Racing driver and Grand Tour test driver Abbie Eaton says sexist attitudes are still a regular source of frustration in her work as a driver coach.
Eaton secured a place on the 2020 W Series grid before the championship went virtual-only for this year. Last season she raced in Australia’s Supercars feeder series Super2, the Formula E supporting Jaguar I-PACE eTrophy and the Titans Rallycross series.
She is best known outside the motorsport world for her work on the Amazon Prime TV series The Grand Tour.
But despite that career success, Eaton said during an appearance on The Race’s Hidden Voices podcast that she often finds people trying to avoid her because of her gender when she is coaching.
“I even had one woman come up – I was assigned her husband – and she runs across to the team leader and says ‘can you put him with one of the males? I want him to be pushed’,” Eaton recounted.
“And the team leader just laughed and said ‘you do realise she’s got more championships and more wins than any of these guys here and she races at a much higher level’ and she backtracked.
“And I’m just thinking if the women aren’t there to push and help other women along, then what are we doing?
“I think that’s quite rare. Most women would be like ‘kick his arse’, basically.
“But I have it quite a lot with guys actively starting to walk to the back of the line when the instructors are being dished out because they’re like ‘I can see that girl’s three cars down the line so I’m just going to drop back so I don’t get the girl’.
“Actually most people that end up with me end up being fast because what they don’t realise is that I’m just as good an instructor as anyone else, but actually I’m a lot lighter so you want to be picking me!
“And most of the time at the end of the session they go ‘you know what, you were actually amazing’. And I’m like ‘I actually was, what were you expecting?’ but it’s meant as a compliment.
“If I can change people’s perceptions, I’m happy with it. I’m not going to go out of my way to do that, but if a guy comes up with a little bit of a thought on how female drivers are going to be and then they leave me thinking ‘wow, I feel a little bit stupid here having preconceived ideas’, then I’ve done my job.”
Eaton was joined on Hidden Voices by fellow Racing Pride ambassador Thierry Courtois, who works as a designer for the Mahindra Formula E team, as both discussed how their sexuality has been received in motorsport.
Eaton said she has encountered more prejudice for being female than being gay, but admitted at the start of her career she was more concerned about the impact her sexuality might have.
“I’m quite thick-skinned anyway and it takes a lot to offend me. I’ve been out since I was really young, I was 17 when I first came out,” she said.
“I remember when I was first making that transition to come out I was worried that potential sponsors might be put off. Because ultimately all the females in motorsport that have had success – maybe not in results but in the publicity behind them – they’re almost kind of marketed a bit of a sex symbol type thing.
“And in my mind I was thinking if I’m seen as [someone] the male-dominated industry can’t potentially have, I thought that that might work against me.
“But as I got older I just thought ‘you’ve just got to be happy and to be authentic to yourself and if sponsors don’t want to back you, then that’s their problem, and if people have an issue with it then again that’s their problem and it’s not mine’.
“I’m quick enough on the track that my results speak for themselves and it doesn’t matter who I’m dating and who I’m with. That element of it didn’t really come into my mind.
“To be quite honest, you maybe get more judgemental comments and little looks about the female aspect than actually being gay. I don’t really let it bother me.”
Hidden Voices is a series of podcasts by The Race looking at diversity in motorsport. Hosted by Claire Cottingham, it tells the inspirational stories of those who broke the mould to succeed at the highest level. Click here to subscribe to the full series