15 Minutes With: Dubai-based karting star Tara Eichenberger

Hiba Khan 11/08/2017
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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.

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Jones: Enjoyed stellar rookie campaign in IndyCar.

Ed Jones raced hard to secure his fifth top ten finish of an impressive rookie campaign in the fiercely-disputed Verizon IndyCar Series last weekend (23-25 June), with seventh place at Road America vaulting the talented Dubai, UAE-born ace back up the overall championship standings.

Although he had not previously competed around the picturesque four-mile, 14-turn Elkhart Lake road course in IndyCar – unlike 18 of his 21 high-calibre rivals – Jones did race there last year en route to lifting the laurels in Indy Lights, with pole position underscoring his pace and potential.

The 22-year-old Brit had also tested there the previous week, and he duly came out-of-the-blocks in fine form in practice, placing seventh in the combined classification as he inched progressively nearer to the outright benchmark.

Despite struggling with tyre-warming issues in qualifying, Jones nonetheless advanced to the ‘Fast 12’ for the second time this season behind the wheel of his 720bhp Dale Coyne Racing Honda single-seater, equalling his best starting position to-date in 11th.

In windy conditions the following day, the former European F3 Open Champion began the 55-lap KOHLER Grand Prix well as he settled solidly into the top ten. He would maintain that positive momentum throughout – spending much of the race running in close company with 2012 IndyCar Champion Ryan Hunter-Reay – and after taking the final safety car re-start in ninth, he gained two more places before the chequered flag to cross the finish line seventh.

The result returned Jones to the top ten in the points table at the pinnacle of US open-wheel competition. Buoyed by his strong performance in Wisconsin, he will travel next to Iowa Speedway for a test ahead of the 11th outing on the 2017 IndyCar schedule – the Iowa Corn 300 – on 9 July.

Man in form: Jones.

“Road America is one of my favourite tracks in the United States,” reflected the Williams-Harfield Sports Group protégé, who wore a specially customised helmet for the weekend in tribute to late Chicago Bears NFL star and Dale Coyne Racing co-founder Walter ‘Sweetness’ Payton.

“It was good to go back to a road course, and we felt well-prepared after the positive test day there. The team was also competitive at Road America last season, so we had a decent starting point and we were confident we had a good package underneath us and that the circuit should suit us.

“Practice went pretty well and we showed encouraging speed all day. The track changed quite a bit in the afternoon session, but we were still fast. The field was really close so we knew qualifying would be tough, but by the same token, there were several areas in which we could improve so I was optimistic of being able to push for the top five.

“Unfortunately, the cooler temperatures on Saturday affected a few things, and I struggled to bring the tyres in, which meant it took too long to get up to pace. It was still good to make it into the second round of qualifying, but it left us with some work to do ahead of the race.

“The car was loose but fast for qualifying, and it was really loose again on Sunday – I was hanging on throughout the race! Most people went for a similar strategy, but the DCR boys did a great job and some good pit-stops helped us to progress through the field. Everyone was aggressive and it was hard racing, but we came out with a seventh-place finish and moved up a little bit in the points, so we’ll definitely take that.”

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One of the greats: Ickx, in sunglasses, regularly celebrated success at Le Mans.

When it comes to the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Jacky Ickx knows better than almost everyone else what it takes to be a success.

From 1969-1982, the Belgian speedster claimed six gruelling editions of the prestigious race to place second on the list of all-time winners – only Denmark’s Tom Kristensen with nine betters him.

What makes this achievement even more remarkable is the fact it was contiguous with a fine Formula One career, containing eight wins band 25 podium finishes.

Sport360 caught up with the venerable motorsport figure at the Circuit de la Sarthe to talk about his cherished Le Mans memories, the event’s future and the prospects of his country’s latest great hope.

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Q) How do you rate the health of the Le Mans race, compared to other years?

A) I think it has been a great show and when you produce a great show, you have a lot of spectators. The level is about the same, as that. The reason it is so special is because you are living some moments that we are living. The leading car just stopped and now it is out of the race, so there are plenty of surprises. In the Le Mans Prototype (LMP), there was a big battle. In the GT class you have Aston Martin, Corvette etc. all fighting. Within a minute, there are three or four cars fighting after three or four thousand kilometres – that is Le Mans.

Q) How important is Le Mans to the motorsports world of today?

A) Long distance racing, a long time ago, was considered to be more important than Formula One. They then became professional before endurance racing and they took the whole show. One survivor is the Le Mans race, partly because it always has big constructors. It is also a race where amateurs can participate, as you need a large number of cars –you need about 60. This gives the people plenty of emotions and there are plenty of emotions when you do it.

Jack in the box: Legend Ickx.

Q) Of your six triumphs, which was your most memorable and what does it take to become a Le Mans winner?

A) If you offer a driver to win Le Mans once, I am absolutely convinced he will sign the paper and say, ‘I am ready’. So you can imagine, if you win six times. You have to be grateful to the people who give you the right chance.

My number one win was 1977, this is because we were far away and thought the race was lost. We went flat out for probably 10 hours. The lesson is never give up. There is no limitation or strategy, the only rule is go as fast as you can.

Q) You have people like Mark Webber, who also jumped from F1 to endurance. Why don’t people often do this transition?

You can only do one thing at a time. The difference before was that there was no exclusivity. You were not linked to a sponsor exclusively, or a car. You could drive many different things at the same time. Endurance today is a grand prix for 24 hours, it is flat out.

Q) Your fellow Belgian Stoffel Vandoorne is currently in Formula One with McLaren-Honda. Are you close to him?

Stoffel (left) is a very talented driver, he did everything right to reach Formula One. He won all his classes, very talented. But the misfortune is that he arrived at McLaren at the wrong moment. I have no advice to give him, as he is very talented. McLaren are fighting for their survival at the moment. The team is concentrating number one on Fernando Alonso, Vandoorne is just secondary.

Interview by Elias El-indari.

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