After the seventh and eighth rounds of Porsche Carrera Cup Italia held in Monza, Females in Motorsport had the opportunity to chat with Valentina Albanese, one of the most inspiring women in motorsport in Italy. With an impressive career history as a lawyer and racing driver, Valentina is now Head of Motorsport for the famous German automotive brand.
“I was born with the passion for cars straight away because when my mother took me to the carousels I wasn't attracted to horses or carriages but to cars,” Valentina tells Females in Motorsport.
“This was the oddity given that normally tradition dictates that the passion for motorsport is usually transmitted from father to son, in my case my father was a business executive while my mother was a literature teacher so there was nothing that led to racing in my family,” she says.
In her teens, would buy newspapers which included images and information on cars and dreamed of being a racing driver. But, she thought it was not possible to seriously become a driver one day.
In 1994, the Italian magazine "Auto" opened a competition reserved for women who wanted to have a racing career. In the contest, you had to answer several car-related questions, and if successful, you received free, safe driving courses at the circuit of Misano. Valentina entered the competition and was chosen among the 100 participants.
"I still remember when I entered the paddock for the first time at the age of 19, and it was an incredible feeling," she says.
Following the completion of the course, Valentina was selected as one of the ten best students to compete in a further day dedicated to skill tests in Misano.
"I was chosen among the ten best, and, in the end, I also won the final day," says Valentina. "It was wonderful because I won a series of prizes but, above all, I gained the awareness that all things about being a racing driver were destiny and that I had to try."
With this conviction and momentum, Valentina started to look for help to effectively start her racing career.
Two years later, she made her debut.
"In 1996, I made my track debut helped by the people who believed in me," says Valentina. "At the time, there were very few female drivers, much less than the current low number, so it was even more difficult."
Valentina first competed at the track of Misano, which previously saw her winning the contest a couple, but was not the best as she was a bit reckless and immediately crashed during free practice.
"After that experience, I grew quite rapidly because already that year, I gradually climbed up the rankings, and I also managed to achieve my first top ten."
Despite not having many women competing in the sport when she first started, Valentina had a fierce woman who inspired her, Tamara Vidali.
"My inspiration was Tamara Vidali, a woman who raced in touring cars, made her way in the male world of motorsport and put herself at their height because she was racing with them and winning. She also became an official driver, and it was also my goal," says Valentina.
Valentina noted she didn’t start winning straight away. In practice and qualifying Valentina made mistakes and started many races at the back of the grid but in the end, she improved.
In the last 10 years of her racing career, she was linked to the automotive brand SEAT, which also paid for and sponsored her drives.
"When I started racing, my dream was winning an overall Italian title and after doing so retiring from racing," Valentina says.
Valentina managed to make her dream a reality in 2015 when she won the Italian Touring Championship title.
"The season-finale was at Mugello. I crossed the finish line sure of having won the championship but certain of the fact that that would have been my last race," says Valentina. "I did the entire in-lap crying a little for the certainty that an important part of my life would end."
She’s been a racing driver for over twenty years but racing hasn’t been her only career. During the start of her racing career, Valentina also studied at university and in 1998, she graduated in law and became a lawyer, specialising in criminal law. Her career in law lasted an impressive thirteen years.
"My parents limited themselves to ensuring that I didn't take time away from university and that I continued my studies because no one could even think that one day it would become my job, it was just a nice hobby," Valentina says.
In 2016, Valentina started an all-new life and professional adventure as Head of Motorsport for the Italian division of the legendary automotive brand, Porsche.
“I was very good friends with Marta Gasparin, who was the Head of Motorsport and we knew each other since we were in the same paddock because I was racing in conjunction with the Porsche Carrera Cup Italia,” Valentina says. “She told me that she was leaving Porsche Italia and that in her opinion I had all the qualities to take her place and told me to send my CV.”
"I found this opportunity super interesting because a brand like Porsche has motorsport in its DNA, and it’s very prestigious. So, in the end, I was convinced, so I sent my CV, took part in the selections, and was chosen to drive Porsche Motorsport Italia in September 2016,” she says.
Valentina was previously a freelancer so this was her first job as an official employee. After hanging up her helmet, she also distanced herself from the register of lawyers because the professions of employees and freelancers were incompatible.
“Even though I’m no longer a lawyer, I still need all the things I learned in my profession more than ever, especially for all the contractual aspects. Knowing how to orient yourself on these things is not trivial,” she says.
In her current role, Valentina is responsible for the organisation of all motorsport activities related to Porsche Italia, which includes their one-make racing series, the Porsche Carrera Cup Italia, and the Porsche Driving Experience.
“In 2005, I was an instructor at the Porsche Driving School, and now I find myself back there but as Head of Motorsport. It's a fantastic feeling,” she says.
Working for an international brand like Porsche also has its challenges.
“One of the things my boss told me when I joined Porsche was to remember that it's not about Valentina Albanese but it's about representing a brand that is much higher than all of us and that has a strength and a legacy that is powerful,” Valentina says. “We must be proud to represent Porsche, but in comparison to it, we must necessarily take a step back.”
Valentina explained that the job at Porsche Italia was her first one as an employee for a company having worked as a freelancer for most of her career, and she never regretted the decision as she had lots of freedom in important decisions within the motorsport program.
“They give me a lot of trust, and this is wonderful because in my scale of priorities, there is the freedom, but above all, the possibility of managing my work independently. Career and money are secondary to me, and that's why I like this job.”
Since joining the German team, she has improved the one-make series Porsche Carrera Cup Italia.
The Porsche Carrera Cup is the oldest GT one-make racing series in the world and has different “tiers”: the Porsche Supercup, which is currently a support series for the FIA Formula One World Championship, the various Carrera Cup national championships, and the GT3 Cup Trophy or Sprint Challenge national categories.
The Italian championship has acquired lots of respect and prestige over the last few years and is noticeable by the entry list, which includes thirty-seven cars compared to sixteen in 2016.
“I count on a very German technical team, for example, at the technical checks. The car is the same one used in the Porsche Supercup (F1 support championship), and having the same members working on our national championship was a plus. I knew that working on this would bring results because the teams and drivers want this above all: a sportingly valid and credible platform,” she says.
After improving the Porsche Carrera Cup Italia, she took over the organizational staff to ensure that they would match together as a team.
"Teamwork is fundamental. I try to reward them as much as possible for working together because it is a great resource and strength,” Valentina says.
In 2023, Porsche is celebrating its 75th anniversary. Valentina and her team can represent this brand on every paddock they race at this season and have a good response from the motorsport fans.
All pictures are courtesy of Valentina Albanese and Porsche Italia.