She is only 29, but Tasmin Pepper has been in the motor racing world for more than two decades – she started with go-carting at the age of four. Born in Edenvale, Ekurhuleni, Pepper grew up in a family of racing drivers – her father Iain and grandfather David raced professionally.
Pepper finished tenth out of 18 finalists in this year’s W Series competition and she has automatically qualified for next year’s event. City Press met up with her at the recent festival of Motoring in Kyalami.
What will you do differently next year?
This year was obviously a big learning curve for me, particularly because I have been competing in a front-wheel-drive vehicle and had to race in a single-seater again. It feels different and handles a bit better.
So I had to adjust my driving style to that. Every track was new, the car was new, so I was learning in every round we went through. Now that I know what to expect, I think I just need to prepare a little bit more going into it next year.
Do women in sport receive the necessary support?
I don’t think women in any type of sport are noticed enough or receive the support they deserve. Not just in sport, but in everything, including business. I think people need to start taking women more seriously because women have a lot of potential and need to be given the right opportunities.
Is there recognition of women in the male-dominated car racing world?
Racing is more male-dominated, but we are seeing more women taking up the sport. That is beautiful to see, and something such as the W Series gives women the opportunity to showcase their talent.
What is your advice for young girls who aspire to be in your position one day?
Motorsport is difficult to get into and it’s hard for me to tell someone how to go about it. I was lucky that my father raced and that is how I got involved – we kind of knew the right people.
It will take a lot of hard work and a lot of money. Unfortunately, that’s the way it is. It’s a very expensive sport, but if it is something you want to do, go for it.
It doesn’t matter if you are a girl from a township or a girl from Sandton, either way it will require the same amount of talent and dedication.
Motor racing has been part of Tasmin Pepper’s life since she was four. She will race again in next year’s W Series. Picture: Supplied/ W Series
Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
This is my 25th year racing. Every year, you are trying to better yourself and now I have made it into the W Series. It was a tough challenge and something completely out of my comfort zone. Even though I made it into this series, it does not mean that I suddenly stop training or working hard because, in motorsports, you are always trying to be number one.
How old were you when you got your driver’s licence?
I got my licence on the first try. I was 18 and it was the most nerve-wracking thing ever.
What was your first car and what do you drive now?
It was a Ford Fiesta ST. I now drive a Golf GTD.
How old were you when you started driving as well as racing?
My mum is actually the one who taught me how to drive when I was 12. We were bobbing down the road because, obviously, my clutch control wasn’t so great. I was small and couldn’t reach the pedals.
But my mum had the patience to teach me. I started racing on the main circuit when I was 15.
Driving on our highways must be boring for you with the speed you are used to on the track.
It feels really slow because you obviously want to get somewhere faster than you are allowed to. But, to be fair, it’s because people don’t respect the rules of the road that there are all these accidents.
It is important to respect the rules of the road.
How much do you know about the mechanics of a car?
Obviously, I can’t change an engine, but I can do the basics. My dad has taught me over the years how to check and change my tyres and oil. I know where everything is and where to look if there is an issue.
What other sports interest you?
Growing up, I took part in a number of sports. I played netball and hockey, and I swam and I did athletics. I also did every team sport. At the moment, I play golf whenever I am not on the race track.
What is your dream car?
A Range Rover Sport. It’s sort of one of those cruiser cars.
Who is your all-time favourite driver?
To be fair, my dad has been my role model my entire life. But if I had to choose a Formula One driver, it would definitely be Kimi Räikkönen. He is super-chilled and laid back.