Last week was rather incredible. I was asked a few months ago to speak at the FIA Sports Conference in Geneva and I couldn’t really believe that I’d been invited! I looked at the speaker list that included Toto Wolff, Mark Webber, Michelle Mouton (to name but a few) and thought, what the hell do they want me there for?! I absolutely jumped at the chance and rearranged my week to accommodate a trip down to Geneva.
We drove down in the Turbo as the flight times just wouldn’t work for us, and to be honest – any excuse to take the Turbo on a European road trip! After a short blast through France on Monday, we arrived on Tuesday afternoon in Geneva just in time for the start of the conference. As we were chaperoned to our seats I couldn’t help but notice a room full of absolute motorsport legends and started to feel very out of place at such an event. We were seated next to a tall, handsome Finish chap who immediately introduced himself to us, ‘Hello, I’m Ari. Nice to meet you.’ None other than Ari Vatanen had made space for us on his table and was keen to find out who I was and what I was doing at the conference. Andrew and him quickly started swapping rally stories in-between Ari heckling Carlos Sainz Senior who was talking on stage about rallying in the 90’s. I genuinely couldn’t believe I’d been invited to be part of this but I started to settle in.
I wasn’t due to speak until day three of the conference but the second day was great to experience and I got to meet up with people I’d met previously at The Women In Motorsport conference last year in Portugal. Michelle Mouton greeted me like an old friend and introduced Andrew and me to her daughter Jessie. We chatted briefly about my race at Silverstone and she asked how I was getting on with my season. Susie Wolff came along to speak in the afternoon and I said a quick hello before she went on stage. I told her I felt a bit of a fraud being there and I was nervous about speaking the following day. She turned to me and said something that I’ll never forget, ‘don’t be nervous’, she said ‘these people are honoured to hear you speak.’ And just like that all the nerves went. I suddenly realised that there was no hierarchy at the conference, that we were all there for exactly the same reason, to develop the sport that we’ve all fallen in love with. No matter how far we’d got with the sport, what we’d achieved or how famous we were, we were all one big racing family sharing our experiences and offering ways for improvement.
My talk the following day went really well. I spoke openly and honestly about my experiences getting my race licence, touching on problems with the current system and offered ways to improve it. I then offered ways to encourage more disabled people into the sport giving examples from the success of Dare To Be Different, our newly formed charity Spinal Track and most significantly about the importance of safety when it comes to disabled racing, voicing my ‘no compromise’ attitude. Jean Todt led the applause and greeted me off the stage congratulating me on my success. Later that evening I got to chat to the man who I, like many others, hold so much respect for, it was an absolute privilege to spend the evening in his presence. Having supper in the UN Building sitting next to Jean Todt is something that I’ve never done before and don’t think I’ll get to do again and I feel extremely lucky to be given these opportunities.
The FIA is a very special and unique organisation that has some extremely important people working for it. It’s values focus on road safety and it’s absolute devotion to that cause are highly admirable. But for me the best thing about the FIA is it’s ability to unite our sport. Motorsport is an all or nothing passion and the risks for competing in it are substantial. But it’s these very factors that bring the motorsport community together as one big family, everyone supporting each other in whatever discipline we choose to partake in. The FIA is the very glue that holds us together and I for one couldn’t be more proud to be part of this family that is born out of a love of something that not many understand but for those that do, it’s an absolute way of life.