Celebrating Divina Galica

Today not only marks the final round of the inaugural W Series Esports League, which will be broadcast at 19:00pm BST this evening on the BBC’s iPlayer, Red Button and Sport Online platforms as well as on W Series’ YouTube, Facebook and Twitch channels, but it is also the 76th birthday of the powerhouse that is Divina Galica – former Olympian skier turned Formula 1 driver. We recently caught up with her to hear her thoughts on W Series, sim racing, and what it takes to be a champion.

What have you made of the W Series Esports League?

I attended a number of W Series races last year, and I thought they were brilliant: good racing, good preparation, good innovation. This year, with no on-track W Series racing possible owing to the COVID-19 crisis, I’ve loved the W Series Esports League – I’m an avid watcher. I was absolutely thrilled when it was announced, having been saddened that we wouldn’t get to enjoy on-track W Series racing this year. I’m pretty impressed by the ability of all the girls, but particularly by Beitske Visser and Marta Garcia. They’ve all done jolly well at the front, and they’ve put on some fantastic races.

Are you surprised to see that several of the most successful competitors in the Esports League are the same drivers – namely Beitske and Marta – who did well in the on-track championship last year?

I was initially surprised, but then I had a long think about it and I believe it’s what you call ambition. I think the ones who want to do well want to win, so they win. They sit in front of their computers all week learning the tracks, and that’s the difference between a great driver and a good driver. Of course, many of them have jobs and other commitments, but you can see the burning ambition in those girls who are determined to win – I think it’s wonderful.

Everyone should be motivated by someone. I was trained in skiing and we were motivated the whole time. That’s what I brought to motor racing, I absolutely wanted to win. I couldn’t take second place.

Have you done much sim racing yourself?

I worked at iRacing for eight years – as Director of Partner Relations I signed most of the tracks for them – and that was my first experience driving a sim. What I found as a novice sim driver – bear in mind this was about 10 or 15 years ago – is that your equipment has got to be really spot-on. You can’t do it with a laptop, and ideally you’d have three screens.

As someone who has raced professionally, what’s the biggest challenge when it comes to sim racing as opposed to on track?

It’s different. Once you’ve got the hang of it, it feels like real racing, but you’ve got to understand that there’s no seat-of-the-pants, so you have to rely on your eyes. Even when I had a wheel that gave feedback, I found that confused me further. I learned that you’ve got to turn into the corners a little earlier than you’d expected because the visuals are slightly different, and make sure you hit your apices. I never became particularly good – although I did race quite a bit in a league – but they were all much better than me!

Do you think that your success in skiing brought you extra motivation to succeed in motor racing?

Actually it was mostly my strength that I brought with me. We were trained physically an enormous amount because you’ve got to be extraordinarily strong to ski at a high level. If you’re extremely fit and extremely strong you’ll be extremely confident. At my height – my second Olympics, in 1968 – I was so physically fit that I felt I could walk on water. I think that that’s an important part of a driving a race car.

You clearly know a thing or two about bravery – having held the British women’s downhill skiing record at 125mph (200km/h). Is bravery an essential trait for a driver?

Yes – I think you can develop it, but if you have it from a young age that helps too. I’m sure all these women have that, I think they’re all very brave, having all come through karting. I was 28 when I first drove a race car, but I came from skiing, and I’d driven all over Europe in snowy conditions so I had the feel for sliding and driving.

This year W Series has ventured into another male-dominated sphere, esports, just one year after its inaugural season on track. As one of a very small handful of women to have ever competed in Formula 1, how important do you think W Series’ mission is?

It’s terribly important because it’s giving young women the opportunity to race quite heavy, difficult, single-seater race cars, with slick tyres, downforce and no power steering, which they might not otherwise have been able to do, for reasons of lack of money. Even for those drivers who already have funding from their parents or a sponsor, racing at this level might still have been out of their reach. W Series gives these women a chance not only to show what they can do, but also to race cars that they wouldn’t otherwise have been able to race. It’s awesome.

What advice would you give to the existing W Series drivers, and to young female drivers more widely?

First and foremost, they have got to take their fitness as seriously as their driving on the track. The amount of time they get in the car is relatively limited, so the only other thing they can do to make it to the highest level is make sure they’re in tip-top form physically.

Second, keep driving the simulator; that’s going to help. Finally, they must keep their confidence, and that’s where a mentor can help a lot, even if it’s a friend. I had a mentor in John Webb, who ran Brands Hatch back in the day, and he used to kick my butt when I did something stupid. I only did stupid things because I was a little overly brave, but he was 100 percent behind what I was doing, and of course I rewarded him with the publicity I got. But he was always there for me, and I think that was invaluable.

It’s your birthday on August 13th, so, besides watching the finale of the W Series Esports League, how will you spend the day?

Probably pretty quietly – perhaps dinner with a few friends. I mean, golly, I’m going to be 76, I never even thought I’d make this age. Yesterday I was teaching overtakes [with the Bertil Roos Racing School at Pocono Raceway, Pennsylvania] and I was pretty pleased to find I’m still quite quick in a car. Don’t get me wrong, after a few hours I thought, ‘Golly, I hope they throw the checker soon because I’m getting tired,’ but it’s good to know that at nearly 76 I can still drive fast – and enjoy it!

To learn more about this iconic female figure, discover our article Women With Drive: Divina Galica.