Karting enthusiast Taya van der Laan feels at home behind the wheel

Taya van der Laan shows her skills. Picture: Supplied

Taya van der Laan shows her skills. Picture: Supplied

Published Sep 5, 2023


Pretoria - “I want girls to know they can be the next best thing in motorsport. Women are doing incredible things in South Africa and globally, which is such an inspiration,” karting enthusiast Taya van der Laan says.

She is making huge strides on the motorsport platform and as Women’s Month has just ended, she encourages the fairer sex to test their skills.

“That feeling of racing around the track so low to the ground is the most exhilarating feeling in the world,” said Van der Laan, 17, who was hooked on motorsport just five minutes into her first visit to a karting track.

Her brother was barely 5 years old in 2017 when the family went to watch him try out karting for the first time. Van der Laan recalled standing on the sidelines mesmerised by the other kids taking practise laps.

Taya van der Laan says karting is a great sport for women. Picture: Supplied

“We’d been there for five minutes; my heart was racing; the track felt like home.

There was nothing I wanted to do more and convinced my parents to get me equipment so I could take part too.”

Little did they know that day that they actually created two racers.

“I started testing and did my very first race in February the next year. I remember the feeling of adrenalin and nervousness as I sat on that grid as if it was yesterday. Only a racer can understand the feeling running through your body as your helmet goes on.”

From here, Van der Laan participated in the Formula 1600 single-seater racing series, describing this as “very different to karting”.

“Faster in speed and having to learn gears, being higher off the ground gives you more response time as opposed to karting, which is fast-paced with quicker thinking required.”

A highlight of her racing career was being part of the FIA (Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile) Girls on Track – Rising Stars programme, in France. This innovative programme was launched by the FIA Women in Motorsport Commission to nurture female racing talents between 12 and 16 years old who merit support as they strive to forge a career in motor sport.

It was an out-of-this-world experience at the Paul Ricard in Le Castellet, France, in October 2021, Van der Laan recalled. “It was incredible to be among all those girls from around the world competing in motorsport. I was filled with joy, nerves and exhilaration. It involved mental and physical on-and off-track training that tested our strengths.”

“Girls on Track looks at the full package and not only driving ability and speed. I loved every part of it.”

Van der Laan’s most recent active season was as a participant in the OK-Junior class of the Rok Cup SA Series.

Currently on a sabbatical from karting, she said she is by no means done with pursuing her passion and following her racetrack dreams. Until she’s back in the driver’s seat, Van der Laan is happy behind the lens of her camera honing her love for photography at race days, capturing all the action.

Adrian Scholtz, CEO of Motorsport South Africa, said Van der Laan has recognised that karting is the ideal place to get started in the sport. “She wants to take what she has learnt so far and apply it to assist girls and boys alike with their journey and provide insight into her experiences, especially at the FIA Girls on Track Rising Stars event.”

With the support of her mom, she is also actively working to involve more youth in karting and developing her knowledge of motorsport by learning what goes on behind the scenes. “Motorsport is not only about being behind the wheel. Participants must understand what it takes to make a race day work.”

She said with expanded knowledge, one can help new and younger participants achieve their full potential.

“There is a shortage of experienced people in the various fields within the karting community. I believe I am adding value by being at the track on race days, supporting my fellow participants and motivating them.”

Van der Laan said participants are also fortunate to have the professional and ethical backing of a body like Motorsport South Africa. “They make motorsport a safe and welcoming environment for everyone.”

Van der Laan is willing to offer her support to other young women interested in karting and to help those submitting applications for Girls on Track. She is active on social media, encouraging other girls and women to get involved and sharing her insights on how to get started.

Pretoria News