Nabila Tejpar is a rally driver for PT Racing, competing in the British Rally Championship, Peugeot Cup Iberica, and European Championship. Nabila is an award-winning ambassador for Essex, working to help increase and encourage more participation of women and diversity in motorsport. She started her career in marketing and management, having specialised in international business and entrepreneurial management through a degree at Kogod School of Business in Washington DC.
“People always assume motorsport is all about driving but you might want to be the mechanic or an engineer – the things behind the scenes that help us be the best at what we do. Don’t forget that motorsport is also a business – there are aspects like marketing and logistics too. There are so many different areas you can be involved in as a woman in the sport. Think broadly – there are so many avenues.”
A quick pit stop at university
I am a rally driver and I’ve been rallying and competing for about five years now.
When I’ve tried rallying for the first time, I fell in love with it, so I told my parents that I knew what career I wanted to pursue. However, my mum told me I had to go to university first, so I went to the Kogod School of Business at the American University and got a degree in international business entrepreneurship and management, and international relations.
When I turned 21, I handed my degree transcript to my mother and said: “OK, now I’m rallying.” That is how my whole career started and I’ve never looked back since.
How a rallying works
A typical day for me depends on whether I’m on a racing week or on a normal one. If it is a normal week, I’d be doing a lot of training, and some simulator work. I’ll have bits and pieces that I need to sort out for upcoming events as well. If it is a racing week, there are a few different things that happen. It takes us between one to four days to prepare for an event, depending on the size of it.
For bigger events, we first need to do a recce of the course before we sit down with our co-drivers and write pace notes for the events. After that, we will have what is called a ‘shakedown’: you try out the car with your co-driver, on a route anywhere between 1.5 to 3 kilometres long. Sometimes we don’t have that, and we go straight into the event, which usually takes one day, depending on the kilometres you have to run.
Our rallies run with stages, and the stages can be anywhere from 2 kilometres to 50 kilometres. We’ll be driving around all day to clear all stages. The stages are timed, so rallying is like a time trial: Your time will start at the moment you cross the starting line, and it stops when you cross the stopline. The overall winner is the person who’s cleared all the stages in the quickest amount of time.
Finding someone you ‘click’ with
Ideally, you always want to have the same co-driver, but over the years I’ve had to try different people to find out who I’ve liked. It’s a partnership, and if you don’t get along with the person sitting next to you it can make things really difficult.
I’ve worked with a few over the years – it’s all about finding someone you can ‘click’ with. I work alongside my awesome co-driver (who happens to be a man, so there’s good gender balance!). It’s a great partnership and things are now starting to feel more consistent.
Due to COVID-19, I went from almost attending 13 to 15 events a year to managing to only managing to get to three. COVID really impacted my whole career – it cancelled most of the championships I was meant to be competing in last year and I was also meant to be driving a new car, which is a step-up from my junior-level car from the year before.
My job is so dependent on being able to travel and compete so I ended up getting my real estate licence in Florida so that I would have something to do in my spare time when I’m not able to compete. Therefore, now I have been working as a realtor at DWELL Real Estate on the side.
COVID-19 measures in the rally racing world
When events were running last year your team was basically your ‘bubble’, which consisted of a service crew (who work on the car), me, and my co-driver. We were all COVID tested before we were allowed into anywhere where there were a lot of people, like the service area.
We also needed COVID tests within 72 hours of entering the rally venue, which was operating on a reduced number of personnel. They put safety measures in place and the events were very well organised. I have no idea what it will be like this year.
Motorsport in the genes
I am third-generation motorsport in my family, which is really fun because my grandfather and my father have done it, but I never thought it was an option for me. I used to go to rallies when I was younger and I loved the atmosphere. However, there wasn’t a single moment in time where I thought I could become a driver.
I joked around saying I would love to be a racing driver when I grew up, but at that time you couldn’t see many women involved in sport. That meant there were no role models in order to make it seem like a viable career path for me. It wasn’t until I was around 16 that I realised there were a couple of other girls in the sport and I had the chance to meet them.
I ended up starting my career in a very different way and a lot later than normal but despite the late start I’ve still managed to progress in the same way and learn as I’m rallying. I do think that you can start at any age.
Compared to the average guy who starts in karting when he’s younger I’d lost a lot of years as they would have been on to Formula 1000 at the age of 14 or 15. I started at the age of 21.
I’ve always liked the fact that rallying is a mixed level playing field because it’s the only sport out there that still is.
I’ve been incredibly lucky over the years to have found sponsorship in order to compete because this sport is super expensive. If you don’t have the funds to be able to compete it’s challenging to get to where you want to be in the first place. I’ve been lucky over the years accessing sponsorship. A lot of that has been through small companies that have wanted to work with me and are supportive of what I’m doing, but trying to get major sponsorship is extremely difficult, especially with COVID.
One of the only female drivers of Asian decent
I’m probably one of the only female drivers in Europe of Asian descent. My goal is competing in the World Rally Championship. I’ve always aspired to be the first woman in the championship since Michèle Mouton, which was back in the 1980s.
My secondary goal is to encourage women into the sport, but my ultimate goal is to encourage people from different ethnic backgrounds into any sport.
Motorsport is not just about driving
My advice to any young girls or women who are interested in getting involved in motorsport is to just do it. I know that sounds hard, but I was fortunate in the sense of I had family that understood what motorsport was about and how to get in but with all the information out there on the Internet, you can just go for it! Do a little research and follow some women who are involved in the sport on social media to see what they’re up to.
People always assume motorsport is all about driving but you might want to be the mechanic or an engineer – the things behind the scenes that help us be the best at what we do. Don’t forget that motorsport is also a business – there are aspects like marketing and logistics too. There are so many different areas you can be involved in as a woman in the sport. Think broadly – there are so many avenues.
I hope as more of us are now starting to talk about what we’re doing within the sport, that we’ll at least start the conversation for the next generation and also any women who want to get involved.
Having my parents right behind me
I’m really lucky that I’ve got such a supportive family. Competing would be so much more difficult if I didn’t have my parents involved.
As an experienced driver himself my dad loves to be able to support me. I think he very much wanted to be at the level that I’ve reached so it’s nice for him to live vicariously through me. My mum is also a key part of my growth in racing. She always questions me and pushes me to be the best that I can be.
When I’ve had my first accident back in 2016, mum asked me if I wanted to continue rallying and when I told her that I absolutely wanted to, she just said she would just have to learn not to worry about it. Parents are always going to worry but the sport is incredibly safe.
Navigating around the obstacles
At the moment I’m not sure what’s coming up this year but there are a few plans in the works. With everything that’s happened, we’re trying to make plans a little bit smaller and concise to be able to actually get something done.
I’ll probably do a lot of competing out in Spain and Portugal again, and then I’m trying to get some money raised to be able to do a couple of events in the United States.
I don’t necessarily think there’ll be a British Championship this year and it may be a bit of a struggle to move up into the next car that I wanted, so I think that my five-year plan has been pushed back another couple of years.
Therefore, I am just hoping to be able to get out to do some work, and then carry on and reach my ultimate goal of reaching the World Rally Championships within the next three to five years. It’s going to definitely throw a spanner in the works, but we’ll work around it and see what we can do.