Racecar driver Samantha Tan is speeding past barriers in motorsports

by Ana  Breton

Samantha Tan remembers the moment she realized that relationships between women and men in racecar driving were not the same. She was congratulating another woman driver after a race when a photographer stopped her on the sidelines. He told her that throughout his time covering races, he noticed that women competitors always supported each other while men held grudges. “Women in motorsports is a very small community. We all know each other,” Tan says. “So, if there’s another female driver, you’re going to be supportive. We all relate to the struggles of breaking into the sport.”

Tan started solo racing at 16. Her father, a big Formula 1 enthusiast, took Tan to racetracks when she was little and continues to watch her race today. Now 25, Tan continues to break barriers in the traditionally male-dominated field of motorsports.

She was the first Canadian woman to become overall champion of a major endurance series and the first woman to win a championship title in the Pirelli World Challenge. Most recently, she became the first Asian woman to win the 24H Dubai and the 24H Barcelona. Unlike fixed-distance races, 24H races test the endurance of their drivers, with a team taking turns for extended periods of time. The car that covers the greatest distance in 24 hours wins. To prepare for an endurance race, Tan eats clean, works out five days a week (lots of cardio and strength training) and banks as much sleep as she can. She’ll also study YouTube videos of the track so she can visualize the race. “There’s added pressure to be perfect because there are so few women doing it,” says Tan, who spends weeks at a time competing away from her home in Irvine, CA. “As soon as you make a mistake, people blame it on the fact that you’re a woman, and it sucks.” 

Not only does Tan race, but she also owns Samantha Tan Racing, joining only a handful of other women who own professional racing teams. That means that on top of training and competing, she’s in charge of organizing documents, booking hotels, marketing, and much more. She also manages her social media where she connects with over 125K fans. Her Instagram feed is a mix of racing updates, bold gel manicures, and vulnerable posts about what it’s like being a Chinese Canadian woman in motorsports. “There were a lot of times when I didn’t feel like there was a role model I could look to,” says Tan. “It’s scary to be so open, but it’s worth it. I’ve had girls tell me that I’m the reason they got into racing or cars. So, that makes everything that I’m doing worth it.” 

Of course, sexism will always be par for the course. But Tan tries not to focus on negative comments. “A lot of the time, I’ll use it as fuel,” Tan says of racecar enthusiasts who don’t want women on the track. “I really want to prove this person wrong, and there’s nothing better than proving people wrong by winning a really big race.”


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