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christina nielsen


In Conversation With: Christina Nielsen

Championship winner, history maker, and co-founder of an incredible organization, Christina Nielsen has been making waves in the world of racing for the past 15 years. We spoke to her about how she got into the sport, her favorite places to race, and upcoming opportunities to get behind the wheel and hone your driving skills at some of the USA’s most iconic racetracks.

Originally hailing from Denmark, Christina Nielsen has raced globally over the past 15 years for top brands including Ferrari and Porsche. Honing her career in the States, she is a two-time champion of the IMSA Weathertech Championship and a one-time champion of the IMSA Endurance Championship. And it was this first championship win in 2016 that cemented her name as a record-breaker, as she became the first-ever woman to win a major full-season sportscar championship in North America, a feat she repeated the following year.

Growing up with Lars Erik Nielsen as her father, a famous racing driver who competed at legendary events such as the 24 Hours of Le Mans to the 24 Hours of Daytona, it seemed only natural that Christina would be behind the wheel. But, as we discovered, it wasn’t her father who first introduced her to the sport.

Breaking down the barriers between men and women in the field, she co-founded Accelerating Change, focusing on creating events and experiences catered to women within the automotive industry. “I’m not a female who’s a sports car driver, I’m a sports car driver who’s a female,” she notably states.

We sat down with Christina to talk all things racing, travel, and how you can get behind the wheel with her.

christina nielsen christina nielsen
christina nielsen christina nielsen

Taking things right back to the beginning, how did you get into racing and how much of an influence was your father in introducing you and increasing your interest in the sport?

My dad was not the instigator. Yes, he was racing, but I played tennis and I really didn’t have an interest in racing until I got invited to a day at the go-kart track. I thought it was a lot of fun, the adrenaline kick and being behind the wheel. Tennis is very much about being a perfectionist and so is racing, so it really caught my attention. But after that, it’s definitely a passion that my dad and I shared together and he’s been a huge part of forming my career throughout the years, for the majority of my career. So he’s definitely played a big role, but he was actually not the first to introduce me to it.

And how old were you when you began?

I was a little bit late as I was 13. Most people now start at about five or six years old. I think it’s very normal for some even earlier.

It’s a testament to your talent and ability to be able to pick it up so late and still have so much success.

I think I just got lucky, you know as we were driving a lot. In other sports, like tennis, of course there’s the psychology behind playing a game but you can do a lot of practise at a court and with a racket, some balls, and somebody to teach you and play with. But with racing, you’re so limited in terms of the track time that you can get, and some championships even have restrictions to how much you can go and drive. So, it’s a bigger setup and that makes it very limited. And that’s why race experience, just driving a lot and doing a lot of races, is probably the best way to grow within the sport.

At that time, what was it like to enter the sport? Especially with it being so male-dominated, did you have any female role models that inspired you?

I don’t think there was anybody per se. There was Danica Patrick and she was a big name over in America and definitely made an impact on the sport, but I don’t think I grew up specifically looking for female role models, I just saw individuals. I don’t think I ever grew up with any restrictions in terms of the mindset being ‘you can’t do this because you’re a woman or because you’re a girl’. When I was young, I was just like, ‘I’m gonna go and do that’.

It’s interesting to see the contrast the landscape from where you started to now. How did you come to understand that it wasn’t as common for women to be racing so competitively, and I daresay, beating all of the people that weren’t expecting to be beaten by you?

I feel like sometimes women start from minus one and men start from zero. It takes longer to gain that respect, but once you have it, it’s a special moment. Especially when one of your male competitors walks up to you and shakes your hand and says, “Man, you did a good job”. So I guess it just makes it that much more special when there’s that kind of mutual respect, which is pretty cool.

As a professional racing driver, I imagine you’ve traveled all over the world, racing in various locations. Is there anywhere that stands out as a destination that you find most captivating? Or any destinations that really surprised you?

I have two answers. One misconception that there is about the kind of lifestyle that you live as a race car driver is people say, ‘Oh, you go to all these amazing destinations’. And I say, ‘Yeah, I see a racetrack, a hotel, and an airport. And that’s it.’ So when my career was at its busiest, I didn’t see a lot. It was essentially a priority thing: Do I want to stay an extra two days and play a tourist and spend your energy, or do I want to go home and recharge my batteries? So it’s always a trade-off when it’s a busy schedule. But as I started racing a little bit less towards the end, I definitely did stop and enjoy some locations. Also because I lived in America, I really got to appreciate how much you could do and how much you could see within one country.

I’m hosting a trip in October [2023] to do exactly that by giving people the opportunity to get behind the wheel and improve their driving skills at some of America’s best race tracks, but balancing that with great food, hotels, company, and off track experiences that offer guests a true sense of place.

To find out more about Christina’s latest Exclusive Driving Experience get in touch with our team here who will be able to provide program details and assist in securing one of the last remaining seats.

And outside of the US, are there any other any places that you have come across that made an impact on you?

I would say Australia. I went there for one race, and a friend of mine flew out so we could spend a week or six days after the race, and we split our time between Sydney and Brisbane road tripping and stopping at different places. One of the things I like about the road trips is the random little cafes that aren’t the Instagram ones that everyone goes to. I love stopping and thinking ‘All right, there’s a little local cafe. It looks nice. Let’s go there’. I love the little corner spots.

I think there are bucket list items, like some of the restaurants on a Michelin Guide, that you perhaps want to go and visit but I love also experiencing the local cuisine and seeing nature. I’m definitely the type of person who would much rather always go to a nature destination rather than a museum. It just doesn’t capture my interest. For me, it was about just embracing the fact that each day we’d have a start and an end destination with nothing planned in between, and we’ll take the day as it comes. I’m a huge wine and food person and food is a very big part of whenever I travel. I think for me, the biggest surprise was the style of eating in Australia and how accommodating they were to people with limited food restrictions. So it was the little local places. I won’t remember the name, but I remember the food and it was amazing.

Could you share more of your hobbies and passions outside of racing, beyond your passion for cuisine and fine wine? Are you into any of the other kind of extreme sports?

I recently took my diving certificate. I actually hired a guy who does underwater photography who does excursions in different places of the world which are very authentic. When you’re in the ocean, it’s not about having the fanciest boat but about having the right crew with the right equipment going to the right location. Outside of racing, I feel like I had to find something else that was going to be pushing my comfort zones. Most people can find it intimidating or scary going into a shark-filled ocean. The fear that I had from making something up in my head really changed as I was diving in. I was seeing the sharks and I was looking at it thinking ‘okay, nothing happened, we’re cool’. It just minds its own business. So now when I’m thinking about my next vacation, I’m thinking about what are the best diving spots in the world.

When you sit behind the wheel of a race car, you don’t have time to look at your phone and you’re not going to be present anywhere else than what you’re doing because you’re so focused. When you go underwater, you have no sense of what happens in the real world, no idea what goes on. I like getting into that space, especially when you live a hectic life. The ocean removes any distractions that you could have.

You were one of the first female drivers to work with a few well-known car brands, such as Porsche and Ferrari. Can you tell us more about that? And do you have a favourite car to race or drive?

I have a Porsche road car, but I would say since my two biggest achievements were my championships in America, and I won those together with Scuderia Corsa and Alessandro Balzan, my full-time co-driver, in a Ferrari so that brand is always going to have a special place in my heart. I think Ferrari did build an amazing race car, but I also want to give props to my team because every manufacturer tries to build the best race car out there, but it’s so much more than the final product. It’s also how you maintain it, how you work on it, and your team’s effort. So I would probably say Ferrari has a special place in my heart when it comes to my racing past, but Porsche builds amazing cars for the road and I still work with Porsche in Denmark. It’s always nice to be working with brands that want to deliver the best and set the bar high.

Throughout your career, I’m sure you’ve witnessed a lot of change, even a change in sentiment. How much change have you seen over the past 10 years? Aould talk about what you would like to do in the future, both personally and the direction of the sport.

Absolutely, I do think there’s been a change. I am seeing way more women on the grid in my line of racing than 10 years ago, which I really love. It’s not only about just being there, it’s also about being competitive. When I was living in the US, I had an organization called Accelerating Change together with my business partner, where we put on track days for women, trying to be that springboard for them to explore our passion for being behind the wheel and driving in a safe space where they could progress. I call us a springboard because a lot of women might have done their first track day ever with us. But then once they’d been with us, they would go and join the ‘normal’ track days with men and women. I really enjoyed seeing the women come out of the car with a smile on their face, being super happy because they felt more confident behind the wheel, getting that adrenaline kick.

I think that’s what the next trip is sort of also combining: it’s my experience in racing, giving away my knowledge that I’ve obtained over the last 15 years, and executing and making sure that people had a great experience during the track days.

christina nielsen
christina nielsen

Looking ahead at the future of racing, where do you think it’s going? What do you think racing might look like in 10, or 20, years’ time? Is it Formula E? Or is it some other form of racing that you think might grow in popularity? How do you think the future is going to play out in the world of racing?

Formula E has been first and foremost when it came to producing race cars that were battery charged or electrical. We’re seeing it now in the Championships that I used to race in, and we’re seeing it at Le Mans with the LMDh [Le Mans Daytona h] cars which are now competing so I definitely see the world moving in this direction. I’m a petrolhead myself, I can’t help it. I even think it smells good. I hope they won’t completely disappear, but I do think optimising the process of how we burn fuel is important, maybe replacing in some form with hybrid or electricity. I think it’s great that we’re moving forward and making changes and I think that’s what’s going to keep the industry and the manufacturers sharp in terms of always wanting to produce the newest, the latest. In the end, normally something starts with the race car and then it moves down into the wider categories of the automotive industry.

How does the performance differ between electric and combustion? I understand that the power from an electric car can create impressive speed results.

It’s impressive. People sometimes feel sick because it’s so fast, especially considering how many kilos it moves. Even I had to get used to it in the beginning because it has no sound, your body is surprised when it moves, like it’s not quite ready for it. It is impressive what they’ve built. I think the biggest challenge for the industry that I’m looking forward to seeing them tackle is the battery, the charging, and the lifespan of the batteries. Everyone who has driven an electric vehicle knows that when you’re driving like you’re late for something the battery goes down a lot quicker. So imagine when you’re a racing driver and you’re using every ounce the car has to offer and every inch on the race track. Brands need to stay on top of it as they need to outperform each other and that’s the beauty of racing.

And finally, what would you say to anybody looking to get into racing? Do you have any advice?

If you’re young or you have a child, go-karting is a great way to start and a fun way to do it with your friends. Reality is, if you start as an adult, a lot of adults go to track days. At mine, somebody could show up in a Honda Civic from 2000 or it could be the newest McLaren or Ferrari, but it’s not really about what you drive. I can confidently say that if you gave me the Honda and if somebody who attended my track days had a Ferrari, I could definitely keep up with them and probably even beat them. There’s a lot to learn throughout the years, a lot of growth and development, but you also get to be part of a great community, and that’s part of what we’re trying to do with this group. We want to bring a group together that are going to connect and create a community where individuals are sharing a passion and getting to experience something really cool together. So if you’re planning on attending a track day, pick one that’s limited to how many can attend as you don’t want to be overwhelmed by how many cars are on the track. I’ve always been a big believer in having less track time but having quality track time, which is what I’m trying to do with this experience.


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