Back on the (virtual) grid

A familiar face returns for the W Series Esports League

Caitlin Wood missed out automatic qualification for the 2020 W Series season by one point and one place last year, but she is back on the grid for the brand-new W Series Esports League. In this exclusive Q&A, the Australian looks back on 2019, explains how an old BMW has been keeping her busy, and reveals which of the 10 W Series Esports League circuits is the ‘holy grail’.     

How has the lockdown been for you?

I’ve lived in the UK for about three years. Me and my husband, Matt, live in Kettering but my family are in Australia. Everyone is healthy and that is the main thing. I haven’t been able to go to the gym so I’m training at home six days a week. I’m doing lots of running and HIIT exercises, and have resistance bands and skipping ropes too. I’m also looking to invest in a bike and some weights, but they’re proving hard to come by as I guess everyone had the same idea when lockdown began! There’s not been much time for Netflix as we’ve been restoring a BMW E90, stripping it down ready for it to have a roll cage installed so it can be used as a track car. I work as a racing instructor so I will rent that car out and use it for teaching. I’m self-employed so I travel to circuits all over the UK and Europe to teach people. I help them learn a circuit’s racing lines, get rid of any bad habits and basically teach them the fastest and safest way to get around. It’s really rewarding and I’m starting to get some more of my own clients which is why I invested in the car. It didn’t need too much work, but we’ve probably turned it into more of a labour of love than it needed to be just to keep us busy during lockdown! 

How do you reflect on your 2019 W Series season?

First and foremost I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity. Racing an F3 car has always been a goal and I would never have been able to do that without W Series, which also gave me the chance to race on a huge platform against a fantastic grid of girls who all pushed each other so hard. It was really empowering to be among so many women who are as passionate about motorsport as I am. I do have a few regrets, it’s natural to feel that way when you miss out on automatic qualification at the end of the season by one point. You run through scenarios in your mind, thinking about what you did wrong and what you could have done differently. After the last race at Brands Hatch I was down. My parents had flown over to watch the race and they stayed for two weeks afterwards which kept my mind off things. I was able to take a step back from racing and I needed that. When they left I didn’t have that distraction and it started to sink in, but it took me a while to accept it. I had an up and down season and there was more potential that I didn’t unlock when it was needed. I showed at Assen – where I finished fifth – that I could run at the front. I just didn’t string it together often enough, but that’s motorsport. It’s a harsh sport sometimes but that’s one of the reasons we all love it and thrive off it. You feel

sorry for yourself, accept it and then get back up and keep pushing. To get anywhere in motorsport you have to keep pushing.

TT CIRCUIT ASSEN, NETHERLANDS – JULY 20: Caitlin Wood (AUS) during the Assen at TT Circuit Assen on July 20, 2019 in TT Circuit Assen, Netherlands. (Photo by Andy Hone / LAT Images)

How pleased are you to be back as part of the W Series Esports League?

I’m delighted and ready to grab this chance with both hands. It’s a new challenge and I’m really enjoying the process. I’m practising for a few hours every day to get used to it all and I hope to be really competitive in the League. There is a knack to sim-racing and once you get the hang of that you get into a rhythm. At first it feels a bit bizarre because everything looks real but you’re not moving. I think being a racing driver going into the sim world is harder than being a sim driver going into the real racing world because you’re used to feeling so much more. On a sim the feeling is taken away from your hips which is what we use most of the time on track. That’s the biggest difference but, to get the most out of the car, the lines on the circuits are identical. So, when we get to circuits that W Series has raced at – like Brands Hatch GP – a lot of the girls who were quick on the real track will be quick on the sim version.

How familiar are you with the 10 circuits on the W Series Esports League calendar?

I’ve driven at Monza, Brands Hatch, Spa and Bathurst. As an Aussie I have to say I’m most looking forward to the Bathurst round! I was lucky enough to get on the grid for the Bathurst 12-hour race a few years ago and I love that circuit. It’s a unique challenge – very technical, very fast and the walls are very close! You climb up the mountain and the top is extremely fast, then you come back down and it just flows beautifully. It’s so rewarding when you get it right and disastrous if you don’t because you can be in the wall very easily. There’s so much history at Bathurst. It’s the pinnacle of Aussie motorsport, our holy grail. Everyone wants to win there and I’m no different.