Last month I was able to sit down with young racing driver Alisha Roland and talk about her experience as one of the few young girls in British racing.
The 12-year-old from Liverpool got her first taste of the track three years ago when she went karting at Daytona Motorsport with her father Carl.
“We went to Daytona to go kart and on that day it was raining and we were on the outdoor track. To my surprise, Alisha was overtaking the boys and what was more impressive is she was handling the kart when it was sliding… Alisha actually knew which way to turn the wheel to stop it spinning off the track. After that I asked her would she like a go at karting properly and she agreed.”
A few weeks later, nine year old Alisha was speeding around the Hooton Park Circuit at 70mph in her very own kart. Since then she has proven herself as an impressive young driver, moving up from local kart racing to the British SUPER 1 Championship, the series that jump-started the career of her racing idol Lewis Hamilton.
Alisha started her karting career in Northwest regional karting series and was the only girl in her class in a field of 40 drivers. When she switched to the British SUPER 1 Championship, she was one of two girls racing against 60 boys in their class.
“There was another girl called Alicia Barrett. We used to kart together and we became friends – we even had sleepovers together…” said Alisha. However, by the end of last season, Alicia Barrett stopped karting to focus on school, leaving Alisha as the lone girl racer once again. “We don’t really see each other anymore.”
Despite this, Alisha never let being one of the only girls at the track each weekend distract her from what really matters: winning.
“Most boys would like to beat me just because I’m a girl, and they don’t want to get beat by a girl. So they’re a harder on me, and that makes me want to push even harder against them.”
Alisha’s talent and status as a lone girl racer has made her a target for off-track schoolboy taunts as well. Throughout the past few years, many of her male classmates would tease her endlessly for not acting like a “real girl.”
“When they found out about my racing, they started calling me a boy because it’s a boy’s sport.” She doesn’t let the doubters get her down though, saying “I think they were just jealous that a girl could beat them at their own sport.”
That said, things are looking up now that Alisha has moved to a new school, where she’s experienced an outpouring of support from her new teachers, classmates and friends.
“My best friend thinks it’s cool that I do it, but she also worries about me and says things like ‘Be careful, I get really nervous when you race.’” Alisha’s mother is the same way. “My mum won’t even watch me do it. But that’s good because I get nervous when she watches, because I know that if I spin while she’s watching she won’t let me do it anymore.”
Last season, Alisha’s ambition on track put her mother’s cautious support to the test as she suffered two heavy crashes within a few months of each other…
“So, the first one… I can’t really remember any of that day. All I know is that my mum told me I hit a kerb and flipped and then flew out of the kart. And then someone ran over me, right over my neck.
So I went to the hospital and was really sick and couldn’t remember anything. That really knocked my confidence a bit, but I got straight back into it. And then a couple months later, I flipped again because someone spun right in front of me and I had nowhere to go. So I flipped and got stuck underneath the kart, but a boy stopped and helped me out from under the kart.
I didn’t know who he was, he just stopped racing and got out of his kart and help me out from under mine. After that second crash I started to cry only because I knew my mom wouldn’t let me race anymore.”
Alisha conceded that while they didn’t curb her passion for driving, it made her reconsider the perils of karting versus other types of racing.
“That crash scared me enough to do something else, so now I’m going to start racing cars and not karts. I’m happy to be making the switch because cars are a lot faster, and a little bit easier to handle I think. And I like the gear changes because it makes me feel like a grown up!”
This year and next Alisha will be participating in on-track Ginetta testing and simulator development and will begin racing full time in the Ginetta Junior Championship at 14. She then plans to make her way up the open-wheel feeder series ladder, from British Formula 4 to international Formula 3 and Formula 2, and eventually all the way up to the pinnacle of motorsport – Formula 1.
Before I left, I asked Alisha one final question: What would you say to other young girls who want to get into motorsport?
“Just do it! Try and get into it as best as you can. Even if you aren’t as good as the boys in the beginning, if you stick with it you’ll get better and better. I was really bad at the start but really improved as time went on.
When I first raced at Hooton park three years ago I was in the back five drivers. But this past year I finished in the top three. It took two years to get to the front and on the podium. Now I feel really proud of myself.”