More and more women are taking part in the Challenge Series. We talk to two of them
Since 1993 over one thousand amateur drivers have competed in the Ferrari Challenge, on legendary circuits such as Monza, and Fuji in Japan. Eileen Bildman and Lisa Clark are two of the increasing number of female competitors. Both took part in this summer’s Laguna Seca Raceway event in their Ferrari 458 Challenge EVO's. Bildman is coached by Britain’s Katherine Legge, the first woman racer in Formula E, whilst Clark, from Los Angeles, is coached by former ALMS drivers’ champion Gunnar Jeannette.
Speaking trackside at Laguna Seca he said: “Women drivers don’t let a big ego get in the way of learning, the way that some highly successful, Type-A men sometimes do.” His view is confirmed by the sight of Bildman in her crowded trailer, poring over VBOX telemetry data, intently comparing her side-by-side laps with those of Katherine Legge.
“I can see her trajectory here,” says Bildman, jabbing a finger at the computer screen, “where she’s pointed and where I’m pointed, and make that correction to the apex.” Shortly before, she'd been shunted off by a rival's ill-advised pass on the outside of a turn. “I’m a little disgruntled right now,” she admits, quite diplomatically. “I mean, what the hell was he thinking?” She has been around men-and-their-cars more or less from birth. Her grandfather opened Howard’s Auto Service in Baltimore in the 1920’s.
In junior high school she was already cleaning pistons and carburetors, with “the rag hanging out of my little overalls”, she recalls. She first owned what she calls 'fun cars' - usually in red, matching her flaming hair - and ultimately the 1986 Ferrari Testarossa from the original Miami Vice TV show. But she is still modest enough to admit that right up until 2014, “I still didn’t know what an ‘apex’ was.” Bildman's racing career began in an SCCA Miata, until a crash at Summit Point in West Virginia tore a tendon off her right arm.
“I have the bionic elbow now,” she says with a smile, pulling up her sleeve to show the long, tell-tale scar. Her passion for racing has resisted various personal tragedies, such as the rare cancer she herself survived, and the tragic loss of her son, Kevin, who was shot to death in 2002, aged just 22. She now advocates for victims’ rights. Her race number, ‘79’, commemorates the year Kevin was born. She says, “Racing would have been his true love. I feel like he’s the person on my shoulder saying, ‘Mom, you can do this’.”
Like Bildman, Lisa Clark too grew up with grease under her fingernails, starting off riding dirt bikes in Phoenix, Arizona. With her single father, she learned to drive with a manual gearbox in a Ford F-150 pickup. “He always required me to go over 80mph,” Clark says, smiling. “If not, I had to pull over.” That love of speed led to a bad motorcycle crash in 1982 that left her with multiple broken bones.
Marriage and motherhood intervened, but the flame was rekindled by a Ferrari Corso Pilota driving course. At Laguna Seca Clark’s steering rack conked out toward the end of the race. But after some great work by her crew, she was back out the next day. Starting twelfth, she gained four places to take that day’s Ladies Cup, which goes to the highest female finisher.
For her part, Bildman won the Saturday edition of the Ladies Cup, besting two male drivers in the process. She enthuses: "I love the expressions on people’s faces when they ask what I do, and I say, ‘I race in the Ferrari Challenge’.”