Justina Williams: “You put up with the lows to get those highs”
Justina Williams has been at the helm of EXCELR8 Motorsport, a team that competes in the renowned British Touring Car Championship since its entry into the series. As the Founder and Team Owner, Justina brings a huge wealth of knowledge and experience to help the outfit thrive in such a competitive environment.
Justina is used to being one of the only women in the room - from building sites and college seminars to male-dominated motorsport paddocks, she’s always been in the minority. This is what makes her story even more impressive - her sheer drive and willingness for her team to succeed are second to none.
She grew up working with her dad on cars and often this would amount to painting black and white ‘go faster stripes’ along the sides of the vehicles. Her fascination for four wheels continued, but another thing caught her eye - Judo. And, as it turns out, Justina was excellent at it, claiming a myriad of championship titles and representing her country.
With school behind her, Justina embarked on an apprenticeship as an electrician.
“I was the only girl with 5,000 men at one point,” she tells Females in Motorsport. “It was quite telling for a 16-year-old to work with that amount of men and be the only female on the actual building site.”
A qualified Industrial Electrician, Justina furthered her prospects by qualifying as a Financial Planner. This led her to have her own firm with her husband, which they sold five years ago.
“What's helped me is that it was so tough as a young girl working on a building site,” she says. “You end up being so resilient and realising you had to prove you were better than the men.
“And at one point, though, I did nearly give up because there was a particular situation on a day where quite upsetting events happened.”
It was the words of a “chap” who told her not to give up that allowed her to find the strength to continue. To this day, Justina doesn’t know who that gentleman was.
Justina went on to manage colleagues in her profession as an electrician, asserting herself in an environment where women are rarely seen.
Her first taste of racing came when she met her husband. He used to race remote control cars professionally, which had taken him worldwide. However, they wanted to do something they could be equally involved in. The solution? Karting.
Having an immense amount of fun but ultimately fed up with being battered and bruised all of the time, Justina looked into competing in championships where it wasn’t all about how big your chequebook is. That’s where they came across the MINI CHALLENGE.
“My husband raced in the first year, then we had a break for a year, round about the time of recession, and that's how it came out with the team, actually,” she says. “I raced the year after, which I loved.”
The project ended up being Justina, her husband and her father-in-law - a team that was just the three of them and a “little Halfords toolbox”. We wonder if Justina could have predicted BTCC silverware back then…
“That was where I believe we got noticed from the people that owned the MINI CHALLENGE,” she says. “They thought we could run a really good team if we could get someone to build us a race car, get a race track and truck and they’ll help us with the drivers and PR. We were introduced to a young man called Luke Cordell, and he helped us win the championship in our first year.”
That remarkable entry into racing is just one thing that makes Justina and her team so special. Another important factor is making her guests as happy as possible too.
“What happens on track you can't control,” she says. “If everyone that's around us is feeling part of the team, that's really important that you don't feel you've just come here with a ticket and you're walking around the paddock.
“You actually have the chance to feel part of the team, have question and answer sessions with the drivers, come in to see the cars and have a garage tour and be involved, be able to speak to me and the team.”
It’s a well-known fact that motorsport is a rollercoaster - especially in the BTCC where races can turn on their head in a matter of seconds. It’s wild, unpredictable and, sometimes, scary. Justina is open about this and it’s admirable that she’s honest about the pitfalls of our sport.
“Things go wrong more often in motorsport than they do go well generally,” she says. “You have more lows and you have highs, but when you have those highs they’re so incredible.
“You put up with the lows almost to get those highs because of how you feel when it happens. What I can do for the team is let them know I care. And I do. I do care about them and all the hard work they put into it.”
The team has a significant partnership with Bristol Street Motors - who also run a team in W Series with Jess Hawkins and Alice Powell driving for them.
“It's so important for us as a team to raise our credibility and to have the opportunity to partner with them,” Justina says. “We partner with all our commercial partners because you both want to have a win-win and you’re working together through mutual benefit. You get what you want out of your return.”
The relationship has helped EXCELR8 to attract new talent that has been drawn to them as a result of the sponsorship.
“The branding looks incredible and for Bristol Street Motors, it helps them to be seen on the cars,” she says. “To be seen and get that coverage on live TV and the exciting races we have…I only really remember seeing our cars getting coverage because of the battles they were having! It was just incredible.”
As part of her mission to inspire girls and women to follow their dreams, Justina is involved in talks at universities and colleges.
“It's a shame that they seem to feel they can't do it,” she says. “It's almost like there's a hurdle there and I try to encourage them. The only hurdle might be yourself.
“We've got lots of people that work for us out of work experience. They might move on to somewhere else or they might stay on with us for many, many years and we've helped people come through. Mel is working with us and she's the Number Three Mechanic on Tom Ingram’s car. She works for McLaren as well.”
Mel isn’t the only woman to have risen through the ranks thanks to the team.
“We've had so many people that - girls that have worked with us have actually moved forward,” she says. “Our Head Technician is Cassie and she's now Team Manager. You need to have confidence in yourself to just think, I can do this and I just need to make it happen.”
The 2022 BTCC season finale will take place at Brands Hatch this weekend, where Tom Ingram is in with a shot at the championship title. You can watch Justina and her team in action live on the ITV Hub.
Interview conducted by Emma Ridgway at the Silverstone rounds of the BTCC.