DURBAN: COCKPITS, chassis, chicanes and chequered flags are what seasoned Joburg racing car driver Tasmin Pepper lives for.
In local racing circles Pepper, 28, is celebrated. She’s considered “one of the boys”, given her on-track accolades.
Even in racing overalls Pepper oozes va-va-voom, with some admirers calling her as the Anna Kournikova (former tennis player) of motorsport.
Now she has the opportunity to add international flavour to her competitive racing career, which began when she was 15.
Pepper is among 18 drivers from around the world who will compete in the inaugural W Series, a single-seater racing competition for women.
She received confirmation of her inclusion in the W Series, which begins in Germany next month, after the final round of an arduous selection process ended at Spain’s Circuito de Almeria last weekend.
“Making the final cut for the W Series was very satisfying. It means that all the years of hard work that I put in has been worthwhile,” said Pepper, who is South Africa’s reigning Volkswagen PoloCup Masters champion.
Six races will be run in the W Series, with the opening event set for the Hockenheim track. The series will wind down in the UK in August.
Selection for the final field began in Austria, earlier this year, and drew more than 100 hopefuls.
“We had to do a series of tests that comprised driving modules, fitness and media tests before the number was reduced to 28.
“In Spain, we had to drive the Formula Three cars that will be used in the competition.”
Pepper said the car was fitted with a 1.8 four-cylinder Alfa Romeo engine, looked like a Formula One vehicle, but was not as quick.
“We all have exactly the same car, so it comes down to the driver’s ability,” she said.
Known as a maverick behind the wheel, Pepper said she was ready to shift her performance up a gear or two in the W Series.
“I am very enterprising in the cockpit and I like being known for that. I don’t want to be seen as a shy and timid person who can be beaten around.”
It is that spirit that saw her rush to the defence of Kournikova when the tennis star was body-shamed this week over her sleek looks since giving birth to twins.
‘She’s her own person, I don’t think anyone should be body-shaming her. She is who she is. If that’s the way she wants to be then that’s the way she is. I don’t think she looks skinny. I think she looks good,” said Pepper.
It goes without saying, winning is the only thing on Pepper’s mind.
“I really think I can win it. There is no point in me entering if I didn’t believe I could.”
Pepper had a taste of big international competitions when she competed in the Formula BMW Series.
“Three of our races were the curtain-raiser to Asian Formula 1 events (Singapore, Malaysia and China).”
In 2008, Pepper quit the series and remained grounded in South Africa. Much of her time was spent racing for honours in the VW Polo Cup.
Given the tight schedule of the W Series and moving from venue to venue, Pepper will be living out of a suitcase.
“I’m excited about that. At least I don’t have to go to my desk job every day. I now have a bit of freedom”
When Pepper is not racing, she works in the family’s blow-moulding business.
“I’m looking forward to packing, travelling and seeing new tracks girls like that, and why not?”
As a racing car driver, overalls, gloves and helmets are all tools of her trade, and Pepper has embraced that.
“Racing is what I love to do. While I’m not your average girly girl, I still do my nails and hair when I get the chance. When you are at the track you have to cover up, and I don’t wear make-up because you sweat under the helmet.
“This week (Thursday), the opportunity to dress up beckoned. I got to present an award at the AutoTrader South African Car of the Year awards,” Pepper said.
Away from racing, Pepper loves to play golf and indulge in water sports on the Vaal Dam.
She also makes time to be with her Pomeranian Coby and her “crazy” bull terrier Zarah.
Pepper said she would miss her parents, Cheryl and Iain, sister Morgan and the dogs while she was abroad, but they all could catch her live in action as all the races would be live streamed.
Her brother Jordan, however, will be at all her races.
“Jordan lives in Germany and has been racing overseas. He is the official factory driver for Bentley Racing and he’ll be there as my coach.”
Pepper said her family roots in motor racing ran deep.
“My granddad Dave was a racer and my father started with motocross and moved on to circuit racing where he also drove production cars and competed in the Polo Cup.”
Racing is what she knows best.
“When I was two weeks old, I was taken to the racetrack. At age 4, I started carting and when I was 15 I began to drive competitively,” said the former Cornwall Hill College pupil.
Now she’s enjoying the publicity her ascension into W Series has brought her.
“I’m in the face of the public. Before it was behind the scenes for me. It’s exciting and intimidating,” she said.
“And I don’t mind being likened to Anna Kournikova.”