Pippa Mann: "It's still a boy's playground"
Pippa Mann knows first hand what it’s like to be an IndyLights race winner, Indy Car competitor and, in addition, one of the most successful female racing drivers ever. But, just how does this correlate to create a strong female who is an inspiration to us all? Thick skin is just the beginning of it all…
“For a female of any age coming into motorsport, you do have to understand that you are walking into what still is in general a boy’s playground,” the IndyLights race winner told us. “You have to be able to ignore a certain level of noise and be prepared to work harder to get the same level of recognition.
“There will always be people trying to tear you down, but there will be people out there who want to help you succeed, and who want to help you get there, those are the people you want to pay attention to, and align with. But, for the rest of it, you’ll have to grow pretty thick skin.”
Pippa is right to dish out the advice, having experienced paddock life first-hand for a number of years. From karting, Pippa has worked her way up through the ranks and is now a well-established racing driver.
“It’s interesting,” she began, “while my second year in IndyLights in 2010 was obviously a good year, and it did launch me into my first Indy 500 the following season based on my results on the ovals, it was still just a ‘good’ year by another driver in IndyLights.
“Here in the US we’re more accustomed to female athletes having success on the race track, so a girl winning a race, being on the podium, finishing in the top 5 of a championship is not necessarily viewed as a ground-breaking achievement. And perhaps it shouldn’t be? If my name was Phil Mann, we would simply say I had a pretty good year, and leave it at that. That’s a description I’m comfortable with.”
From that, it must be recognised that Pippa has been more than just a racer.
“While I’m proud to be a female athlete, I view my achievements as a racer who hasn’t been full time in a racing car in a long time, and who does the best with the opportunities that come up.
“I have engineers and so on that actively want to work with me when I put opportunities together – that tells me I’m doing something right.”
But where has this motivation come from? In a competitive world, nothing is ever easy and Pippa knows that all too well. But, as she explained, the determination is in her blood.
“The drive to succeed comes from my mother,” she told Females in Motorsport. “She’s a strong business woman, and I’ve definitely inherited her no-nonsense, get things done attitude and determination. Beyond that, it comes from deep inside me personally. I always want to do better, to run better, to put up a better result.”
Yet, like everyone, Pippa is not a stranger to those days where things can seem impossible. When talking to us, she explained that there’s still a difference between a woman having a bad day, and a man having a bad day. She said: “As a male racer when you have a bad day, you’re just another racer having a rough day. As a female racer when you have a rough day, suddenly a million morons think you represent every single racer of your gender who is currently racing, who has raced, and who will race after you.
In addition, these bad days can turn into bad periods where you begin to doubt much more than just your racing ability.
“Sometimes there are entire bad years,” she said. “There have been occasions in my career where I’ve wondered whether I will be able to keep racing – either whether I’ll be able to find the money to keep going, or when I’ve just rock bottom confidence so I wonder whether it’s worth keeping going.”
Pippa even acknowledged that the off-days have become harder to deal with due to the ever growing popularity of social media where people have the ability to watch your every move.
“Everyone with an opinion now has the ability to reach you, interact with you, and share their opinions with you directly, or simply about you, to as many people as they possibly can. As a female racer, there’s a level of this that someone like me attracts beyond what most male drivers of the same standing get,” she explained. “It’s a tough sport. Having an innate ability to grip your teeth, pick yourself up and stand tall for another round is key to being able to continue to compete, let alone succeed.”
As this is Youth in Motorsport month on our website, it was only right to ask Pippa about the three projects she is currently involved in to help young females get involved in motorsport. Pippa told us that she is the founding member of Team Empower TopKart USA team, which aims to help support female racers under their awning at major kart races in the US.
“The idea is to foster an environment from an earlier age where it’s women encouraging women and we’re helping to lift each other up. We’ve had a couple of racers who were part of that in 2017, and we’re hoping to do more of that in 2018.”
Pippa is also a member of the grant committee on the Lyn St James Women in the Winner’s Circle Project Podium fun: “Lyn was the second female racer to qualify for the Indy 500, and she has been committed to helping other female racers follow in her footsteps,” she said. “Her foundation awards grands each fall to female racer in the US who are showing outstanding talent, and she tries to mentor some of the top recipients personally.”
Finally, since the Autumn she has been involved with the Lucas Oil School of Racing. They set up a Scholarship Pippa’s name for young female racers who want to make the first step from karting to cars.
“I already work there as an instructor,” she said. “The idea is that when we’re running a two-day basic school for people who have never driven an open wheel car before, we try to keep one spot open for a scholarship student.
“These racers are selected by sending us their racing resumes and a cover letter. The panel and I go through them, and we pick racers who we think could use a reg up on the ladder.”
This is perhaps the closest to Pippa’s heart, with it being so personal to her. Since its founding, it has already helped several racers.
“We have our second recipient coming through later this month, and then two more racers in February, and one more in March,” she said. “We’ll be reviewing the applications again as we head into the summer, and then into the fall as this year’s karting season starts to wind down, looking for the next batch of racers we can help.
“This is designed to help those younger racers understand that as women n this sport, we need to be helping and uplifting one another. We can all play a part in that. The ultimate goal is to help form relationships for these racers so that I can become a resource for them as they move up the ladder.”