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Be inspired every day with Living North

Meet the Teesside Petrol-Head Inspiring Female Racing Drivers

woman crouching down next to a race car
April 2023
Reading time 3 Minutes

Teesside racing driver Sarah Hall is competing in a national car series for the first time

Ahead of the 2023 Focus Cup Championship (beginning on 1st April and running until 17th September), she shared her motorsport journey and advice for those who are inspired to get behind the wheel.

Tell me a bit about yourself and your background. 
I grew up in Middlesbrough and I’m still based here. My dad has been involved in racing all his life and growing up I would travel around the UK and into Europe to watch him compete in various types of motorsport. I always enjoyed our trips to the track and I started working within motorsport media right after leaving school. It really just snowballed from there. I grew my part time photography business and I thoroughly enjoyed things like driving amateur track days. I ended up working as an instructor at a stunt experience school and then went on to work for many different car manufacturers, from driver training and new car launches to motorsport and performance driving.

How did that lead you to racing?
I always wanted to race but I held back for a long time. After Covid, I had been through a really tough time personally and professionally – I’d always been part-time self-employed but not long before Covid I made the leap into full-time. If only we could have known what was to come. As a self-employed person, all my work disappeared overnight and I wasn’t entitled to any assistance due to the short time I’d been fully self-employed.

I decided at that point that it was now or never – I was going to achieve all of the things on my goals list. One of those things was to get my racing licence and get out there. So myself and two friends with the same goal headed to a track about three hours from Teesside and we did our Association of Racing Driver Schools (ARDS) Test and passed, gaining our racing licence. It just felt like a “finally” moment. I had no idea what I was going to race or how, as it’s not a cheap hobby, but my mindset was, “if I don’t have the licence I cannot race, if I have the licence there is a possibility at least”. Next was the cost of safety equipment as you are required to have a specific approved kit including a Nomex suit, helmet and neck device. With the support of friends I was able to borrow some kit and was kindly donated a suit from another competitor who no longer needed it. Motorsport really is an amazing community.

In September 2021 I entered my first ever competitive race at Brands Hatch, which was made possible by my friends at GM Performance who are also North East-based. They run various racecars on an “arrive and drive” basis, meaning I didn’t have to worry about buying and preparing a vehicle – they took care of everything. Unfortunately the race didn’t last long, four laps in fact, after another competitor had a crash and the race had to be abandoned. Still, it was amazing to finally get out on track and realise a dream.

I then had the opportunity to race at my local track – Croft – in 2022 for a double header round. This was an unbelievable chance to race with Focus Cup at a local track I love, and get some valuable seat time.

woman holding a professional camera

You're now racing your first full season with Focus Cup Championship. What has it been like working with them?
Focus Cup have been brilliant to work with over the last few years. I helped manage their photography and social media and will continue to assist with that. They’ve been so welcoming to me and watching their championship develop and the drivers make their individual progress has been fantastic. It’s a real racing community and every weekend is a pleasure – there’s a real social element.

I planned on racing one round this year, and unexpectedly I have been able to take the chance to race the full season. It wasn’t the plan, but it’s something I absolutely couldn’t pass up and I’m incredibly grateful to Focus Cup for all their support and also to my season partners who have made it possible. To be able to make my first full season debut is still quite surreal and a dream I didn’t think I’d realise any time soon. Motorsport-wise it’s a really affordable way to race, on an “arrive and drive” basis so the driver simply needs to turn up and the championship takes care of everything, which for me as a novice is an ideal way to get started. The cars are all built equally by the championship so it’s a great way for a new driver to come in and learn racecraft. 

What have been your biggest achievements so far? 
It was hard to see the other side in 2020 but I’ve worked hard and rebuilt my business and also expanded. I wanted to improve my own skillset within driver training and I qualified as an ADI (Government-approved driving instructor) which is something I had wanted to do for a lot of years, and had held myself back with self doubt. I qualified in early 2022 and started my driving school and I’m really happy with how that’s going. I achieved other driving and licence qualifications in the last three years including LGV and advanced driving. Achieving my race licence and getting out on track is also at the top of the list. It’s been hard work. Starting racing later in life, I’ve got a lot to learn and a lot of confidence to find. I’ve been doing as much training as I can on track with my partner Steven who is a racing coach and has been incredible throughout this journey, helping me build my skills and confidence in-car. I’ve also been really lucky to have been able to travel abroad with work and got to see places like South Africa, Spain and Albania and I am really grateful to have seen places I wouldn’t have ordinarily had the chance to.

Read More: The Todmorden Boxing Academy Tackling Women’s Mental and Physical Health

How do you hope to inspire others to get into the sport, particularly in the North East?
Motorsport can be a little intimidating and often people don’t know where to start or doubt they have what it takes. It’s not about going in and getting an instant podium, it’s about going out and enjoying yourself. If you end up really good at it that’s just a bonus. If I can inspire anyone to push themselves and go for it, I’ll be really happy. People often don’t know about the motorsport opportunities in the North East, even if it’s just to enjoy spectating. We have tracks locally and some really great venues just a couple of hours drive away. There are always people around to help and offer advice to those who are new, and it’s a thrill like no other.

Do you feel women are underrepresented in this sport, and what can be done to tackle that?
I think women can be underrepresented in motorsport as it’s always been a male dominated sport – that’s just the way it is. But there are now more women getting involved and not just as drivers. It can be intimidating but I would encourage any women who are holding back to go for it in whatever capacity that might be – spectating, working, driving or mechanic. Motorsport is really inclusive and in my experience it’s rare to see any sexism thrown your way. Focus Cup have two female drivers so far this year and also a female mechanic on the team – it really doesn’t make any difference who you are as long as you work hard and enjoy yourself. The crux of it is we are a community who have a huge passion for motorsport and we support everyone regardless of age, gender or anything else. I’ve had so much support from my friends in the sport, which is really comforting as a new competitor. Get stuck in and enjoy it!

Image: Dan Wraxton

Your favourite place to walk in North East?
I love to walk around the Guisborough woods and Roseberry Topping area. There are so many lovely trail options and when you reach one of the peaks you can see so much of the area on either side. It’s a really beautiful view and great to get out in the fresh air.

An item you couldn’t live without?
I’m a really keen gardener so I’m going to say my garden, as it’s a real escape for me. It’s the polar opposite of the automotive industry and motorsport; it’s peaceful and a mindful hobby which allows me to escape the modern stuff, stay active and also have a lovely place to relax to show for my efforts.

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woman holding a professional camera

 A book you recommend?
I wish I had more time to read – most of my reading time is studying for work or books about gardening. I do have a great book called North Eastern Motorsport by Larry Carter – another petrol-head from the area. A great read for anyone interested in motorsport history.

 Advice you’d give your younger self?
To absolutely go for anything you want to do. Don’t let others hold you back, and don’t let self doubt hold you back. Life is far too short to not do what you want to do. Live.

The best way to fuel before a race?
I just try to sleep and eat well without overindulging in the run up to a race weekend. I don’t want to feel bloated or lethargic as I know I can’t perform well and I want to be able to focus on my driving. I also know during a hectic race weekend I’ll likely not be eating the best and the racing takes its toll physically and mentally so if I can go in feeling good, I can recover afterwards with healthier choices and lots of rest.

What are your hopes and plans for the future?
I have a few goals for my business, which includes expanding. I’d love to go and do my motorbike licence – which was a 2023 goal but due to the racing I’m going to have to put that back a year. I would love to see where this year’s racing takes me – of course I’d love to do more and continue to learn the driving skills but I’ll have to explore options later this year when I reflect on 2023. I’d love to do some more travelling – its been a long time since I had a holiday!

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