A recent article in Karting magazine (Round the Bend: September 2010) reflected that today’s kart racing scene doesn’t have the heroes of yesteryear. Well I wasn’t around in karting 20 years ago so I wouldn’t know, but I would argue that today’s scene, if short on heroes, is not lacking in heroines – a couple of them in fact.
I’m thinking of the best, and most famous, kart racing sisters in the world, our own dynamic duo, the Chittenden girls, Tamsin and Tiffany.
Why should we see them as heroines? Well maybe Celebrities would be a more appropriate title, although neither of them would claim to be either a heroine or a celebrity. To be blunt they would both be very happy to be judged purely on their racing skills. However, having recently unearthed some facts I didn’t previously know, and I suspect a lot of karting folk don’t know either, I have no hesitation in saying they are well worthy of their non-sought-after status as Celebs.
Nor are they short of brain power. For instance did you know that Tiffany has a university degree in Media and Communications, has worked at TV studios where Electronic Animation was her speciality and where she produced a film on Ayrton Senna? She also won an award for an NSPCC film on childminding ‘Horizon’ and all this whilst continuing racing and working as a race instructor in her spare (?) time.
Tamsin had been a successful student at Art College at Redhill and subsequently at Croydon College. She had always been interested in Special Effects and worked with a film company in this field.
Then in a complete change of direction, she began to train in Dentistry. By common agreement, she was good enough to have gained her full Dental Qualifications but she was unable to resist the lure of the racing scene and settled instead for qualification as a Dental Nurse and which profession she practices today in between the heavy racing schedule. Nevertheless, she did point out that ‘I still wouldn’t mind working towards the full qualification in the future when the racing finishes. My boss is a high profile lecturer and I constantly learn a lot from him anyway’. So that door may not be closed for all time.
Like her younger sister, marshalling her available time and trying to fit everything into a 24 hour day is the big challenge. She’s very much a 7 days a week worker fitting in the mechanic’s role for her racing husband Dave as well as running her own drivers within Dave’s DG Racing stable. Dave incidentally was a successful Formula Ford 1600 and F3 driver and returns the favour by taking care of all the mechanic’s duties when Tam is kart racing.
How did it all start? Well the family motor sport pedigree is deep and strong. Dad, Mike has been racing for decades, and still turns out in World Sports Car and Group 6 Sports Car classes. He’s raced all over Europe as well as here in the UK with Germany’s Nurburgring probably rated as his most enjoyable venue. He would race more but the demands of his daughters’ racing schedules restrict what he might otherwise do.
Tamsin is 7 years older than Tiffany and they have a brother Jonathan born more or less half way between them. He started racing first, though the girls weren’t slow to follow. Their early racing days were spent in Formula 6 on their local track, Buckmore Park, but their young lives were already those of a racing family. ‘We’d be constantly going away with Dad when he was racing. We went everywhere even when we were still at school’ Tam recalled.
However, as Tiff remarked, ‘I wouldn’t like to be him when we are both racing in the same event and especially in the same race. When Tam and I qualified on the front row on a particular occasion he was at full stretch with everybody winding him up’. But she’s full of gratitude for Dad. ‘We wouldn’t be racing but for him’ she said, but then realising that that was a something of a statement of the biologically obvious she qualified her comments. ‘He brought all of us up in difficult circumstances but still looked after us brilliantly as a racing family, and managed to race himself, and get us all racing even though we’ve always had to do everything on a shoestring budget’. There was a fulsome cocktail of emotions – love, admiration, pride and respect – in her voice as she spoke.
Tiff, as the youngest of the 3, had been the last to start racing but when she won her first race – on Mothering Sunday in Jonathan’s kart – Dad thought that perhaps she could also become a serious racer. ‘I already knew I wanted to’ she told me.
All 3 made good progress and graduated from F6 into 100cc racing and into Super One. All this time Mike was still running the three of them as well as trying to satisfy the demands of his own motor racing career.
The much later switch to DD2 racing, where the girls have made their best mark on the international kart racing scene, came unexpectedly. John and Jean Gravett of JAG had offered encouragement and Tristan Oman then of HRS had got in touch. ‘This is a new class. Do you want a go?’ was the message. ‘Yep’ said Tiff, without really knowing what it was, and without having raced in ordinary Rotax Max!
When she had won a couple of rounds of the British Championship on her way to the title, she was asked by Tristan if she fancied racing in Europe in the Rotax Euro Challenge. Tamsin had already made her debut in that series a year or so earlier in a one-off appearance in France in the Max Senior class. Now both of them are regulars in DD2. ‘It’s a brilliant class, fast and technical with good racing between top drivers. If people saw it they would rate it, and yet there seems to be a prejudice against it in this country’ they reflected.
The class has given both ladies the chance to firmly establish themselves on an international stage primarily in mainland Europe although Tiff also qualified for the Rotax World Challenge Grand Finals in Al Ain, Abu Dhabi in 2007, before making her American kart racing debut in the DD2 class in early 2009.
But back to Dad. What’s Mike’s view of his racing daughters and out of curiosity, which of them does he think is the better of the two? Well he wasn’t going to be drawn into that latter argument but volunteered this. ‘All three of them, Jonathan as well as the girls, have a competitive streak in them. But none of them would gain an advantage unfairly’.
‘The girls are both very dedicated and professional. And they both stick up for each other’. The one moment when I was able to get Mike to pass a potentially partisan view was when he compared Tam’s racing when her younger sister was in the race and then when she wasn’t. ‘If Tiff is in front, Tam will really go for it. If Tiff’s not there, Tam will still have a good Go but maybe not with quite the same dedicated focus’.
What of the girls’ views of each other? No dissent whatsoever to be found there. ‘She’s a very good racing driver’ Tam said of Tiff. Same story the other way round though Tiff came up with a lovely additional sentiment. ‘She has always been good. I used to look up to her when I watched her before I raced. Now when we race together I have to put that aside. But in my head nothing’s changed. She is still my big sister that I have always looked up to and always will’. Mmm, I liked that.
Then there is the obvious point that they are both very attractive ladies. Long blonde hair and eyes of blue for both of them and Tam must surely have the longest hair, blonde or otherwise, male or female, anywhere in karting. Was that a deliberate ploy to get noticed? ‘Not at all’ Tam explained with barely a second’s thought. ‘I just decided to keep it long. It’s easier when you’re racing. I just tuck it down my suit. As simple as that’. But then she did find one personal angle for a closing remark. ‘And anyway Dave likes it long’.
Tamsin married Dave Germain 3 years ago and they travel everywhere together when Tam is racing. Tiffany is unmarried but Dad is always on hand to see things are taken good care of mechanically as he still tries to balance his attention equally between his girls.
Tiffany, and her long blonde hair, was the subject of a rather eye catching glamour shot in a magazine some months back. Could that signal the start of a photo modelling career perhaps? She was keen to spell out the context of the story and the photo. ‘I’m a racing driver, and that article was to make the point that women and girls can be motor racing drivers, or other things in a man’s world, yet still look feminine’. So it wasn’t a glamour shot in isolation. ‘I had won the DD2 British Championship first and only then did I do the glamour shoot. I have actually turned down many similar offers because first and foremost I want to be taken seriously as a racing driver. That’s far more important’. Fair enough I thought as I felt ever so slightly put in my place.
What about being a Mum one day? ‘Yes, me and Dave obviously talk about it but there’s no time at present. Right now we are too busy with the racing so it will have to wait – but one day……’ was Tamsin’s response to that question. It was much the same with Tiffany. ‘I am single at the moment with not a lot of time for boyfriends. In fact there’s no time for anything else besides racing.’ Then after a short pause she continued ‘One day yes, but at the minute I love doing this. I am happy as things are at present’. Then, after another pause, perhaps a little personal insight emerged. ‘Dave and Tam are made for each other. Racing’s the big reason’ she explained, with maybe just a hint of wishful thinking in her eyes.
Tamsin incidentally gained a sort of celebrity status a while back courtesy of winning a Karting magazine competition launched in the March 2006 issue. A year’s supply of Miller’s Oils was the prize. As she recalled, ‘they were really good to us and even helped us out afterwards. Dave is still in touch with them and we continue to use their products for our team at home’.
Let’s check out with the ladies what they think are their best achievements in kart racing. Tamsin reflected on a general theme rather than specific victories. ‘In Formula ‘A’ I always felt that we did well to get the results we did on nowhere near the fastest motors. Then I was in at the start of Senior MAX and in Super 1 we kept plugging away with regular top ten finishes. A 4th place in the ‘A’ Final at Wigan Three Sisters comes to mind beating Michael Simpson on the day. Also in the Rotax Euro Challenge I’ve had 6 podium finishes in 3 years in the DD2 Masters category which I am quite pleased with’.
Tiffany points to a couple of specific moments of immense pride. ‘When I began racing in the Rotax Euro Challenge, I really had to up my game’ she acknowledged. ‘That was DD2 racing at its best with some great drivers. So I was very proud to become the first girl to make the podium in any class in that series’. I saw that race. It was indeed a great effort in a very competitive international entry. She feels that that achievement eclipsed her previous karting ‘first’ when she became the first ever girl to qualify on Pole in Formula ‘A’. Then in an afterthought she remembered a satisfying victory over Karting magazine columnist Gary Catt also on her CV.
As for further ambitions in karting, neither of the sisters has a specific goal in mind. ‘After racing in the Euro Challenge, I’d quite like to race in America’ Tamsin suggested, but then immediately saw the obstacles. ‘But at home, I am a fully fledged mechanic to Dave’s team and we are very busy. I also do Driver Coaching. Jonathan Palmer’s son, Jolyon, was with us in his kart racing days’ she pointed out, ‘and he’s currently leading the Formula 2 championship. I find that working on a kart and understanding the mechanics of it, and also the coaching and other duties, helps my own driving’ she added.
Tiffany also does driver coaching. She worked with Dannie Pennell of Dadson Motorsports on that aspect of karting and followed up her 2009 kart racing debut in the Florida Winter Tour series with a return visit in 2010 only this time as a Coach and Mentor. In 2009 she also presented the official DVD coverage of the Rotax World Challenge Grand Finals from Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt. ‘I’m keen to do more coaching’ she told me ‘and I’d be happy to get more involved on the media side of things in the future’ she confirmed.
But both girls were united in their immediate aims. Clearly they still love their racing and are simply keen to just get the best results they can both domestically and internationally. Neither has any plans to cut back on their racing, although Tiffany had an involuntary interruption to her career in mid 2010. She had treated a painful thigh injury, picked up when racing in Belgium, as nothing more than a minor irritation to be tolerated. The following weekend in Germany, she was left in no doubt as to the seriousness of the condition when she unsuccessfully pleaded her case to be allowed to race.
That reminded me of the only occasion that she had ever had a sharp word with me. She had a wrist injury a couple of years previously which, when I saw it, I wondered if it was a fracture, and I said so. ‘Don’t you dare say anything on the microphone’ she commanded. ‘I don’t want to be stopped from driving’ and indeed she raced on.
I’ve also seen Tamsin simply getting on with it when carrying racing bumps, bangs, burns and bruises, and at an early stage I had realised that both women were as tough as any of the guys when it came to accepting the inescapable fact (printed on the back of the admission ticket as Martin Brundle would point out) that motor racing is dangerous.
So, whether or not today’s karting scene lacks the heroes of yesteryear, in my book ‘our’ Tam and Tiff are worthy celebrities of today’s international karting scene. However don’t fall into the trap of seeing them only as celebrities. They take their racing as seriously as any of the guys they regularly compete against. As I said early on in this article, they would be perfectly happy to be ignored as attractive women and simply judged on their respective records as racing drivers.