Racing driver Abbie Eaton is competing in the W series
Credit: Getty Images
For a driver who left Jeremy Clarkson trailing in her wake as a test driver on TV car show The Grand Tour, and with a girlfriend who has worked as a James Bond movie stunt driver, Abbie Eaton has been used to life in the fast lane.
But when she decided to make her first foray into single-seater racing in the W Series, little did she know her career behind the wheel was about to take a different sort of twist.
The 29-year-old touring car specialist had watched the inaugural W Series season from afar in 2019. Originally a self-confessed cynic of the female-only championship, after seeing its highly successful first season – which was won by Britain’s Jamie Chadwick – the temptation for Eaton to put her time working with Clarkson to the side and sign up was too good to resist.
Enter the small matter of a pandemic and instead of making her W Series bow last year after the 2020 season was cancelled, she began couriering online goods as a temporary delivery driver, craving a new sense of purpose.
“It was driving through the middle of the night, from Rugby all the way up to Dundee in Scotland, then driving back down again,” recalls Eaton. “I think my longest shift was about 17 hours. It was pretty hard work. I take my hat off to night shift workers. It gave me something to focus on and a little bit of income, because at the time I didn’t have any money coming in. Everything stopped, but I had bills to pay and to keep funding my training.”
Despite being a respected figure in motorsport, Eaton has always proudly reconciled her career on the grid with financial means off it. Throughout her 19-year racing career, she has completed just five full seasons, finishing her most recent one with a second place finish at the 2016 British GT Championship.
Frustrating debut in W Series!
I was caught at the start behind a stalled car so dropped from my P12 slot down to P17! 😒
I then worked my way back to P10 and made a move to P9 but was harpooned off the track and into last place. 😡
We try again in a week! 💪🏻 pic.twitter.com/QwpnyU7Bmr
— Abbie Eaton (@AbbieEaton44) June 27, 2021
So when the antiviral brand, Hycolin, came on board as her sponsor at the end of last year, it was a game changer – and not just because she was well stocked up with everything from anti-bacteria bottles to disinfectant in the middle of a pandemic. “It was just a huge relief,” Eaton says of the partnership. “It took a little bit of pressure off my shoulders and I could concentrate more on the training and work hard to reprogram myself and get focused to go back into racing again.”
Having a sponsor which “believes in you as much as you believe in yourself” is not something her W Series peers can easily relate to. Despite the championship significantly raising its stakes this year – with Formula One playing a supporting role at eight grand prix weekends – commercial partnerships and other endorsements are hardly flooding in for some of the best women on the grid. “It’s still extremely tough,” insists Eaton.
“There is this massive push for women’s sport and I think there needs to be more investment in more niche sports. There’s always investment for football and mainstream sports, but people need to look at motorsport and realise what we’re doing here is groundbreaking. It will change so many young girls’ lives, [those] who didn’t even realise they could be a driver or involved in motorsport. There needs to be a bit more of a push for companies to support that.”
Eaton racing in the W Series in Austria
Eaton’s arrival on the W Series scene comes at a burgeoning time for the all-female championship, which was formed in 2018 to improve the visibility of women in motorsport. Despite the series being in only its second year, it has continued its coverage on Channel 4, expanded from six to eight races and is set to be more competitive than ever with a new ‘teams’ format.
Eaton will also be pitted against her partner, Jess Hawkins who has established herself as a successful stunt driver and stars in the James Bond film, No Time To Die. “We want each other to do as well as we can both do. I don’t see it as a problem,” says Eaton matter-of-factly.
Another first for this season is how drivers will have female-designed racing suits made by Puma, which Eaton, who grew up grabbing shelf suits that were always designed for men, acknowledges as another important step for the series. “In terms of practicality, male suits are not as practical,” says Eaton. “Ultimately, you want to look good in a race suit as well. If you look good in what you’re wearing, you feel good and perform better.”
Eaton has earmarked her maiden W Series season as a learning year, having only raced at only two of the eight circuits. She will look to put her frustrating race debut behind her at Austria’s Red Bull Ring this weekend, where last week she was caught behind a stalled car at the start of the race. “I hope I can get to grips with the series fairly quickly, it’s a bit of an unknown for me,” she says. “I just want to get stuck in and enjoy them all.”