Fans of vibrant ITV Saturday Night shows may recognise race driver Charlie Martin from the muscle-fest that is Ninja Warrior. Managing to get up The Wall first time, she showed the world what an athlete she is in front of millions of viewers.
The Wall, however, was far from the first huge obstacle Charlie’s had to overcome. Being gendered male at birth, Charlie had previously taken on greater challenges than anything Ben what’s-his-face and the giggly moustachioed one from football (Klammy, or something, I think he’s called) could throw at her.
After decades rising through the motorsport ranks, during which time she made the transition to female, Charlie found a race seat in the popular Protyre Motorsport Ginetta GT5 Challenge with a race-winning team, Richardson Racing.
The aim? To fight her way up the Ginetta motorsport ladder, all the way to Le Mans and the famous 24-hour race. No transgender driver has ever taken part in this icon of world motorsport – and so a chance to add her name into the annals of history beckons.
When I first spoke to Charlie, she was adjusting to life back in the UK after years of racing in France on the hill climb circuit. She raced everything from Peugeot 205s and Westfield sportscars, to single seater ‘Formula’ cars (principally a Formula Renault she engineered herself) and Le Mans style prototypes like her Norma M20. During her time she made a habit of winning (and breaking course records by huge chunks – over two seconds at one track), until she felt she could progress no further within French hillclimbing, and decided to move to more traditional circuit racing.
— Charlie Martin (@GoCharlieM) August 15, 2018
Back in the UK she’s been racing wheel to wheel with highly-successful drivers in the GT5 category. And Charlie has continued to shine. Straight away Charlie found her way onto the podium over and over again, and now, towards the end of this first season back racing in the UK, she is causing quite a stir in the championship.
Currently backed by Bloc Eyewear, NGK Spark Plugs and more, she’s attracting big-name sponsors, too.
Her highlight? Well, during the year she was invited back over to France to test a V8-powered Ligier JSP3 LMP3 car, as close to a true Le Mans competitor as it’s possible to get, so maybe her circuit racing is not necessarily the highlight of 2018 after all. The Ligier packed over 480bhp into a tiny weight, and with oodles of downforce to force the car into the tarmac the cornering speeds were much more like what Charlie was used to from her single-seater days. Again, Charlie shone.
Go Charlie Go!
Could Charlie do it? Could she get her name into the history books for breaking new ground at Le Mans? Time will tell – and even if it does not happen for a couple of years, she is certainly in a fantastic position. Not only is she quick, but her prowess on Ninja Warrior leaves no doubt as to whether she is physically fit enough to cope with the unique demands of endurance racing, too.
She is also a big advocate for equality, and speaks frequently at events such as Rainbow Laces Summit by Stonewall. She’s also encouraged her fellow competitors to wear rainbow stickers on the race cars; to show their support too.
In motorsport, the stopwatch could not care less about your gender, sexuality, age, disability or anything – it can only record time – and if Charlie continues to smash lap records and win silverware, there’s no reason to think she could not go all the way.
Will you lend her your support? I know I’ll be cheering her on.
See more of Charlie’s progress and learn about her experiences at her own website http://www.gocharlie.co.uk/ and follow her on social media at https://twitter.com/GoCharlieM https://www.facebook.com/charliemartinofficial/ and https://www.instagram.com/gocharliem/?hl=en
A triathlon newbie with a motorsport past, I’ll be found trying to beat a stopwatch in most things I do.