16/07/2018

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Great South Photography

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Alexandra Whitley racing in the New Zealand V8 Ute Racing Series

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Alexandra Whitley, 24, is making it big in the male-dominated sport of motor racing. And as one of the country's most successful racers, the Australian-born driver is making history by breaking down the walls of gender stereotypes in motorsport.

Despite growing up in a car-crazy family, with her father a keen speedway driver and both older siblings go-kart enthusiasts, Whitley's sights weren't always set on racing cars. But struck by an injury that marked the end for her triathlete endeavours in her early teens, Whitley decided to get behind the wheel at 17.

Instantly hooked on the thrill of racing, it didn't take long for the SsangYong driver to make her mark on the track, receiving the Women of Australia Motorsport Junior Development Scholarship five years later, before becoming Australian Motorsport Woman of the Year in 2016.

However, the journey wasn't easy driving for Whitley, who said on-track bullying from the boys was the norm during her earlier years of racing.

"When I started go-karting, I found it really tough," Whitley told the Weekend Herald.

"They pick on you and say things like 'we can't let that girl beat us' and they hit you, so right from the word go I had to learn how to stand on my own feet and show them that I wasn't going to be pushed around.

"It comes back to that old saying of 'when you get knocked down you get back up', so that became my mentality and it just made me grow as a person."

In 2014, Whitley raced in New Zealand where she was quickly noticed, becoming one of few selected to attend the New Zealand Elite Motorsport Academy in Otago.

Learning about dealing with the media, fitness, nutrition, mental and physical training, and establishing sponsorship, Whitley was inspired as she set her sights high to become the next female to compete in the V8 Supercars competition.

The ambitious dream has set Whitley on a challenging route with the endless battle of securing sponsors and a devastating crash last year putting her career in doubt. But with the support from her family and a competitive nature too strong to shake, Whitley said she's never considered giving up.

 "I just have that will to win ... the motivation really comes from within," she said.

"A big part of my racing is that it's not only my dream but it's my dad's dream as well. He's there with me every step of the way and I don't want to let him down either.

"It has been a good way for me to spend a lot of time with my family, especially my dad growing up, it's become something that we share."

Making history earlier this year, Whitley became the first female to race in the New Zealand V8 Ute Racing Series since it was established almost 10 years ago.

Placing fifth overall in her rookie year, Whitley said she was proud of the result but was more so excited about paving the way for other women in motorsport by proving that the series wasn't strictly a 'boys club.'

"It was all about breaking down those walls for more females to join in," she said. "It's not something that I really thought about, but it was just something that I really wanted to do.

"When you put your helmet on you're the same as anybody else on the track and you just want to win, so at the time I didn't really think about making history, but it's cool to now look back and say that I was the one to be able to do it.

"It's really good to be that role model for other girls because there's a lot of discrimination about not only women in sport, but jobs and everything, so it's good to prove to the younger generation for motivation that they can do it, it's possible."

Working towards becoming an official ambassador for female driving talent campaign 'Dare to be Different', Whitley said she hoped her achievements would continue to inspire more women to get behind the wheel.

"For me, I want to become an ambassador for other females so I want to be able to help them through that transition without the struggles that I had to go through. Even if they do face the same struggles, I want to show them that there are ways to get through it," she said.

"My advice would be to look for other females or somebody higher up in the sport for inspiration and don't let derogatory comments get in the way of your dreams and just don't give up, go for it."

While balancing three jobs, Whitley is preparing for the upcoming season with goals to again compete in the New Zealand V8 Ute Racing Series before heading back over the ditch to race the Australian Super2 Series.

Whitley admitted it had been tough not being able to commit full-time to racing, but said it was a dream she hoped could become a reality in the near future.

"I would love to be able to commit full-time to being an athlete, training, and racing, but at the moment I don't have big enough sponsors to do that so hopefully in the future I can," she said.

"I'm working on my fitness and fundraising a lot to be able to race another season.

"It's hard to juggle racing and working full-time so I can relate to how good it feels when you achieve something because of how hard you worked ... It's all about being consistent and looking at the bigger picture."

Cheree Kinnear

cheree.kinnear@nzherald.co.nz