“Motorsport has been part of my life for as long as I remember,” recalls Belen Garcia. Her earliest memories of racing are of her father riding motorbikes, something he still does today, at 57. “From the age of two he would take me for rides, me hanging onto the handlebars,” she says.
Belen lives near the famous Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, and can barely recall a moment when motorsport was not on her agenda: “I didn’t play with dolls as a little girl. I had a toy garage and an electric motorbike. I built a circuit for it with jumps.” But she wasn’t allowed her own real vehicle until she reached the ripe of old age of six. “That’s when I got my first motocross bike, which I just rode for fun. By the time I was nine, I had my first kart. My dad had bought one for himself and I said: ‘I want one too.’”
“When I wasn’t with him at the track, I was watching races at home. He and my mum have a timekeeping business in Formula E and other important championships, so I used to call out the passing car and bike numbers and note them down.”
Karting was just a hobby for Belen, until she was 15, when she raced in the Spanish Championship for the first time. “That’s when my career began.” Now 20, she has gained an impressive reputation in a very short space of time.
“My career only really started last year, because of budget issues. Before that I couldn’t even dream about racing at a high level because it was so out of reach. But somehow I made it to the Spanish Formula 4 Championship. I changed my tactics mid-season and, as my confidence grew, I got faster. First, I won a race, and then I won the female championship. That’s when the W Series selection was starting, so it was perfect timing.”
Wise for her years, Belen says her hunger to learn is as powerful as her urge to win. “For me Spanish Formula 4 was all about learning. I started the season without much forewarning, and therefore relatively underprepared. That meant that every kilometre I did with the car was a learning curve. But, with each race, I found I could fight and go faster, and it showed in the results and selection. I’ve only done eight races in my life, so I still have to stop and think sometimes, but I’m now getting the confidence to know what to do.”
One thing Belen does not need to work on is a thirst for competition. “I get my competitiveness from my dad,” she says. “I’m basically a mini him.” It seemingly affects every aspect of her life, including her studies. “Recently I did a university exam in which our scores were ranked at the end. I was so excited when I won that I stepped on the table as if it was a podium. Winning gives me an adrenalin rush. I’m an adrenalin junkie. If something captures my imagination, I’ll do anything I can to be the best and to win.
“My dad, my little sister and I used to race our bikes around the neighbourhood. My dad usually won but there was one day when he and I arrived at the end of the race together; it meant the world to me. We love competition of any kind. We’ve had football matches, basketball matches, everything – and we always have celebrations at the end. It’s exhausting but I love it. I wouldn’t change it for anything.”
Belen’s love of sport and competition led her to another, slightly unusual, pastime: pole vaulting. “I’ve been practising athletics since the age of six,” she says, “but it was only three years ago that I saw some people in my club training for the pole vault. I was like: ‘Hmmm, I have to try this.’
“What I love about it is it’s so difficult that you never stop learning, you have to be so focused on what you’re doing; the position of your body, and the speed you’re taking in the approach. I like difficulty. It challenges me.”
Belen takes her fitness regime seriously. “I have a mini gym at home and I train six days a week. I really enjoy training so it doesn’t feel like a chore.” When it comes to nutrition she appears to have lucked out. “My mum is a wonderful cook, so I eat a very balanced diet. She’s gold!”
On race days she has no fear: “If you get scared, you won’t be fast.” She refuses to indulge in any of the pre-race rituals that some drivers swear by. “I need to show myself that it’s only me in control and not let other things influence me,” she says. “It’s only within my power to step in and change things. I like to be organised and I have an order for dressing, but no rituals.”
Off track, Belen enjoys listening to music, watching Netflix and walking her beloved golden retriever, Thiago. “I don’t know what I’d do without my dog. If it were up to me, he’d come to every race with me.” She spends the rest of her downtime studying footage of old races.
“I don’t have an idol as such, but I’ve always admired Michael Schumacher. I like how Charles Leclerc thinks, and the aggressiveness of Max Verstappen. I try to focus on the strengths of every driver and apply them to my own driving.”
Belen’s racing future is looking bright, but does she have a Plan B? “Yes,” she laughs, “I’m in my second year of a four-year Telematic Engineering degree. Outside of racing that’s what I love. I enjoy thinking about new ways of doing what is being done now. I guess that fits nicely with W Series’ way of seeing the world.”