"Steve McQueen blurred the lines between acting and racing as efficiently as he blurred the photographs of keen fans trying to capture him at over 200mph. Of course, he was not the only one. Actors often have a stab at "
Charlie Martin – Racer
Who is Charlie Martin?
“I got over the wall first time”.
Not something you expect to hear from a racing driver whilst talking about their achievements to date, but then Charlie Martin is a racer like no other.
The wall in question, you’ll be pleased to know, was not the famed flint at Goodwood, nor a divider between pitlanes and 200mph cars – the wall was, in fact, the final challenge of the Ninja Warrior obstacle course.
Charlie was taking part in the ITV show after her brother had introduced her to it on TV, and (clearly one to take on a challenge) she signed up. Having sprinted through the preliminary rounds she conquered the course on the ITV show, booking a spot in the semifinals with a first-attempt run up ‘The Wall’, and sending a clear message to viewers as well as racing drivers and fans across the UK – Charlie’s a real athlete.
She’s now looking forward to her first full season of circuit racing at the wheel of a Ginetta in Protyre Motorsport Ginetta GT5 Challenge with Richardson Racing after cutting her teeth in hill climbs and endurance racing. Having already racked up over 1,000km in testing in different conditions, she’s ready to take on the best.
Her story so far in motorsport shows that, just like on the obstacle course, sprinting through qualification has been a bit of a habit for her; and her private life shows she’s not scared to take on some rather huge walls in a metaphorical sense.
Charlie, you see, was gendered male at birth. She was part of a Leicestershire family with an engineering background (Percy Martin Ltd is the family business, Percy having been her great-grandfather) and inevitably grew up with an interest in cars. When it came to driving, she was hooked, and took on the tricky British Hillclimbing scene by competing in a Peugeot 205 GTI from 2004 onwards. Working on the car herself, she knew how to get the best out of both the car and the driver. After 4 years of fitting the competitions between daily life, she decided to move up a gear or two and entered hillclimbs in a Westfield SEi.
After two years in the Westfield competing as a male in an industry which was still very male-heavy, Charlie began her transition to a female, aware of what a huge wall this was going to be. Such were the huge implications on her day-to-day life whilst transitioning, she made the decision to sit out of competing for the whole of 2012, whilst figuring out how the change was going to affect her passion for competition.
The problem with true passion, however, is that it doesn’t simply disappear, especially when it’s something you’re really good at. And so, in 2013, she returned to competition. By 2014 her confidence was back where it should be and she competed in France where the courses were even more challenging – often over double the length of those in the UK and on closed public roads. In one competition, she broke the course record by two seconds, and so left second-placed finisher three seconds away from her on the timesheets. It was clear this was more than just a hobby.
Hopping across the channel became commonplace, and as her competitiveness grew she upgraded to an out-and-out racer – a Formula Renault. In time, she’d worked out a system of leaving the car in France whilst she returned home, picking it up each time she went to compete. Soon, a motorhome was needed so she set about building one herself in just four months, complete with tail-lift, living area and shower etc. and in 2015 she attended every round of the championship in France, still doing all the mechanical work on the car herself.
After the Formula Renault, she turned to racing a Norma M20FC prototype, increasing her average speeds above anything she’d previously thought possible. At the same time as competing in such a high-speed category, however, she realised there may not be a future in hillclimbing.
It was hard to achieve the exposure she needed in France too. After a foray in endurance racing, competing in a three-hour race at Le Mans in the Norma alongside Nicolas Shatz, plus outings in Mini Coopers and racing at the annual Race of Remembrance event at the Anglesey circuit (where she was part of the PT Sportscars team that finished second in Class B) her mind was set.
With the opportunity arising with Richardson Racing the chance to race on UK circuits in front of huge crowds was simply too good to miss.
One of the great things about racing cars is that, from the stands, you see a car in action – taking on the stopwatch and (in circuit racing) dicing with other drivers for the top step of the podium. In racing, your gender and how you choose to present yourself has no bearing on the result.
Age, gender, race, disability and many other factors are completely beyond the comprehension of a stopwatch – and for that reason, all that matters during the race are skill, effort, experience, coolness under pressure and determination, all something Charlie has in spades.
Add a background in engineering (handy when setting up a car) and a friendly approachable demeanour (handy when attracting sponsorship), and Charlie Martin is one to watch in 2018 and beyond, aiming one day to compete as the first transgender racer ever at the Le Mans 24 hour race – where Ginetta themselves are cutting their teeth in 2018.
If you want to follow Charlie’s racing, the first race weekend of the Protyre Motorsport Ginetta GT5 Challenge is this weekend at Oulton Park, falling on the same weekend as Transgender Day of Visibility – the perfect opportunity to show the motorsport world what transgender racers are really capable of.
The whole grid will be looking to challenge her for points and podiums this year, let’s just hope they aren’t foolish enough to race her over a ninja obstacle course, too, because we know who we’d be backing.
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