I got back into racing it was really competitive and I was able to be back as an athlete.
I had to build up all the mental side completely, I had to learn everything again. It wasn't easy but probably because it was so hard and I conquered it, it's probably the best thing of my career.
And then it was also the worst thing! Because there has been low points in my career, when things had not gone as I wanted, like when you have a five years plan and you hope to be in a certain series and you aim to your end goal, which for me earlier it was F1 when I was racing single seaters, and then you have to take the side-steps. It was always tough, but of course I learned to handle the disappointments.
R: The toughest moments are the ones when you learn the most. Ultimately, a lot of drivers went through a lot of struggles, think about funding, etc. So you really have to bring out your passion. What does motorsport mean to you?
E: The only motivation for me to be in motorsports is the feeling that I get when I'm in the car. That's a feeling that I don't get anywhere else or doing anything else.
It's the perfectionism. And of course the speed, but mostly the ability to process so many information through your mind. The information flow is crazy when you're driving and your whole body can feel what the car does. I know what I'm doing and I'm analysing the car…and then when I get to tell what kind of conclusion I've got, it's pretty amazing. And of course when I get the perfect lap I want to have another one, and another one, and another one…
I could spend hours and hours in the car, just because I'm after that feeling.
R: What does it mean for an high level athlete like you to combine family and kids with this international status?
E: Of course it comes a lot to the family members themselves and the extended family. I could not do it if I didn't have an amazing husband who does plenty of things and then of course my parents, his parents and siblings.
They are all looking after our daughter when I'm away. My husband has his things at the same time so we're basically on the same level which is really nice. We have both our own things, and then we combine everything because we have such a good network. I support him and he supports me, that's a good combination and have that respect, knowing that if it wasn't like this it wouldn't be possible.
R: Would you support a career in motorsports for your kids?
E: That's a good question! Well, I think everyone that has been into motorsports as a parent or as a racer knows what I mean when I say that I probably made my biggest mistake right now, on Tuesday, when I brought my little girl for the first time on a go kart track! Especially when she loved it. She was actually really good, so now I'm in big trouble.
R: Is there a skill that you developed in motorsport that came in handy for your family everyday life?
E: Definitely. I think my life attitude is because of the sports that I've done. I've did sports since I was three, I started karting at five and at the same time I had karate, I was dancing, I did basketball and all that sort of things. I've won but I've also lost, most importantly. It was so much disappointment, so I think sports help quite a lot to build yourself as you are and to respect the good moments.
This is a big team's sport, there are so many people involved so you really need to know how to respect them. I think in everyday life people should do more of that; they should know more the people who they are working with, make them feel as a team. Everyone should do a bit more of that, make an effort, thank people and be grateful. If everyone did that in their workplace, no matter if it's corporate or whatever, it would work quite well.
R: What do you think are the W-Series added values, compared to other environments you've raced before?
E: The community, basically. I've never raced anything like this, maybe only the Formula Palmer Audi was a bit similar, which was one big team as well.
But this is different though, this is "next level", because it's so professional. At the same time, it's crazy how the other drivers are rivals but still they're friends and in the big picture it's a community-family. They have respect for each other and everyone is working together.
So I think that's the greatest value, sharing all the information, all is open, no money to do harm to each other. It's all about who is the fastest and who is the best, but everyone is happy for everyone. That's the biggest difference with any other racing series.
R: There have been criticism of course, even from other female racing drivers. Do you think you're missing something in not racing in a mixed series?
E: No, definitely not! Most of the drivers here race also against males in other series . I just don't have the possibilities, financial-wise, otherwise I would definitely do it, just to drive as much as I can. But for me, drivers are drivers. They are not gender-based. I see them as competitors, as rivals, friends and teammates, not gender-based drivers.
R: Finally, tell us a bit more about this weekend at Norisring.
E: I expect to be on the podium, hopefully on the highest step, but if it's not the podium would be a good comeback anyway. That would be on my level.
If I'm not, I'm giving myself time as well. I'm pushing, I know what I need to do and obviously, if I struggle after laying down for two months it's completely fine for me.
But I feel that I was pretty good, on the limit, from the first free practice already.
In the first laps I was like: "ok , this is how you do it". Only when I was on the main straight I though: "oh, that's quite fast!", but after two laps it didn't felt that fast anymore [she laughs]. You're so quickly used to it.
“Drivers are drivers. They are not gender-based. I see them as competitors, as rivals, friends and teammates, not gender-based drivers.”
Ph credits: Racers-Behindthehelmet.com