Women in Motorsport Canada (WIMCanada) is continually devoted to creating opportunities that empower women to pursue careers in motorsport - in all roles and capacities! To this end, WIMCanada has been honored to present a job shadow program with the intention of fostering the growth and development of aspiring women in the motorsport industry. For our inaugural job shadow experience, WIMCanada sent two women to the 2023 Honda INDYCAR race in Toronto for a standout opportunity to get involved in the motorsport world at its highest level. At the event, both women met with Jenna Hood, Honda Indy's manager of community and fan engagement, where they met and networked with professionals from the motorsport industry alongside Jenna as their personal mentor. Phil Nelles, president of the Motorsport Industry Association of Canada, was also on site to help facilitate some exciting activities and connections for WIMCanada's job shadow program. Each candidate had unique opportunities to get behind-the-scenes at one of Canada's most prestigious and exciting races!
Meet WIMCanada's Candidates
While we received many applications from a variety of talented, inspiring women interested in motorsport, two candidates were ultimately chosen for the INDYCAR race; Hayley Vanderzanden and Kate O'Brien!
Hayley Vanderzanden is a 25 year old third generation motorsport enthusiast from Pelham Ontario. Hayley was born and raised on her family farm where she developed a passion for motorsports, adventure, and adrenaline at a young age. "I pride myself in being a strong, competitive woman in motorsport, with a diverse background of experiences. I grew up going to our local dirt oval track with my family, as my Grandpa and Dad both raced over the years. I’ve raced various amateur classes on dirt ovals, crew for my brother’s 602 crate sportsman team, competed in the Ladies class at motocross tracks all around Ontario, ride dirt bikes with studded tired on the ice in snowy Canadian winters, and am currently pursuing my lifelong dream of becoming a Monster Jam truck driver."
Kate O'Brien is currently a motorsport mechatronics masters student at Cranfield University in the United Kingdom. She has been planning events with her colleague at Cranfield University to promote diversity and inclusion in Motorsport and trying to arrange events for such things. They successfully held a diversity panel featuring some engineers from Mercedes AMG F1 team. "I would like to work in a smaller motorsport team, in these teams it is common to wear multiple hats and if I could help with the arranging and running of events I believe that would be a very enjoyable part of my future career."
Motorsport Mentorship: The Experience
To get a better understanding of the WIMCanada mentorship experience, who better to tell their story than our two stellar candidates, Hayley and Kate!
Hayley's Experience, in Her Own Words:
I had a once in a lifetime experience at the 2023 Honda Indy! I had the opportunity to shadow Jenna Hood, Honda Indy's manager of community and fan engagement. On the first day, she took me around and introduced me to the entire team behind the scenes. Later, I walked around with a volunteer co-ordinator to see how such a large team got organized. They definitely helped make the event run smoothly. In the afternoon, we met up with the air force pilots that were doing the flyover and escorted them to where they needed to be to figure out a sight line. That was such a neat experience, as we were up on the roof, giving us an excellent view of the track. The next day, I sat with the media team and got an inside view of the amount of people there are at these events covering every single minute of racing! Later, Phil, president of the Motorsport Industry Association Canada, took me to pit lane, which was one of the coolest parts! I've never seen a pit lane like that before, coming from a motocross and dirt track background. I also sat in on press conferences with the drivers. We listened to Christian Lundgaard and Scott McLaughlin answer post-qualifying and pre-race questions from various media sources. Since it was such a small meeting room, it felt like I had secret access with the media!
On the final day, I helped out with pre/post race ceremonies! Which included helping the Rookie Racers Program. It is a kids club ideal for youth aged 5 to 12 years that provides them the opportunity to get up close and personal with the cars and drivers, and behind the scenes as well! At the pre race ceremony, they formed a "hand-shake line" and were able to hand-shake all the drivers right at Victory Circle! It was great to see all ages and genders.
Minutes before the green flag dropped, I helped escort the Honda dealers to the front stretch for the command: "DRIVERS, START YOUR ENGINES!" What a surreal moment to be a part of!
When the race went green, I finally sat down in the Green Savoree booth, front and center, and watched the first half of the race. I think I had the best seat in the house.
Overall, my experience at the 2023 Toronto Honda Indy was nothing short of amazing! I am so fortunate to have been able to get a full behind-the-scenes look at such a large, action packed event. I am looking forward to seeing more women getting involved in motorsport, and hope others get the opportunity that I did to participate in a job shadow of this event.
Kate's Experience, in Her Own Words:
The 2023 Honda Indy Toronto race was my first Indy Car race. I had been a volunteer for the British Racing Drivers Club the week before at the Formula 1 Silverstone Grand Prix so it was not my first big race week end; however it was my first time interacting with the engineers behind the teams on a race weekend. This job shadow experience was an exciting opportunity to network and discover more about North American racing. It’s been a month since and I still can’t believe how much happened over the weekend.
On the Saturday Phil, president of the Motorsport Industry Association Canada, introduced me to multiple successful Canadian race engineers participating in the sports car champions ships, USF pro and even IndyCar. We discussed the challenges of the Toronto streets. Like everyone who has ever driven in Canada, they complained about how rough the streets were and how they need more compliance in the car so it isn’t as unsettled when hitting the bumps.
The most interesting engineer I was able to briefly meet was Michael Cannon. He is a Canadian race engineer currently engineering for AJ Foyt racing. He is one of Indycar’s legendary engineers and meeting and talking with him was one of my favourite parts of the weekend. Unfortunately due to practice being shortly after meeting him the conversation did not last long.
I was also able to be in the pits with Arrow McLaren SP during the practice on Saturday. It was an interesting insight to see how the team functions behind the scenes and it was an amazing opportunity to listen to Rosenqvist’s radio. Unfortunately Rosenqvist’s session was ended early as he was on the best lap of the session and he hit the wall. This hit was bad enough that it was all hands on deck at McLaren to get his car ready for Qualifying.
On Sunday after the race some of the women form McLaren and WIM Canada met up for a quick chat and a photoshoot. As someone who has been surrounded by men doing my masters this year it was incredible to see how many women McLaren had working for them. I have had very positive experiences with McLaren in the past and their push for more diversity in the sport. I am hopeful this will come to be, and I hope to help in that effort.
Captivated Towards a Career in Motorsport
After such an exhilarating experience and a first-hand look behind the scenes at one of the biggest motorsport events in Canada, who wouldn't be enamoured by the opportunity to delve into a motorsport career? WIMCanada is so glad to have been able to offer this experience to two very deserving women, who are both living representations of the passionate female community doing amazing work in the motorsport industry every day. In the future, we look forward to creating more avenues to advance careers for dedicated women interested in motorsport - through presenting more programs like this, offering world-class racing simulator packages, and maintaining a presence at motorsport events across Canada.