Tara Eichenberger may just be a few months shy of her 15th birthday, but she has all the makings of a professional race driver set to take the world of Formula 4 by storm.
The Dubai-based Swiss teen started karting when she was nine-years old, but since then she has shown her mettle in various competitions in UAE and Europe. She was even the only female in the top 50 of the world ranking for Junior Kart racing drivers in 2016.
She took some time out from her busy schedule to sit down with Sport360° for a cup of coffee and talk animatedly about her life, challenges and aspirations.
TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOURSELF?
I turn 15 on October 16 and my family moved to Dubai when I was seven years old. I started karting when I was nine. I go to the American school and just finished grade ten. I speak fluent German and English, and now I am learning Italian because a lot of people in motorsports speak Italian, so I am learning to ease communication.
HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED WITH KARTING?
Well, actually it is a very interesting story. When we first moved to Dubai, we used to play golf at the Montgomerie club. So while my parents were busy playing golf, my sister and I would always sneak off and start driving the golf karts. My sister was six and I was nine, so we were really small. One of us would press the pedals, while the other steered – that was really fun.
We always drove around things while no one was looking and fortunately we never got in to any trouble or got injured. Afterwards, my dad took me to the indoor kart dome. As my sister was really young, I started driving the rented karts. There was an outdoor circuit as well, but you had to be 13 to drive there or you would have to have your own kart – which I didn’t.
So my dad told me that if I was able to beat a certain time, which was very competitive, then he would get me my own kart. I just kept working hard and eventually beat that time, so my dad got me my first kart. That’s how it all began.
WHAT KIND OF CHALLENGES HAVE YOU FACED?
The biggest challenge I have faced so far is the lack of funds. Due to financial constraints, my parents were unable to provide me the best of materials, team or mechanic, but they do try their best and also try to be as cost effective as possible.
In Formula 4, or motorsports in general, you need a very skilled team who will maintain your car every day. They will literally take it apart and put it back together. So you require a lot of money and this is why we are in the process of looking for sponsors to help me get the resources I need to enter Formula 4.
I always had to fight for what I wanted and even when I was racing, I realised that I was racing under more challenging circumstances than my competitors. Funny thing is that when I did have the same materials as my competitors, I was actually as good and fast as them and sometimes, even better. So, I was never lacking in talent.
My dad believed that I should race more experienced drivers, so last year I was 13 and I was competing against 15-year olds. I started when I was nine, so even then I was racing against 12-year olds. I have always competed with drivers who are more experienced than me and that helped me learn more and understand racing tactics better.
Another thing is that I am a girl and I am in a male dominated sport. So one thing I have realised is that boys do not like it when you beat their butts.
So whenever there’s a race, they would push you till you’re completely out and they will be more aggressive to you than with other boys for some strange reason.
However, as soon as you would start fighting back and do the same thing to them they will start respecting you and then you will just be another person racing.
But before you get that it’s really difficult and when you try to push them off they complain saying ‘You can’t do that’. But I am always like, ‘You do it to me so I will do it to you’.
DO YOU THINK YOU’RE READY FOR F4?
Definitely. I have learned a lot over the years. I know Formula 4 is a lot different and there will be a lot of changes I will need to adapt to. But I do believe that whatever knowledge I have gathered I will be able to apply it to Formula 4.
How do you train and is there a special endurance training you have to go through to prepare for races?
For training, my upper body is very important, so I do special exercises that focus on my shoulders and neck muscles. I incorporate it with gym exercises and reaction tests.
Our aim is to have the fastest reactions and also do exercises that improve our focus. In a race, you need to be vigilant and react really fast to something. One of our exercises to help enhance our reaction times and concentration: we would kneel on a yoga ball and sit up straight.
You have to maintain your balance while your instructor will ask you to count till 100 or they will throw something at you and you will have to catch it or you will practice steering.
WHAT KEEPS YOU MOTIVATED?
Before I race I always have this inner urge to prove to myself. My competition is with myself and not with anyone else because when you race, it is just you and your car, and no one else.