Under the Visor: Beitske Visser

A tiny girl with doll-like features sits on her father’s lap dressed in a BMW race suit 10 sizes too big for her and beams at the camera with her hands in the air.

It seems that Beitske Visser’s future was already mapped out by the age of 3.

Now 24, the accomplished W Series racing driver reflects on the image and laughs: “Yes, I guess it would have been difficult for me to have a different career. The suit I’m wearing in that picture was actually my dad’s.”

Today, Beitske is very much her own person and boasts a number of high-profile motorsport wins, including the W Series race at Zolder (Belgium) in May last year. She was runner-up to Jamie Chadwick in the final W Series championship standings, and was often every bit as quick as the flying Brit.

“All the W Series drivers have shown this year that we provide great racing,” says Beitske.

“The level of drivers has been very high. Who would have thought that there are so many quick girls in the world? We’ve exceeded everyone’s expectations and hopefully we can continue to grow. This is just the beginning.”

It all began 21 years ago, with an encounter which Beitske describes as “love at first sight”. She explains, “My dad Klaas used to race a bit in the Netherlands, and when I was three I went to watch him in a 24-hour kart competition. I caught a glimpse of a baby kart and began completely shaking with excitement, but my parents thought I was a bit too young so I had to wait another two years before I finally got a kart of my own. I persuaded my dad to take me to the track on the very same day, so he tied a rope on the kart and we went around and around the parking lot learning the brake and throttle.

“I literally grew up among cars because my parents ran a BMW dealership in Lelystad, in the Netherlands. Racing was definitely a family affair. After my dad had done a race, my mum Jantina would help repair the car ready for the next one. Even before I got my first kart, I used to ride little pedal cars around the dealership showroom. It was my life; I didn’t know any different.”

Visser was just six years old when she won her first karting championship, wearing one blue glove and one red one, part of a pre-race routine that continues to this day. She says, “In the early days it was about having fun and being carefree. I’d jump out of the kart and run to play with my friends. When I started I was just one of the ‘racing kids’ – a group of us racing and having fun. No-one questioned the fact I was a girl and neither did I but by the time I was 12 I’d started racing internationally and I was becoming aware that some guys couldn’t handle being slower than a girl.

“Some boys started smashing me off the track, so I had to learn to be quite hard. If some guy hit me off, I’d hit him off harder. I had to do it to get respect. I couldn’t let them mess with me. I always had the speed to be in front, but I had to learn the mindset too.”

Such a tough and focused outlook was evident during a Formula 4 race at Zandvoort (the Netherlands) in 2012, when brake failure caused Beitske to veer off track and smash into a wall. She fractured a vertebra but climbed back in the car the next day to win the race. “It was a nasty smash,” she recalls “My mum is usually very calm but even she completely panicked when she saw the orange curtain coming up. The rest of the team had to calm her down. The medical centre staff at the track were sure I’d broken my back but, after keeping me in a nearby hospital overnight, the doctors said nothing was broken so I was determined to get back on track. I took some morphine because I could barely walk but, once I was in the car, I felt fine, I felt nothing. I won the race – but when I got out of the car the pain came back with a vengeance. My mechanic went to give me a hug and I winced, saying: ‘Please don’t touch me.’ Eventually, we discovered that I’d broken the T12 vertebra – it had been missed on the hospital scan.

“The amazing thing is that I couldn’t walk but I could drive. It shows what adrenalin can do when a driver gets in the zone. Once the helmet goes on, everything changes. I don’t give a shit about anything except what’s ahead of me on the track.”

Alongside W Series, Beitske has raced in ADAC Formel Masters, GP3, Formula Renault 3.5 and GT4. She has had to learn to overcome psychological setbacks as well as physical ones. “It’s not easy to deal with the psychological knocks,” she says. “Motorsport is one of the few sports where you have to deal with more bad results than good. If my engine fails, I can’t blame myself but I’m still the one who must deal with losing. I have to keep believing in myself. I focus on how far I’ve come already and try to relax and enjoy the race. After a setback, there has to be a belief that I’ll win again regardless of the odds.”

There have been sacrifices. Beitske explains: “I left school at 15 without completing my education because I was spending so much time away, racing. All I ever wanted to do was race so I was easily distracted in class. Along with my parents I had to make a difficult decision – should I leave and give racing everything I had or should I stay at school and wait? I chose to leave because I figured the opportunities in racing might never come again but I could return to education any time. I think if I’d stayed on at school I might have ended up taking over my parents’ business, but it wasn’t to be. I’ve left the academic side of things to my sister Wietske, 19, who’s studying business and law.

Following the final W Series race of the inaugural 2019 season, at Brands Hatch, Beitske, who cites Michael Schumacher as her racing hero, returned to her hometown of Sneek, in the Netherlands, the small town from which reigning Formula 2 champion and Formula E star Nyck de Vries also hails, to enjoy some downtime. Beitske says:

“I love water and I live right next to it. If I opened my window, I could jump straight into the lake it looks out on. I’m happiest when I’m paddle-boarding.”

Other hobbies include driving her blue BMW 118d, “sleeping 10 hours a day”, and doing fast 60km cycle rides on her race bike. She hasn’t taken a holiday for four years but she says she is tempted to explore Australia. On or off track, she is rarely able to stand still – a characteristic that will make her a driver to watch for years to come.