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Rachele Somaschini: Life as a rally driver living with cystic fibrosis

Females in Motorsport recently spoke with Italian rally driver Rachele Somaschini to talk about her career and life living with a rare genetic disorder that changed her life.

Nowadays, people imagine that karting at an early age is their only path towards high-level racing championships and competitive racing. However, the story of Rachele Somaschini proves that anything is possible. 

“When I was little and still crawling, I had a little Jeep in the middle of the living room and I tried to climb into it as if to explain that that would have been my path: being a racing driver,” Rachele tells Females in Motorsport.

Her passion for motorsport was passed down to her from her father, who took part in some amateur-level racing.

Despite showing that she was inclined towards a career as a driver at a young age, Rachele was unable to compete as she was born with cystic fibrosis (CF). Rachele’s condition is a genetic disease which affects various internal organs, in particular the lungs and as a result, can significantly impact a patient's quality of life: the lung damage leads to inability to breathe.

“I was born and raised with a rather complicated routine,” says Rachele. “I had breathing therapies to do several times a day to keep my lungs clear. As I grew up, research went further and further and today therapies are less invasive and more powerful.”

Therapy had a big impact on Rachele’s life, and even with research into alternative methods, she still had to make hospital visits a part of her daily routine. 

“Despite this, I still have a couple of shorter therapies (2/3 hours every day) a day and I have to make various hospital visits and hospitalisations,” she says. 

After a brief stint with a motard bike, Rachele gained her driving license and professional racing license at the age of 18, thus starting her motorsport career.

“In 2013, my father and I signed up for a historic car race that took place in Monza called Coppa Intereuropea,” Rachele says. “It was a great experience and from there I understood that the emotions that motorsport gave me were really strong and I was only thinking about how to keep this passion alive.”

From then on, Rachele spent the next few years racing across two disciplines: the hill climbs of the Italian Hillclimb ​​Championship (CIVM) and the MINI Challenge Italian trophy. In 2015, Rachele debuted in the Cooper S category of the MINI Challenge Italia and became champion in that class. Rachele went on to become champion three times in CIVM within her category. 

“The results started coming in and that was until an academy, sponsored by Hankook, was looking for a female and Under 25 years crew,” she says. “They contacted me telling me that they were satisfied with my results and that, if I agreed, their goal was to make me race in the Italian Rally Championship.” 

The Italian had no experience in rallies, but the academy organised ad-hoc theoretical lessons on rallying for her. After six months of preparation, Rachele’s career as a rally driver began with the first round of the Ciocco Rally, a championship based in Tuscany.

“The first races were complex because, while I thought the speciality was similar to hill climbs, in reality, it wasn't at all,” she says. “The rally is a completely different world: it is spectacular and made up of a thousand variables.

“Rallying is the most complete discipline and the reason why I have always been attracted to this world is precisely because of the passion for those who experience rallies. It's a bit of a crazy sport; it gets closer to the public and it's nice to see people cheering you on from the side of the road.”

In addition to the Italian Rally Championship, Rachele has spent a few years involved in several rallies in the European Rally Championship (FIA ERC) of which she completed the full season in 2023.

“2023 was the first year I was able to do a full European championship and experience it because it is different in all its forms,” says Rachele. “It was a championship that taught me a lot, not without effort, because the level is really high.”

In addition to the CIR and ERC, Rachele has also taken part in several World Rally Championship (FIA WRC) events, including the legendary Rallye Monte-Carlo.

“I did the Rallye Monte Carlo twice and it was complicated, but at the same time, once you finish a rally of this calibre, you feel strong because you faced truly indescribable conditions, says Rachele. “Each special stage is different from the other, and even during the same stage you encounter different weather conditions because they’re very long.”

Rachele's favourite rallies are the Canary Islands and the Azores Rally, two opposite events that have remained imprinted in the Italian's mind. Looking to the future, Rachele dreams of taking part in the Rally Sweden. In the last four years Rachele is also competing in the Italian ICE Challenge, races on an ice track gaining experience in that surface to improve the driving skills in slippery conditions. Her goals in the past 3 years were to won the overall classification with the Gigi Galli's KIA Rio with 600 horsepower and she almost did it.

In addition to her career as a driver, Rachele is also a safe driving instructor at the ACI (Automobile Club d’Italia) centre in Arese, near Milan, where she works with people who use cars for work. Rachele works to support people’s psychological needs and teaches driving safety exercises. 

“It's a job that I enjoy and I love contributing to something practical and useful,” she says.

Rachele also spends her time supporting charities, and at the start of her automotive career, she decided to support the Italian Cystic Fibrosis Foundation (FFC). This non-profit organisation was founded in 1997 and is currently the only one that carries out research on CF and ensures that more people carry out the ‘healthy carrier test’*.

“I created my project, namely #CorrerePerUnRespiro (“racing for a breath”), which serves to raise awareness and finance the research, i.e. the projects that the foundation promotes,” says Rachele. ”We usually choose a project and collect donations to finance it."

Furthermore, Rachele has written a book, called Correre Per Un Respiro, through which she talks about how she managed to realise her dream despite having CF and talks about all the realities of her condition. 

“It is a book that represents me a lot and that serves to make people understand the topic better. It wasn't easy to share emotions, adventures, personal matters but it's totally worth it" says Rachele.

Although there are still uncertainties about Rachele's 2024 program due to some medical tests to be completed soon, her goal would be to participate in the Italian Rally Championship and to also compete in some rounds of races in Europe.

All pictures are courtesy of RS TEAM. 

*CF is a complex condition and There is one healthy carrier for every 30 people with CF without knowing it, with the risk of having a sick child. Today more than 3000 mutations are known and thanks to a simple test you can know if you are a healthy carrier of cystic fibrosis.


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