Posted at 6:00 am
Demi Chalkias has had racing in his blood since a young age.
“I’ve always loved to drive anything with a motor,” explains the driver from Ontario, who has eight years of motorsport experience. “When I was little, we lived in the country and didn’t have internet or television. So I would come home, take off my backpack and get on the ATV or tractor. She recalls the impromptu driving competitions in her driveway as she slalomed between basketballs to fulfill her dream of speed.
“But it wasn’t until I drove a racing car on a track for the first time that I realized how much adrenaline and excitement this sport brings,” says Demi Chalkias, whose father was already a pilot.
Nicole Havrda’s fascination with motorsport also stems from a family history. “My father always watched Formula 1 and took us to the 2018 Austrian Grand Prix. It was my first time there and I said to him, “Dad, this is amazing. How do I get there?” And my father looked at me and said, “What? Is that a joke?” A year later, the 16-year-old driver from British Columbia won her first karting medal.
“I never saw that as a weakness”
The two drivers then had to prove themselves in what was still a very masculine environment. “When you’re a woman in the race, you’re definitely viewed a little differently at first,” recognizes Demi Chalkias. Some people look at you and say, ‘Oh you’re cute, you want to go shopping…'”
Tackling gender stereotypes then requires additional determination: “You have to come into this sport with a maybe more combative attitude. You may not be taken that seriously from the start, or not respected as much from the start. But I never saw that as a weakness,” adds the 27-year-old driver, who returned to competition in record time after suffering from a joint tumor.
Nicole Havrda, who first experienced competition as a skier and swimmer, sees much more egalitarian potential in motorsport.
We are all together and nobody cares about your gender. You just put on a helmet and ride. I compete with guys and I want to be better than them.
Demi Chalkias and Nicole Havrda could look to the example of some motorsport pioneers, such as Lyn St James, who set up a foundation to defend women’s place in motorsport, and Danica Patrick, who became the first woman in history in 2008 win an IndyCar race.
A search for inspiration
If the presence of these women pilots was once exceptional, Demi Chalkias underlines that today they are becoming more and more numerous at the highest level. “It’s very nice to see the number of women growing because now with the audience we have we can be role models for young girls in our area so they know they can do the same. She herself is very involved in her community by introducing young girls to motorsport.
Both have ambitious plans for the rest of their careers. Nicole Havrda is aiming to earn a full-time helm in the W Series, a free-entry-only women’s championship, next year before moving up to the upper ranks. Demi Chalkias will compete in the 24 Hours of Spa (Belgium) next July, where she hopes to finish in the top ten. She is also the subject of a documentary about a female team in the AMG GT 4.
The two drivers firmly believe that we will soon see women in Formula 1 again. “Any movement to encourage the presence of women in the motorsport industry is a good start to see women in Formula 1,” said Demi Chalkias.
“Formula 1 has gotten so big that it’s creating other platforms,” agrees Nicole Havrda, who is now training to race in Formula 3.
With the Canadian Grand Prix taking place this weekend, the two drivers’ journeys are evidence that it could one day be combined with women.