Race car driving now a woman's game, too

Updated: 2013-07-23 07:20

By Tang Zhe (China Daily)

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 Race car driving now a woman's game, too

Rong Panpan makes her best-ever race last week, finishing seventh in the rookies' group at the Red Bull Super Powaer Chinese Circuit Off-road Championship in Huairou, Beijing. Provided to China Daily

With engines roaring, dust swirling and the occasional rollover, the racing circuit has long been seen as a world for men.

But female driver Rong Panpan is making herself a real challenger to the sport's traditional heroes. The 30-year-old, who started professional racing in 2011, just made her best-ever race last week. She finished seventh in the rookies' group (for drivers with less than three years of racing experience) at the Red Bull Super Power Chinese Circuit Off-road Championship in Huairou, Beijing, held from July 13-15.

Rong had already scooped up the best female driver award in national tournaments, though giving birth to her baby meant taking off a whole year to rest.

Despite Rong's impressive toughness as a female driver, she had little related background, except for driving an automatic car, before joining in the sport.

Her previous role was more like many parents' expectation for their daughters: Rong was an angel in white, working in a hospital for three years, before putting on the racing suits. "I saw an amateur off-road race when hanging out with friends, and one of my friends asked me if I wanted to have a try. It felt good, then I started to practice and become more and more obsessed," says Rong, who had her first professional race after just three amateur competitions in Shandong in May 2011.

"Both being a nurse and racing were my own choices, but the thrill of competing on the circuits turned out to be more dominant," she says.

However, when a hobby turns into a career, the joy is always tempered by the pressure of completing a duty.

Unlike some drivers who are wealthy and can afford the cost of maintaining a car and racing for fun, Rong says, she must strive for good results as a return to her driving team, which supports and pays her.

"There are normally three or four female drivers in each tournament," Rong says. "But some of them just lost confidence and left the circuit when they were unable to post good results.

"The females have no advantage at all when competing with men - in physical condition or knowledge about the mechanism," she says. "I had no idea about vehicle modification at the beginning, and am gradually grasping some knowledge about the chassis, engine and turbo supercharging. But the male drivers can fix the vehicles themselves when they find malfunctions."

Unexpected accidents happen, too.

At a rally at the Alxa League of the Inner Mongolia autonomous region, Rong and some other drivers took the wrong way and went down a 100-meter precipice. Fortunately, the car hit the ground instead of rolling.

At the Red Bull Championship in Beijing this month, the puddles were extremely deep due to the heavy rain. Because of the short and low design of the exhaust pipe of Rong's car, the black smoke generated was pushed inside the cab with water.

"This is the first time it happened, the water already reached my seat, all my shoes and suits were wet, and I had to open the door to release the water and smoke," Rong says.

In spite of the toughness of the game, Rong believes there is no gender difference in choosing a career.

"No matter whether you are a nurse or a racer, the achievement comes from the hard work," Rong says. "There were also male nurses doing much better than the females in my hospital, and I believe I can do better in racing because I love it.

"My goal is first to get into the top six in the rookies' group, and then become a regular hand in the final four," she says. "I want to break the male drivers' dominance of the game, and my dream is to participate in international tournaments like the Dakar Rally."


(China Daily USA 07/23/2013 page10)