Last Saturday on January the 5th, I was present at circuit Zandvoort for the nieuwjaarsrace. There was a car of which I had never heard of before, namely a Mitjet from the JLC Racing team. It is a small race car with the looks of a DTM car. Later I got in contact with one of the drivers of the Mitjet, Vanessa Zenklusen. She was one of the only two women in the field of the nieuwjaarsrace.
Name: Vanessa Zenklusen
Lives in: Hallau (Switserland, Schaffhausen)
Favorite hillclimb’s: Oberhallau and Grunigel
Favorite race tracks: Zandvoort and Oschersleben
How did you begin with motorsports?
“Six years ago I started working as a Marshall at hillclimb and slalom races in Switserland, but after my first race as a Marshall I thought it was so cool that I really wanted to drive myself. After that, I worked for two years as a Marshall and in the meantime I started building my own hillclimb racecar (a Subaru Impreza).
I have been driving in the Swiss hillclimb championship for four years already. After one year of practicing, I wanted to go for the podium in my class, and I think that worked out!”(Right now Vanessa has already been on the podium a couple of times)
How did you know that there was a race at circuit Zandvoort in winter?
"One of the reporters from the Swiss magazine "autosprint" told me there was a winter championship at circuit Zandvoort. I wanted to race in the winter to get my international race license (FIA-C) and that is why I asked him."
How did the nieuwjaarsrace went for you?
"It was not going bad. First we would drive in division 4, but the officials said that the car was too fast and that is why we were moved up to division 3. All other participants drove on slicks and only we drove on semi slicks because it was still pretty slippery and treacherous. Furthermore, we unfortunately lost a lot of time at the pitstops because it was forbidden to refuel with our special plastic busses."
Vanessa's fastest time was a 2:07,45 and that is not a bad time in the rain, without any experience on circuit Zandvoort.
You've been doing hillclimb races in Switzerland for a while, but what was it like to start an endurance race on a racetrack for the first time?
"It was fantastic! I have learned a lot, but it is also very exhausting to drive an endurance race if you are used to do hillclimb races. At hillclimb racing you drive a maximum of 3 minutes at a time and you have a break in between. In an endurance race you drive a lot more.”
How was it to drive in the dark?
"On Friday there was a free practice and there I had the time to get to know the car and the track. It was also the first time for me in this car. First I tested with daylight and after a break also in the dark. There are a couple of things where you should pay more attention to while driving in the dark, such as your braking points and so on. The Mitjet does not really have very good headlight, that is why you do not see the corners really well. The mirrors were also very small so you almost could not see the cars behind you. For that reason and because it was my first time, I did not really drive in the dark during the race."
What do you think is the biggest difference between a hillclimb and a race on a racetrack?
"At Hillclimb races you do not have much room for mistakes, if you make one mistake it may also be your last. Endurance racing has many other difficulties. You always have to pay attention to your fuelmeter and keep an eye on other participants etc."
What do you like more? Hillclimb racing or racing on a racetrack?
"If I can find a racing seat that is also affordable, I want to drive more on racetracks. The only thing I still need are sponsors. I think in the last 2 years of Hillclimb racing I have driven only 1 hour in total. At this one endurance race I have already driven more than in total at the hillclimbs."
What do you think of the racetrack of Zandvoort?
"Zandvoort is a very beautiful wavy racetrack through the dunes and you need a lot of courage to drive there. If you make a small mistake, you lose a lot of time towards the other participants. Unfortunately, there are not so many places where you can overtake, so that makes overtaking very difficult."
After a while, Vanessa asked me if I knew if there were more women in the nieuwjaarsrace. Coincidentally I knew that there was another female driver, that I know personally, and then talked to her about women in motorsport. Vanessa thinks that there are far too few and therefore I asked one last question about the new W Series, the formula class for female drivers that will start this year.
What do you think of the new W Series starting this year?
"I think it's a very good idea!
I did sign up for it, but I only have a national racing license. For the W Series you need an FIA-C license and that is why unfortunately I was not selected yet. That is also the reason why I drove the nieuwjaarsrace in Zandvoort. For the INT-C license you have to drive 5 different races and this was my first one.
The mission of the W Series is a very good opportunity. They give women a chance to get forward in motorsports. In other racing series, women are not always taken seriously, although we can really offer competition to men.
Most girls start horseback riding, like for example me. There are not many girls who start karting at a young age, but after a few years some girls still find their way to motorsports.
For these girls, the W Series is a perfect opportunity to get ahead in the big world of motorsport. Unfortunately the W Series this year only selected women who already have a lot of experience and have already achieved great successes.
I will continue fighting to make my dream come true. I hope that I will race in a car like that in the future, so that I can show the world that women can survive in the world of motorsport. "
Author: Daniël Kalksma
Hello, my name is Daniël Kalksma and I live in Utrecht in the Netherlands. I am a really pasionate motorsport photographer and editor for autosportnieuws.be