Aurora Straus

Straus: “I have been incredibly fortunate that I have so many people who wholeheartedly want to see me succeed.”

Young girls are normally into dancing, horses, and playing with dolls – that’s what compartmentalisation tells us. So, Aurora, tell us, how did you become a race car driver?

Aurora Straus: “I fell in love with racing for the first time when I was 13 years old – I learned to drive with my father to bond with him and become a safer driver on the roads when I eventually got my license.  I was fortunate enough to grow up with a family that told me I could do and be anything I wanted to be, regardless of my gender. Moreover, the presence of powerful women like my mother, aunts, and grandmothers instilled a strong sense of women’s empowerment in me. So, when I got behind the wheel for the first time, I had no sense whatsoever that racing would be harder for me to pursue as a woman. I just loved the feeling of control, the adrenaline rush, the competition, and the immense amount of strategy and teamwork that goes into racing. It was as simple as that. I eventually found through years of being the only girl in the room that this sport was going to challenge my confidence as a young girl in a way I had never experienced before, but I am thankful for how the sport has pushed me to become a more assertive woman today. I refer to those years as the ‘first’ time I fell in love with racing because every time I’m at a racetrack, I think it happens all over again. There’s something about hearing my BMW M4 GT4’s roaring engine that gives me goosebumps. Playing with dolls and dancing could never compare to that feeling, so as a young girl, it was a fairly easy decision to pursue racing.”

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Please explain your role as a female racing driver! Tell us about the opinions of your competitors, sponsors, fans, and media.

Straus: “As a young woman in racing, I care immensely about working with sponsors and programmes who support me because of my skills as a driver and a spokesperson, not just because of, or despite, the fact that I am a woman. I have been incredibly fortunate that I have so many people who wholeheartedly want to see me succeed, and for the right reasons – namely, BMW, Richard Mille, and Arch Capital Group. My loyalty to BMW is largely due to their support of women behind the scenes. They run female track days, support my ‘Girls With Drive’ programmes, and most importantly, they hire powerful women to work at the company. I would know, because I have the privilege of working with many of them. The same thing is true at Richard Mille – Richard has always put his money where his mouth is to help me and other women in racing, and within his own company his daughter Amanda runs marketing for the brand, and she is one of the smartest, most driven women I know! I try to bring this mentality to everyone I work with in the racing world, including other competitors, fans, and media. My fans differ noticeably from most racers; I have a disproportionate number of mothers and young girls follow me on social media, and I’m glad to know that I’m making a difference. It is 2020, and we still have a meagre representation of women in motorsports at best. It is time for us to work as an industry to change that, and I have found that fans and competitors are incredibly supportive.”

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BMW M4 GT4

You’re also a student at Harvard University and you’re a musician. How is it possible to balance all three big demands at the same time?

Straus: “I believe strongly that if you are passionate enough about something, you will put the time and effort in to succeed. I love racing, but I also love school – any of my friends and family would tell you that I love learning for learning’s sake, and am more motivated by the intellectual pursuit than I am by the grades or the degree. To tell the truth, though, balancing my academics and music with racing is much more of a balancing act than I often let on. I do most of my homework on planes, and I have been known to show up to exams straight from the airport with a suitcase in hand!  My professors and my race team are both supportive of me, but I’ve always known that if the time is right, I may take some time off school and music to focus on racing full time. That being said, I am currently on-track to graduate from school a semester early, which would also make things easier.”

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Are there difficulties as a female driver competing against male drivers?

Straus: “There has been a lot of debate about female drivers’ ability from a psychological and physiological standpoint to compete against male drivers. The important question isn’t whether or not women are at a disadvantage, it is whether or not we are capable. We have repeatedly proved that we are. I spend a lot of time training physically for races, but I will do what I need to do to win against every driver, male or female. From a mental standpoint, I’ve actually found that many women seem to have an advantage. Racing isn’t just about physical strength and reaction time; it’s also about heat tolerance, decision making, endurance, and strategy. I worked with a sports nutrition brand in 2017 to gather data on my heat tolerance and endurance compared to my male counterparts, and we found that women tend to be lessaffected by heat than male racers of similar age and fitness level! From a peer to peer standpoint, I’ve found that the majority of male competitors don’t care that I am a woman – with some notable exceptions. They are a racer just like I am, and want to beat everyone, regardless of their gender.”

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Aurora Straus

Would you say that you could be in the same position that you are right now as a male driver?

Straus: “I don’t think I would be in the same position that I am now as a male driver -- in both positive and negative ways. It’s an unspoken, unpopular truth in the racing world that because there are so few women, it’s easier for female drivers to get opportunities. However, this is a double-edged sword. Racing is an incredibly hard sport to break into unless you have access to staggering amounts of funding and connections to key players in the racing industry. I had a sponsor who took a big chance on me when I was still learning to drive, and would not have been able to launch my career without them. However, because there are so few women, if you show potential, there’s immense pressure to propel yourself into the quickest cars with the largest audience and highest stakes, regardless of track time or parallel preparatory experience. During my relatively short career as a professional racer, I’ve been offered dozens of opportunities to drive in some of the most popular sportscar races in the world. The problem is that many of these programmes are marketing plays for companies, and frequently don’t have the resources allocated to actually give me or a team the time we need to be prepared for the race. No racer or sponsor wants to enter a race you know you can’t win. Luckily, this is changing – companies like Richard Mille are putting the appropriate resources into programmes that will help women win, and I’m very optimistic about the future thanks to them.”

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You are also the founder of ‘Girls With Drive’. Tell us about the programme.

Straus: “I started ‘Girls With Drive’ because of all of the issues we’ve talked about during this interview – women are grossly underrepresented in professional racing, and frequently don’t receive the funding they need. The underlying problem is that fewer girls pursue racing at a young age, and many drop out by the time they are 18, often due to this lack of representation and funding. This is a destructive cyclical process that needs to change, and it starts by reaching out to young girls and encouraging them to continue pursuing racing. ‘Girls With Drive’ runs educational programmes at the track, for free, for young girls age 8-18 who are interested in pursuing careers in the motorsports industry. They learn about concepts like aerodynamics, they get a behind-the-scenes tour of things like Race Control and the BMW team trailer, and they meet other women in the racing industry in lucrative careers like team management and ownership. This programme is incredibly close to my heart – I have experienced how hard it is as a young girl to be the only woman in the room, and if one of these girls eventually pursues motorsports, I’ve won.”

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BMW M4 GT4

What does it mean for you to drive a BMW Motorsport race car and being part of the BMW Sports Trophy?

Straus: “My BMW Motorsport race car is like home to me. Competition, reliability, and safety are all large concerns when you strap into a race car. Needless to say, BMW has proved how competitive we are on-track. The cars also have a reputation for being reliable and safe, two factors that unfortunately as a racer, isn’t always a given. I trust my BMW more than I’ve ever trusted anything or anyone else in my life! Being a part of the BMW Sports Trophy is an opportunity to not only show what these cars are capable of, but to showcase the strength and size of the BMW family worldwide.”

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You’re a very young brand ambassador of BMW USA. What does that mean to you?

Straus: “I chose to work with BMW USA not just because of their success in motorsports, but also because I believe so much in everything else they stand for. BMW USA has done a great job anticipating the future of the automotive industry, from empowering women to investing in electric vehicles, and I am proud to be a part of that movement.”

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Which race or series is P1 on your personal bucket list?

Straus: “I would love to race a BMW in the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship one day, including the 24 Hours of Daytona, 12 Hours of Sebring, 6 Hours of Watkins Glen, and Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta. Those races have been a dream for me ever since I started racing, and luckily, BMW has a history of success in IMSA series.”

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