Leading A Race Might Work For Women In The IRL... In American Le Mans, Liz Halliday Wins! Story by John Thawley If you mention women in racing these days, it's most likely that conversation will turn to the diva of the IRL, Danica Patrick. Not...
Leading A Race Might Work For Women In The IRL... In American Le Mans, Liz Halliday Wins!
Story by John Thawley
If you mention women in racing these days, it's most likely that conversation will turn to the diva of the IRL, Danica Patrick.
Not so in the "put up or shut up" world of sportscar endurance racing. In an arena where only the strong survive, the woman to watch is Liz Halliday. And make no mistake about it, Liz is the real deal.
An accomplished International Equestrian rider, it doesn't matter if Liz is controlling one horse or the 600 residing under the hood of her American Le Mans Series Intersport Racing AER Lola LMP2 car. This 5'9" Californian gets it done.
Now based in Surrey, England, Liz has big goals as an International GT and Sports Car racer, and as an International Equestrian in Three-Day Eventing. She's definitely a sporty woman, accomplished in ski racing, scuba diving and kickboxing. She is a BHS qualified riding instructor, and a qualified race-driving instructor.
Before moving to the UK, she studied for a marine biology degree for three years at the University of California Santa Barbara, and has vowed to resume her studies in England at a later date. Completing her degree is one of Liz's long-term goals, along with representing the USA in the Olympic Games and winning at Le Mans... and to be "a paid and professional racing driver."
Her racing career, inspired by her father's, opened in 1996 with the SCCA, and the Vintage Auto Racing Association (VARA). She won three races outright in her first full season, 1998, driving a Datsun 510. After a 2 year break from racing, Liz drove a BMW M3 E30 in the Kumho BMW Championship and EERC Britcar in 2001.
Campaigning the same car in 2002, she was named "Driver of the Season" and had numerous top 5 finishes. In 2003 she had a win, a new lap record, and "driver of the day" at Croft, before moving up to the British GT Championship half way through the season. Since then, Liz has made GT and Sports Car racing the main focus of her racing career.
We watched Liz put the Intersport Racing AER Lola through it's paces at the recent American Le Mans Series Winter Test. Liz shares the driving with Clint Field, whom she will partner throughout the 2006 American Le Mans Series, as well as Clint's father and team owner Jon, who will also drive at Sebring. In the first day sessions, Liz shrugged off her early quick times noting that the new Audi R10s were just shaking things down... but admitted being faster was fun, none-the-less.
"There were several new cars there," Liz explained, "including the Audi R10s and the Lola LMP1 and they were shaking down to start with. I thought that it was quite funny, being quicker than the brand new works Audis!"
As you'd expect from any true competitor, Liz shrugged off the morning elation and focused on the task at hand.
"There was much work to do in preparation for the opening round of the '06 season," she noted. "The AER Lola is fundamentally the same specification as we used last year but with a couple of developments carried out over the winter. What we wanted to achieve at the test was to come away with a set-up that will give us a quick car that is as easy to drive as possible for the long race."
"Although we made good progress," she continued, "there are limits to what we could achieve at the circuit. So now, the crew will continue with the development of the car when they get back to the workshop and introduce a few more changes, including a new aerodynamics package from Lola. So I'm positive that by the time we get to the start, we will have a quick, well-handling and reliable race car. In terms of lap times, I was quite pleased with the test. I ended up just 0.5 seconds off Clint's laps, which was closer than I've been before and closer to where I hoped to be."
The bumpy Sebring circuit is particularly demanding and understanding the physical loads on the driver is as important as those on the car. Liz shared her thoughts on the track.
"Sebring is a tough track; it's very fast and bumpy and incredibly physical. I realized that I need to improve my endurance and upper body strength for the race, and I want to make sure I am as well prepared as I can be. So I have been speaking to a trainer and have worked out a fitness plan to achieve this between now and the race. It's exactly this kind of thing that you need to figure out at Sebring. It can make a real difference to how you feel and how you perform."
Reflecting on the importance of Sebring and its legacy, Halliday looked forward to the race:
"Sebring is unique because of its years of history and heritage, but also because of its bumpy, high speed corners and the technical nature of the circuit. Doing the 12 Hours of Sebring is harder than a 24 Hour race, like Le Mans, I think. A lot of people find it the toughest event of the year but that's all part of what makes it special. And after this test, I'm very excited and looking forward to being back in the car with Clint and Jon for the race."
That last statement is very telling of Liz Halliday. Liz is a competitor and she's won races to prove it. In 2005, she won from the pole at Infineon Raceway, she won at Mosport and was on top of the LMP2 podium at the Road Atlanta 1000 miles Petit Le Mans.
While the idea of women going fast might be enjoying a certain amount of PR novelty of late, let it be known that's not what Liz Halliday is about. Liz Halliday is for real.
John Thawley, owner of Trackbytes.com allowed Motorsport.com his exlclusive feature on Liz Halliday.