Deborah Mayer's passion for Ferrari extends from collecting them to getting behind the wheel in GT racing. Her next target: creating an all-woman équipe for the European Le Mans Series
In keeping with her dynamic approach to life working in High Finance, collecting a magnificent stable of Ferrari cars wasn't quite enough for Deborah Mayer. She wanted to race them too. When she recently visited Fiorano to get up close for the first time with a very special Ferrari 488 GTE, Mayer opened up about her passion for Ferrari. This particular model is central to her determined plans for an all-woman équipe in the upcoming European Le Mans Series (ELMS), in partnership with Kessel Racing.
A dry run in the Gulf 12 Hours of Abu Dhabi last December in a Ferrari 488 GT3 saw Manuela Gostner (Italy), Michelle Gatting (Denmark), and Rahel Frey (Switzerland) notch second place in their category, supported by the FIA Women in Motorsport Commission. “The first outing is at Le Castellet,” confirms Mayer. “That’s a four-hour race.” She admits she'd be satisfied with a second place.
As a schoolgirl she was something of an all-round sportswoman. Then she fell in love with cars. As soon as she turned 18 she took her driving test.
“I still remember the feeling of the steering wheel in my hands,” she says. “The incredible satisfaction of being able to control the car’s power with my right foot and just make that engine roar.” Her first Ferrari? “A 599 GTB Fiorano with a V12 engine.” It had the F1 Superfast transmission. “It had gear shifting in 100 milliseconds,” she declares, her eyes shining at the memory. “The 12-cylinder has a completely unique soundtrack,” she enthuses. “No other engine comes near it!” That said, she has plenty of room in her heart for Ferrari V8s too. It powered the 458 Challenge EVO of her maiden race, and the 488 GT3 of her early GT outings.
Mayer's passion for the track is shared by her partner, Claudio Schiavoni: “We met through work. I soon realised that he was crazy about cars too and loved Ferrari. Then we did the Prancing Horse Corso Pilota driving course together which meant we could get our racing licences.” She is clear-headed about the sport. “Motor racing is tricky, particularly in cars this powerful. Even in gentleman races, the unexpected or even an accident could be just around the corner,” she admits. Which is why they both did around 15,000 kilometres coached by Sergio Pianezzola, Andrea and Giacomo Piccini and Thomas Kemenater, their Kessel Racing team manager, in preparation for the 2016 season.
After a season-and-a-half competing in the Ferrari Challenge Europe, she tried out in GT racing. She knew instantly it was her niche. Imminent motherhood will keep Mayer away from the track for a while, but she already has her sights set on returning for the tail end of the 2019, “and then for the entire championship in 2020.” After the birth of her first child she kept away only for a couple of months before returning, at the famous Le Castellet circuit in her native France. A professional approach to safety is important to her.
That’s one reason they opted to race with Ferrari. “Just knowing that the 488 GTE and GT3 are the safest in their category feels great,” enthuses Mayer. She needs complete confidence in her cars. “As a racing driver you have to trust your vehicle 100 per cent in order to push the limits. So when I am behind the wheel of my Ferrari, I’m totally focused on performance, on what I have to do to get past a rival, on how to deal with the traffic on the track.”