Pippa is racing to top in a Mann's world

Ipswich racing driver Pippa Mann is rapidly turning heads in the world of motor sport following her rise to the World Series by Renault 3.5 Championships.

Stuart Watson

Ipswich racing driver Pippa Mann is rapidly turning heads in the world of motor sport following her rise to the World Series by Renault 3.5 Championships.

Evening Star reporter Stuart Watson spoke to the determined 23-year-old about overcoming sexism, social sacrifice and language barriers in her passionate pursuit of a promising career.

As the James Brown song says; 'It's a man's world'. And doesn't Pippa Mann just know it.

But while other high profile women have felt the need to become more masculine in order to reach the top, Mann has thrown out a 'take me as I am' vibe that hasn't always sat comfortably within the motor sport fraternity.

“I always know that there are going to some drivers that will cause me problems because there is always going to be this underlying thing that they don't want to lose to a girl,” said Mann.

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“A lot of other female drivers deal with it by turning up at the tracks looking like tomboys but I have never done that. As far as I'm concerned I am a girl and you either like it or you don't. I'm not going to change just to please people.

“I do like to look like a girl. I have long blonde hair and often wear a skirt rather than jeans. I'm not trying to make a statement or ram home the point, it's just who I am.

“Do drivers treat me differently on the track because of it? I'd love to answer differently, but sadly the answer is yes.

“There are drivers out there that will try and take me out of a race. It shouldn't happen, but I can tell you it does.”

Growing up, Mann admits that she liked both stereotypical boys' and girls' activities, flitting between climbing trees and racing around on her bike to tending to her Barbie dolls.

But although she enjoyed watching motor sport on television and had been with her father to a few big races, Mann's future stardom in racing wasn't to begin until the relatively late age of 13.

“I can't really remember why it happened,” explained Mann. “It must have been someone's birthday or something, but I ended up at the indoor karting track in Ipswich and just thought it was great.”

After finally persuading her father to take her back to the track, Mann joined the junior karting club where it became apparent very soon that she had a natural talent behind the wheel.

Outgrowing the indoor track, Mann moved outdoors to Beccles where she raced just once a month for a year and a half.

It had been a promising yet hardly explosive start to life behind the wheel. Those who had seen Mann in action were convinced of her potential, but having started at the age of 13 she was still playing catch-up with her peers.

It was at that moment, at the age of 17, that Mann made a huge life changing decision, informing her family that she intended to move to Italy to concentrate on racing karts professionally.

She explains: “By starting racing at the age of 13 I was a very, very late starter. At 17 I had the choice of either starting in cars straight away or going abroad and continuing my racing education in karts.

“It may have been the hardest possible way of doing things but I knew it was the way I would learn the most.”

Living in the north of the country between Milan and Venice, Mann quickly learnt the language and worked as a waitress in a pizza restaurant to help pay the bills.

Despite the Italian culture not always fitting in with the notion of this independent and determined girl chasing her dream, Mann spent four years in total in the country.

The risk certainly paid off though as during her time there Mann clocked up numerous gender related milestones as she rapidly improved as a driver.

In her debut season of Karting Formula A she became the first British female to win an international kart race and the only female to make the finals of the competition's World Cup that year.

The following year she became one of only two females to enter Formula A's World and European Championships.

Reflecting on her time abroad, Mann said: “It made me grow up a lot more quickly,” said Mann. “The experience certainly helped me though because I think if you look at the most successful racing drivers the they are a lot more mature than the average person their age. You only have to look at the likes of Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso for example.

“Saying that, because I've probably skipped a certain phase in growing up, I've got this thing I call my inner two year-old.

“When something winds me up I really have to have a word with myself to stop me seeking some kind of immediate childish pay back.”

It is this mix of youthful fearlessness, combined with a level head way beyond her years, that has seen Mann not only catch up her peers but, in most cases, over take them.

She readily admits that there were many, including members of her own family, that did not want her to go to Italy, but then again, Mann doesn't seem the type to let other people's opinions halt her relentless drive towards her goals.

“Whenever someone tells me I shouldn't be doing something it just makes me even more determined to do it,” she explains.

“I have had to leave some people behind as I have gone along. I've had relationships end in the past because they simply couldn't understand that the racing is always going to come first.

“I've had to accept that the prospect of having children might not come until later in life, if at all, because of what I do. But I wouldn't have it any other way.

“If you do things half-heartedly then you don't get what you want out of it. There is no use playing at something because you are not going to get the results.”

She added: “My mother certainly had reservations about me dropping out of the education system at 17 and chasing a career in motor sport, but when she saw how determined I was when I got back she became my biggest supporter.

“There are a lot of parallels between my mum and I. When she was forging her way as a businesswoman 20 years ago there wasn't many women in her profession so she had to be very determined to get to where she is.

“Those that know us certainly say I'm my mother's daughter.”

The result is that, at 23 years of age, Mann has the world at her feet.

In just her second season of the World Series by Renault 3.5 Championships Mann is regularly racing in front of 100,000 spectators, has already got her own online fan club and is asked for autographs the world over.

Playing devil's advocate I ask if there is any chance of her taking the foot off the gas?

“People outside of racing might look at me as successful but to me I'm no where near there just yet.

“For all the recognition I still get people coming up to me in the pits thinking I'm the girlfriend of a driver.”

The Godfather of Soul was obviously right, it is a 'man's world', or perhaps that should be a 'Mann's world'.