22-year-old rallycross driver Paige Bellerby grew-up watching her family compete in motorsports and started driving a quad bike at the age of four. In her debut year of racing, Paige became the first female to win a British Rallycross title, aged just 14. Now, eight years later, she’s the only woman competing in her class as she races for the Bellerby RX team.
In this Q&A Paige, who is supported by the Christopher Ward Challenger Programme, chats about growing up surrounded by motorsport, the demands of rallycross, and her goals for the future.
Did growing up watching your dad race fuel your desire to have a go?
Absolutely, growing up watching my dad (Dave Bellerby) and uncle (Kevin Procter) compete in various motorsports including banger racing, rallycross and rallying, definitely fuelled my racing desires from the beginning.
Your dad bought you a quad bike when you were four – did this kickstart your love of driving?
Since being introduced to motorsport it was inevitable that I would end up driving something one day. I began to learn on my quad and it definitely had a huge impact on where I have ended up today.
How old were you when you learnt to drive and what car did you learn in?
I first learnt to drive a car when I was 7 years old, it was just a little Nissan Micra that my dad had got from a local scrap yard as a gift. I remember it like it was yesterday; he surprised me with it one night after school, sat me in it, told me what pedals to press and what they were for and from then I never looked back. I taught myself from there how to drive fast just around the fields at home pretty much every night after school and at weekends. You couldn’t get me out of it.
At what stage did you start competing?
My first ever motorsport event was at the age of 12 in a junior special grass track buggy! It was amazing for me to finally race against other people and the perfect feeder series to go into before I was eligible to compete in rallycross at 14.
How did you feel on the start line of your first rallycross event?
As you can imagine, at 14 years old at my first rallycross event – a sport I had been watching my whole life – I was extremely excited. Obviously, there were some nerves, however the excitement completely took over my emotions; this was the first race for me and I began to chase my dream.
Can you explain the format of rallycross and how it works?
A rallycross track consists of 40% loose surface and 60% sealed surface. Each event consists of a free practice, where each driver is allowed 3 timed laps of the circuit. This is followed by 3 qualifying heats which are all timed to give each driver their overall positioning on the grid for the semi-final. The top 16 cars in each class are split into their semi-final grids (2x races of 8), then every driver competes for position. The top four drivers of each semi-final go through to the final and the remaining four are knocked out of the event. This then leaves the final race of the day for each car class, and the winners of this race take overall class points.
Is rallycross about skill, tactics, or both?
To be a rallycross driver you must have excellent car control, be able to deal with a bit of pushing and shoving and also be a bit crafty! Often when racing it’s the person that can outsmart the other drivers that is most likely to come out on top.
Have you noticed more girls/women taking up rallycross since you first started?
Yes, 100%. Since I’ve started competing in rallycross I’ve seen multiple young drivers come into the sport, two of which are family members of mine; my younger sister, Drew Bellerby, and my younger cousin Matilda Procter. It’s really important that any women that wish to compete in a motorsport know that they can, and that we’re all out here not just competing against the men, but beating a lot of them too!
What’s a typical day look like for you at the moment?
I have worked in many trades since I was 14 years old; from working in the local pub to then being a food and beverage supervisor in a hotel, to working as a technical administrator for a road tanker manufacturing company. I’m currently working with my dad doing barn conversions, plumbing and farm work… anything that’s required of us to enable us to be able to make a living and pay for race cars!
Your dad and your younger sister race rallycross too – do you all work together as well as race together?
I work with my dad but my younger sister works as a nursery nurse at a children’s playgroup.
What kind of training do you do as a rallycross driver?
Throughout the race year some tracks hold test days at the rallycross circuits, we also attend some BTRDA Rallycross events and use these as test days too. Anything that a driver can get any seat time in is great practice.
How does racing rallycross affect you mentally and physically?
To compete in any sport it’s so important to be mentally and physically prepared for events – if you aren’t then you could find yourself short of energy when you really need it. When it comes to race day, I personally try to stay relaxed and focused throughout the day and preserve my energy for the final as that’s where it really counts.
Do you do any physical training outside of the car?
Absolutely, I go to the gym every other day and try to run as often as I can, each time trying to better myself at the activities I do to ensure improvements.
What has been your most memorable sporting achievement?
To date, my most memorable achievement would be my first year in rallycross – becoming the first female driver to win a rallycross championship is something I will hold in my heart forever.
Have you ever had any hairy moments racing?
I’ve had a few bumps over the years, yes. One moment that I particularly remember the most would be when I used to compete in the Suzuki Swift sport rallycross championship at Lydden Hill. I found myself between two other drivers racing around Devil’s Elbow, and just before the hill I clipped off the inside car and found myself on two wheels. I successfully managed to drive around the corner and hold position before putting the car back on all four wheels and continuing the race.
What’s your advice for women interested in trying rallycross who don’t know where to start?
The first thing would be to find a class that would fit the driver’s budget as the options include buy, build or hire a rallycross car. You would need a licence to suit the class – either national A or B – which is obtained from the MSA (Motor Sports Association). Once you have the necessary licence and the car you would simply enter a meeting via BARC (the British Automobile Racing Club) and turn up and race – it’s that simple.
What are your ultimate goals as a racing driver?
My goals are to always continue bettering myself. I set myself targets each year and will keep them as my goals until I achieve them. The ultimate goal is to compete at world level and to one day become the first female to win a world rallycross championship. Because why not?!
What’s next on the horizon for you this year?
The 2018 season has begun, and the car has undergone a full re-build during the winter. We removed the old 1.8l supercharged Toyota engine, and replaced it with a 2.5l Honda all naturally aspirated power with a Quaife sequential gearbox. Before these essential changes we believe that the car was producing 270bhp, now after making these modifications we hope to be putting out 330bhp and that it will be the difference we need to take this year’s title.
Besides your car are there items of kit that you couldn’t compete without?
Every driver must wear all fireproof clothing including 3-layer overalls, gloves, socks, underwear, balaclava, boots and all this is topped off with a helmet.
Are you sponsored by anyone at the moment?
Yes, I’m very lucky to have some amazing sponsors at the moment. The most recent support has come from Christopher Ward through their Challenger Programme, which helps young talents succeed in achieving their dreams and ambitions. The Challenger Programme offers me financial support which allows me to develop my car, as during the race season every driver is making big changes to their cars as each class becomes more and more competitive. So it’s crucial that we’re able to keep up with competitors in order to achieve our championship goal.
Paige Bellerby is part of the Christopher Ward Challenger Programme, which aims to support individuals in achieving their ambitions.