Vicky Piria's Sim day brings young women closer to their motorsport dreams
#LaMiaVittoria - Vicky Piria's initiative to promote the involvement of female motorsport enthusiasts - revealed to be an unforgettable experience for the group of selected young women, who had the chance to get behind the scenes and test a professional simulator. Here's our diary of the event.
"These are things that don't happen to people like me." Motorsport has an accessibility problem which is as big as the passion of the many racing enthusiasts around the world – and this is even more an issue for the already under-represented demographic of female fans, who are increasingly eager to find their place in a sport that has historically relegated them to the sidelines. But, hopefully, the "times are a-changin'" – how Bob Dylan sang. Racing drivers like Vicky Piria have witnessed the gradual increase in female participation in motor racing, both behind the wheel and in roles such as media and communication, engineering, senior management – as well as a shift in spectatorship. The Italian racer has been competing at the top of international single-seater championships since 2012, when she made her GP3 debut at 19. After a few years' hiatus imposed by a lack of funding, Vicky returned to racing in 2019 and is currently one of the very few female Italian drivers in formula cars. But, as every trailblazer in any field, Piria has some extra responsibilities on her shoulders – something that is foreign to her male colleagues: being a role model and reference for a whole demographic. "Many girls have been writing to me 'I love cars and I live this passion of mine through you" – revealed Piria. "Through my social media I receive many messages of young women that love motor racing but don't know where to start or who to talk to." 'My parents think I'm crazy, or I don't have friends to share this passion with', they write to her. "I always try to show that I am a racing driver, but I am firstly a woman with a thousand passions", added Piria, who came up with an idea to try to bring some of them behind the scenes and offer an inclusive experience.
In September, Piria announced the launch of the #LaMiaVittoria initiative, with 6 selected women having the chance to spend a day at Wave Italy – the professional simulator facility where the racer trains – and receive coaching from Vicky herself. Through an Instagram campaign, entries posted a photo that represented their passion for the sport under the project's hashtag and the six candidates were selected. When Alice Cecchi, Alessia Lerose, Natalia Cancellaro, Alessandra Mauri, Daniela Bombonato and Camilla Della Pietra were notified of being chosen, they couldn't believe it. "I was at work and I didn't have my phone with me" – Daniela recalled. "When I picked it up, I received so many notifications – including Vicky's. It was a huge emotion and I immediately called my mother". "When I was told that I was going to participate in this event, it was quite emotional for me – I didn't believe it." – echoed Natalia. "I received the email and I thought she had notified the wrong person!" – Camilla said, who had entered the competition with a group of other friends. "These are things that don't happen to people like me." Some of them had already reached out to Vicky, driven by that urge to find someone that could understand her passion. "Vicky has been an inspiration to me." – explained Alice, 18. "After a while I decided to write to her to tell her about my passion. Right away, she replied. She told me something that I've now written in my room, so that I can read it every morning when I wake up: 'Live your dream in the thousand ways that this sport can offer' – this sentence is very dear to my heart. She is now giving an incredible opportunity to girls who until yesterday could only watch from afar. It's one of those once in a lifetime experiences." All of them have different stories and different backgrounds, but have one thing in common: an overpowering passion for a sport that is unfortunately very difficult to access. It was immediately clear that Piria's initiative was an important step in the direction of inclusivity, and aimed at creating a community of young women encouraged in following their dreams. Simracing is nowadays one of the most powerful and cost-effective ways to approach the sport and Vicky – with crucial cooperation from Wave Italy – was committed to provide the six ladies with the most professional environment, yet always with her lighthearted and friendly spirit.
When Alice, Alessia, Natalia, Alessandra, Daniela and Camilla arrived at Wave Italy's simulation centre in Verona, Northern Italy, they were welcomed in a state-of-the-art facility, where they received a custom sweatshirt by OMP featuring the participants' names. Vicky Piria soon took on the coach role and started an introductory lesson aimed at introducing a few concepts such as braking techniques, apexes and focusing the vision ahead – all notions that are easy to learn in theory and much harder to apply once in the sim. Vicky was joined by Marco Zipoli, former F3 driver and F1 test driver, now R&D Manager at Wave. With the help of on-board footage, Zipoli introduced the six young women to the secrets of Monza, the first track that they would have to learn through the day. An 'easy track' according to popular belief, the few corners of the Temple of Speed obviously presented their particular challenges – especially related to the heavy braking after the fast straights. After the first runs in the two stunning simulators used for professional training, everyone had the opportunity to review their telemetry data and learn the biggest areas of improvement, before going in for a second run around Monza, always in Formula 4 cars.
"After today, I think I will never judge a racing driver again!" – said Natalia after the first runs. "It helped to better understand many things, such as the physical and mental approach that is required to be a driver", she added. "I expected it to be difficult; the pressure – even physical – and the concentration required is something incredible", agreed Alessandra, 29. "It makes you re-evaluate many things as a spectator as well." "Once I got on this simulator it was really a whole different level compared to a street car." – explained Camilla, 25. "I had the opportunity to do some on-track sessions with my road car but the Formula 4 car is just a different world. It's as if you have never driven in your life." "Compared to a road car it is very different: the accelerator is much more sensitive while the brake pedal is much harder, as well as changing gears with paddles feels different" – Daniela, 19, agreed.
Alessia, 16, was the youngest among the participants but soon proved to learn fast and felt at ease behind the wheel despite having never driven on the roads. "My passion for motorsport started when I was little, thanks to my father", she recalled. "Every year we went to see F1 free practice in Monza and I have never stopped following races. Every now and then, I also tried go-karts." "I've been following Vicky for a while and when I saw this contest I immediately tried to sign up. She is a very nice person, as well as a great driver", she continued. "When I read the email that I had been selected, I jumped with emotion and immediately told my parents that we would come to Verona."
During each session, Piria sat down next to the monocoque and followed them step by step, calling braking points, references and advising gears. An invaluable coaching from a racer with years of international experience and whose passion also radiates from the joy she gets from everyone's improvements. Her instructions are always clear yet supportive. "Vicky is a strong woman but very sensitive at the same time" – Natalia described, in a rather accurate depiction. "I had met other racing drivers before - I've been to the F1 tests in Barcelona twice – so I kinda knew what to expect", Daniela said. "Vicky can put you at ease right away. She is always available for any advice."
After the lunch break, it was time for a new challenge and apply the learned techniques on a new track – Misano. Featuring more mixed-speed corners, the six ladies showed impressive improvements and battled against each other in a head-to-head format. Some of the races turned out to be really exciting duels until the last corner and the faster competitors were grouped for the final heats.
After another debriefing, Piria and Zipoli illustrated the secrets of the final racetrack: the very technical and undulating Mugello circuit. Following three more races on what became almost unanimously everyone's favourite track, Alessia Lerose came out as the winner – and was presented with a prize offered by Wave Italy: the 16-year-old will have the chance to further improve herself with a 2-hour session at the facility, with the support of Wave's professionals. "The experience of this simulator was completely unlike anything I have ever tried." – commented Alessia. "It is very professional and difficult, the steering is very realistic." But, as much as competition naturally kicked in, the whole event always maintained a relaxed and friendly atmosphere and could offer precious insights. "I was very happy because experiences like this do not happen often." – Alessandra said. "I'm trying to find my place in the automotive sector in a communication role, but I never had the opportunity to try anything like this before or really understand what's behind the job of the driver."
"There is competition, in any motorsport enthusiast. But above all, it was very helpful to understand that you don't necessarily have to become a driver to live this dream and that the sport is also open to many other opportunities. This is the beautiful message that came out of today ", she added. And indeed, at the end of an intense and very fun day, everyone had their motivation to pursue their interest strengthened and an even bigger respect for racing drivers. "This was a truly beautiful day and it was like spending a family day with a group of amazing and extremely passionate ladies." – said Piria, having just turned her project into reality. "They took me back to the days when I was racing in karting – everything was lighthearted and I was just having fun. You could see them transform as soon as they got in the simulator, they were in their dream world and that filled me with joy." "They found a community of like-minded people and had the chance of trying something out of the ordinary. It really was a beautiful day and I would like to thank Wave Italy, OMP for the sweatshirts and I also thank Racers Behind the Helmet and everyone who supports women in motorsport – not only as drivers, but also as journalists or in any other roles", Piria concluded. And, as advocates and allies of female racers, we cannot but feel grateful to a true ambassador for the sport who decided to act and play her part in bringing enthusiasts to the centre stage. "She is an extraordinary person and there should be more people like her who try to approach the fans" – Alessandra summed up. "This initiative was amazing because it is difficult to find someone who cares about female fans." The sentiment was shared by all the participants. If the sport wants to follow up on its inclusivity promises, it needs active female involvement in diversified roles, as well as a vaster female viewership to leverage female-forward sponsorship. It needs people like Vicky Piria.