The Newcomers: Irina Sidorkova
Meet Russian teenager Irina Sidorkova, the star of the inaugural W Series Esports League round in Monza.
On May 30th, Russian racing driver Irina Sidorkova should have made her W-Series debut on the newly-built Igora Drive circuit in Saint Petersburg, Russia, for her home race.
Sixteen-year old Irina would have been the youngest ever entrant in the all-female F3 championship.
Selected together with her two other Spanish Formula 4 colleagues during last September's selections at Circuit of Almeria, Spain, Irina had only competed in one single season of formula racing. Sidorkova is a member of the prestigious SMP Racing Academy, the Russian young drivers' programme that brought Sergey Sirotkin to Formula 1 and that supports Russian talents of the likes of Vitaly Petrov, Robert Schwartzman, Mikhail Aleshin, Egor Orudzhev, Mikhael Belov and Alexander Smolyar.
Thanks to the support of SMP, Sidorkova was able to combine her participation in both the Russian-based SMP F4 championship and in the Spanish F4, where she found great competition in the "Female Trophy" and yet claimed four class victories in the first half of the 2019 season. Racing for team Drivex in the Iberian series, Irina's best result was a respectable sixth overall place at Aragon, while she conquered two overall podium finishes in the SMP-run Formula 4 series.
Speaking about female trophies in national F4 championships – which sometimes draw mixed opinions – Irina told us: “I think they help to develop women’s motorsport. Girls are awarded separately, which attracts fans, and many spectators start following updates in women categories. In my opinion, this is very good and brings benefits to women’s motorsport.”
When all the ladies from the Spanish F4 "Trofeo Feminino" were accepted into the W Series grid, we decided we had to meet them at their last F4 race in Barcelona. Unfortunately, Irina missed the last race weekend and immediately switched her focus on the 2020 preparation.
The COVID-19 global crisis had other plans though, and the W Series 2020 season was later cancelled, to make its on-track racing return in 2021.
Ira, how she is nicknamed, could not make her F3 debut on home soil but, as W Series launched its virtual championship, was undeniably the star of the inaugural W Series Esports League event which kicked-off last Thursday with the Monza round.
One could think that her young age would play a big factor in her natural ability to adapt to the simracing realm, but Sidorkova was actually open about her inexperience in the virtual world: “I’m not used to racing on the sim, so it was great to see all the drivers on the grid and I’m very happy with the results." - she said after her double podium-scoring performance last week.
Despite a slight disinterest in online racing, Ira trained on the iRacing platform when the W Series championship was announced and then stunned the audience last week with a second, a third and a fourth place finish on the Monza circuit.
After the first round, she sits second in the standings, only three points adrift of current leader Beitske Visser.
From a somewhat unusual start of her career - that involved a movie theater rather than a family with deep roots in motorsports – to her W Series selection, we got in touch with the young Russian talent and tried to get to know her a bit better, as the fully-female simracing championship approaches its second race event.
“I’m a hardworking person, I never give up and reach my goals no matter what."
RACERS: Tell us a little bit more about yourself and where does your passion for motor racing come from.
IRINA: “My name is Irina, I live in Karelia in Petrozavodsk. I am in 10th grade at school and I am learning the Finnish language. Currently, I’m an SMP Racing junior driver.”
“My road to motorsport began very unusually. Once, my family and I went to the cinema to watch Cars, the Pixar animated movie. I saw on the screen Lightning McQueen and how cars were driving on the track and at that moment something clicked in my head: since that moment I’ve had a great desire to become a racing driver. Later, I saw a TV advert inviting everyone to a local kart track in Petrozavodsk. I tried my best to convince my parents to take me there. I sat behind the wheel, drove a few laps and a coach there said that I need to train and will show good results. Since then, I’ve been immersed in the world of motorsport, discovering new tracks, achieving new goals, and experiencing a lot of adrenaline."
R: How was the switch from karting to formula cars?
I: “There was no switch from karting to formula cars per se for me. After karting I went straight to driving a touring car. Of course, it would be a dream to get behind the wheel of a formula car, but it’s very expensive and we couldn’t afford it. Until 2019, I imagined myself as a touring car driver competing worldwide. But then I received an invitation from SMP Racing and everything changed for me.”
R: How would you rate your 2019 season in F4? Obviously you combined the SMP F4 in Russia with the Spanish championship. Did you match your expectations?
I: “This was my first year driving a formula car. It was an interesting one, quite eventful and full of emotions. Of course, I gained a lot of experience, learnt many things and understood how to drive a formula car, how it behaves and how to get along with it. Thank you to my SMP Racing coaches, who helped me adapt to the car.”
“The 2019 F4 Spanish Championship went quite well. I learnt how to work with tires under different conditions. I started to trust the car, felt the effects of aerodynamics and, of course, tried fighting wheel to wheel for the first time. I’m satisfied with the results. I managed to finish in the top 10 in some races and even was classified sixth in one of them. Unfortunately, the results in the SMP Formula 4 Championship were not as I expected them to be. There were quite a lot of retirements and incidents with my rivals, therefore I didn’t have a chance to take a higher position in the final standings that season.”
“But I consider it as a great experience which I will be able to learn from for sure in the future. Still, I managed to take two podiums, which also helped me to understand my potential.”
R: What would you describe as your best quality and, on the other hand, your worst weakness?
I: “I’m a hardworking person, I never give up and reach my goals no matter what. I’m used to working hard and always improving my racing skills and physical education. In my opinion, these qualities are good. It’s hard for me to point out a singular quality that could characterize my weak sides.”
R: Describe your feelings the first time you drove a formula car.
I: “This was an unbelievable feeling, a lot of emotions and adrenaline. Of course, I enjoyed that the car is affected by the air and you can actually feel it. And in general, the car is very fast and light, therefore I often had moments when I needed to catch it and it made races even more enjoyable.”
R: How was your first experience of the W Series during the selection process?
I: “I was fascinated by my first W Series experience: a new car, new people, a new track and new feelings. All these emotions, which I had during those days in Almeria, are still fresh in my mind.”
“There was a very cool atmosphere, all the girls were very talkative, and the organizers were happy to resolve any issue. In addition, I had a great engineer, it was a pleasure to work with him. And, of course, SMP Racing supported me all the way and I’m very thankful for that.”
R: What’s the biggest differences between the Tatuus F3 car employed in the W Series and the F4 car you drove this year.
I: “Of course, the main difference between the cars is aerodynamics. The Formula 3 car seems to be heavier and therefore drives smoother. At the same time, you can feel much more aerodynamic benefit driving an F3 car and it’s an amazing feeling. The car just sticks to the ground and you can especially feel it at speed turns.”
R: What’s your favourite track you’ve driven on so far?
I: “My favourite track this year is Motorland Aragon. It’s fast and not boring at the same time and has many challenging turns and the chicane.”
R: How was your relationship with the other W Series drivers?
I: “I spent the 2019 season in the F4 Spanish Championship together with Belen [Garcia] and Nerea [Martí] so we talked a lot during testing in Almeria, discussed the new car, the track and our feelings. I had a chance to speak with other participants as well. Everyone was in a good mood and talkative and were always happy to share their ideas about the car if needed.”
R: What was your first thought after you were given the news that you were accepted in the W Series?
I: “I was very happy to hear this news. I was screaming with joy that day. This is a great honor for me to represent my country at the championship of such a high level and be a part of the big W Series family.”
R: What was the moment when you realized that you could actually pursue a professional career as a racing driver?
I: “I didn’t have a special moment when I realized that from now on I’m building my racing career. This process was gradual and when everything was quite serious there was no way of going back. And I didn’t want to give up as it was not just my passion, but my whole life.”
R: Have you ever felt discriminated for your gender in motorsport?
I: “I’ve heard many times how women driving a car were ridiculed, let alone female racing drivers, and I’m not an exception. But I’ve noticed that you would never hear such things from professional drivers, but mostly from armchair experts.”
R: What do you think it could be done to further promote women in motorsport?
I: “With the appearance of W Series women’s motorsport has rapidly progressed. This year a record number of girls signed up for go-kart competitions. I’m sure that the W Series will develop and amount of girls in motorsport along with it.”
R: What would your dream racecar be?
I: “I’m a creative person and I used to draw different spaceships and write stories about them. If I had an opportunity to dream I would be able to get a picture of my personal race car, but I need time, a list of paper and a crayon for this; it’s quite hard to do it in words.“
“This is a great honor for me to represent my country at the championship of such a high level and be a part of the big W Series family.”
The second round of the W Series Esports League will be broadcasted Thurdsay 18th June via the series official social media channels. The battles between the 20 ladies will resume on the Circuit of the Americas, USA, where the real-life championship would have completed its sophomore season as a support series of the US Formula 1 Grand Prix.
Special thanks to Elena Baskakova, PR Manager at SMP Racing.