Article and images by Tom McBeth
The pressures of making it into the big time of motorsport are well documented. With the up-and-coming stars at each level seeming to get younger with each passing season, what effect does it have and how much dedication does it take to become fully immersed in the sport that you love.
I had the opportunity to speak with Bryony King, a young race driver in the making who has made the step up to the Formula Jedi Championship for 2016.
So who is Bryony King?
Bryony is a 17-year old looking to make big waves in the motorsport world. Born and bred in Cambridgeshire, Bryony has been racing karts since 2010 despite only having just become old enough to have passed her driving test this February.
“I began racing at the end of 2010, racing a cadet kart at PFi (kart circuit in Grantham, Lincolnshire). I was born in Cambridge, and have lived in Cambridgeshire all my life, in the same house actually.
“For 2016, I am going to be racing in the Formula Jedi Championship, which is going to be my debut season racing in cars. I’m most looking forward to racing at amazing circuits, such as Silverstone and Rockingham. It’s a big change of scene for me, but I’m very much looking forward to it.”
The Formula Jedi series is a British championship that uses open-wheel vehicles, not dissimilar in design to a Formula Ford car but with less power. The championship takes place at seven events up and down the country, from the flatlands of Snetterton in Norfolk, to the undulating Branch Hatch layouts in Kent.
The side of motorsport we usually see at the top is a fickle, result-driven industry where only the very best, richest and most fortunate succeed. So how does someone so young prepare for the leap into the world of competitive motorsport?
With much less media attention, sponsorship and prize money at the semi-professional and clubman level, it may be true that there’s less pressure, but in her first season, Bryony’s not taking any chances, and not underestimating the learning curve.
“I’ve done several test days at the circuits the championship will be attending this year, as well as keeping up my fitness in the gym. I’ve been learning new techniques of preparation with the MSA Academy, which is who I study with at Loughborough College.”
So what’s it like being a young woman in what is traditionally a male dominated sport?
“In some ways being a female has helped, but only in terms of being able to stand out more as people are interested because it’s rare for a girl to be involved. Though of course my gender does not impact my ability at all.”
Formula One and DTM (German Touring Cars) driver Susie Wolff is perhaps the most famous woman in the sport in recent years after testing for Williams, but further down the motorsport ladder there are plenty of women gunning for success and
Other names making waves include Alice Powell, who became the first woman to win a Formula Renault World Championship in 2010, and Louise Richardson, who competed in the Ginetta GT series supporting the British Touring Car Championship last year.
However, Bryony stands adamant she wants to be judged on her driving,
“I hate the term female racing driver. I am just another competitor.”
Even at such a young age and stepping up to her first season in Formula Jedi, Bryony knows first-hand the highs and lows of circuit racing…
“My first race was in my cadet kart at PFi, it was chucking it down with rain, and I had never been in the wet before and my Dad has no background with circuit racing and so couldn’t offer me any tips. I didn’t know about braking off line and spun many times during the 3 lap practice. On the grid for the first heat I was so nervous which led to me being sick! So I actually didn’t get to do my first race, though I made it out for the rest of the day and even managed to come in 1st novice in the final!
“My best and worst racing moments came in the same weekend actually. It was the British Kartmasters GP and I had some excellent heats throughout the Friday and Saturday and put it on pole for the pre-final which I went on to win. I had never felt so confident in winning for the Grand Final, but following scrutineering post-race, I was excluded when my mechanic had cleaned my chain with some chain lube, it got onto my clutch and this is classed as non-compliance. It was horrible to be excluded after the best weekend racing I had in karts.”
But then you could say that you’re not a true racer until you’ve lost a result to a technicality. Just ask the likes of Fernando Alonso and Sebastien Loeb!
Meanwhile, away from the track…
Keen not to lose touch with the real world, Bryony assures us that when she’s away from the circuit,
“I am at work for my Dad’s company and I enjoy going to the gym and also shopping!!”
Perhaps not so down to earth is her love of cars. She tells about her favourite car is, “probably a Ferrari F12, my dad’s friend had one and I loved going in it! I have an Audi A1.”
Not bad for a first car!
So what kind of person does it take to break through the lower end of the motorsport ladder?
“I am a strong believer in always looking to improve myself as a person but I don’t aspire to any one person. On track, I’d have to say Alice Powell (the first woman to win a Formula Renault World Championship) is my idol. She’s gained herself great respect and achieved a lot. I’d love to have a reputation like that.
“My ultimate aim, like most aspiring drivers, is to get to a level in which I am paid to race. I’m taking everything one step at a time though at the moment, as this year is a massive learning curve for me.
“I want to be successful in whatever I do in life.”
Bryony will be racing in the Formula Jedi series, which requires a driver to hold a National B license is due to be held over the following seven rounds:
2-3 April: Snetterton (300 circuit)
8 May: Silverstone (National circuit)
11-12 June: Rockingham Speedway
9-10 July: Brands Hatch (Indy circuit)
27-28 August: Donington Park (National circuit)
17 September: Oulton Park (International circuit)
15-16 October: Silverstone (International circuit)
Follow Bryony King on Twitter at @KingBRacing
All images below taken by Tom McBeth at Snetterton on 2nd April, 2016.