Swiss driver Natacha Gachnang, cousin of Formula One newcomer Sebastian Buemi, tells swissinfo.ch she is aiming for a top-five finish in her debut Formula Two season.This content was published on May 27, 2009 - 07:50
The 21-year-old is the only woman competing alongside 23 men in the 2009 FIA Formula Two Championship, which begins in Valencia on Friday.
Gachnang, from Aigle in western Switzerland, joins the 2009 FIA Formula Two championship after finishing third in the 2008 Spanish Formula 3 Championship and winning the F3 Spanish Cup.
In 2007 she raced in the American Star Mazda series, recording a string of top-ten finishes. She also finished fourth in the Austrian Formula Three Championship and has raced in the Formula Three Euro Series.
swissinfo.ch: When did you start getting involved in motor racing?
Natacha Gachnang: I started with my cousin, Sebastian Buemi, at the age of five. My father bought me a go-cart for Christmas and my uncle did the same for Sebastian.
We used to drive around the garage for fun. Then we started getting more serious at a go-cart track in France. I started my first championship at eight years old.
We then did the Swiss Minikart Championship and it just became more and more serious with the Swiss, French, and Italian European championships. We were doing more than 100 days at the racetrack.
At the age of 15 we decided to move to formula cars.
swissinfo.ch: What is your aim for the new 2009 FIA Formula Two Championship?
N.G.: My objective is to go for a top five position. But there are a lot of good drivers. There are 24 drivers, of whom three are Red Bull drivers and are very competent, there's another from GP2, and the winners of the Spanish and Italian Formula Three championships.
swissinfo.ch: Are you hoping that Formula Two will help you make the leap to Formula One?
N.G.: I don't know if this will be possible, as I don't really know how this championship will grow.
Maybe it will stay like this or maybe it will grow more and become the step up to Formula One. But if it stays like this, I will probably have to go to GP2 before moving to Formula One.
swissinfo.ch: How does Formula Two compare with Formula Three? What do you imagine to be the biggest differences in terms of driving?
N.G.: The new F2 car is several seconds faster than an F3 car. It's a step up: 400 horsepower (hp) compared with only 250 hp for F3.
You also have a boost with 50 hp more, which you can use eight times a race and you have a pit stop but you can't change tyres.
For me it will be a very good experience. There are no teams in the championship so everyone has the same chance. Each driver will have the same car and same engine, and it will be a real chance to fight against the best drivers.
swissinfo.ch: How does it feel to be the first woman to drive in this championship?
N.G.: I don't think about that. I just think about doing my best – that's all. I don't think it's really important. My objective is to show that a girl can fight with the best male drivers.
I've always raced like that – that's all I've ever known. There are only a few girls trying to make their place in this sport. Of course you have to earn other people's respect, but you have to be fast to get respect and that's what I'm aiming at.
swissinfo.ch: People make comparisons between you and the American racing driver Danica Patrick. How do you feel about that?
N.G.: I'm not a sex symbol. I don't want to show that. For sure I'm a girl in a male-dominated world, but I don't want to pose with a bikini on a car. I'm here as I've worked hard to be here and not because I show off my body.
Danica Patrick has a lot of talent. It's sad that people think she's successful because of her image and not her talent.
swissinfo.ch: Motor racing is banned in Switzerland. Has that made it harder for you to succeed as a driver?
N.G.: Without my family I would have stayed at home. There is no help for this sport in Switzerland.
It's so difficult as it is seen as dangerous and not environmentally friendly. They allow mountain rallies, which are ten times more dangerous.
But I think things are changing; they have to change.
swissinfo.ch: How do you feel when you see your cousin driving behind the wheel of a Formula One car?
N.G.: I still can't believe it – it's so amazing. But for the family and for him it's the fruit of all the work from the beginning, so many days on the track, lots of physical training and the sacrifices. He's there because of all that work.
But you still have to fight to stay in Formula 1 as all the drivers behind him are pushing. You are on a very light seat.
My cousin is very good and very professional. When he races he doesn't do any stupid things. But I have beaten him before (laughs).
Simon Bradley in Aigle, swissinfo.ch
Born in Vevey, Switzerland on October 27, 1987. Began her motorsport career in karting, competing on both a national and European level before progressing to single seater racing in 2003.
Spent three seasons in the Formula BMW ADAC series, during which time her competitors included fellow F2 driver Tobias Hegewald. After finishing 19th and 12th respectively in her first two campaigns, she finished sixth in the overall 2005 standings.
In 2006, Gachnang moved to the Austrian Formula 3 Championship, where she recorded two podiums to secure fourth place. She also competed in seven F3 Euro Series races.
In 2007 she joined the Star Mazda Championship, which supported the American LeMans Series, Champ Car World Series and Grand Am. Finished in the top ten during every race of the season, scoring a third place in Cleveland and second position in Portland.
Returned to Europe in 2008 to compete in the Spanish Formula 3 Championship. Victory in Jarama plus podium finishes in Spa-Francorchamps, Albacete and Valencia secured her third place in the overall championship and won her the F3 Spanish Cup. Concluded her 2008 season with a Formula 3000 test with Team Emmebi Motorsport.
Motorsport runs in Gachnang's family: her grandfather competed in the legendary Le Mans 24 Hours race and her cousin is Toro Rosso F1 driver Sebastien Buemi.
Formula Two (F2) was previously the main feeder series to Formula One. It was replaced by Formula 3000 in 1985, which later became the GP2 Series (GP2) in 2005. The FIA announced in 2008 that Formula Two would return in 2009 in the form of the FIA Formula Two Championship.
The F2 Championship will comprise eight events in Europe between May and November. There will be two races per weekend - each 110km (around 40 minutes) - with the second race to include a mandatory pit stop. There are two 30-minute practice sessions and two 30-minute qualifying sessions for both races. There will be three days of official testing throughout the season - three before the first race of the season and another two during the season.
The F2 cars are designed by Williams F1 and prepared by MotorSport Vision (MSV). The open wheel chassis will be powered by a 1.8l turbocharged Audi engine. The new F2 cars are aimed to fall between F1 and F3 in performance. All F2 cars will include standard components and similar engines and will be of identical weight.
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