“That feeling of racing around the track so low to the ground is the most exhilarating feeling in the world.” This is from the mouth of 17-year-old karting enthusiast Taya van der Laan, who was hooked on this exciting motorsport just five minutes into her first visit to a karting track.
Her brother was barely five years old in 2017 when the family went to watch him try out karting for the first time. Taya recalls standing on the side lines mesmerised by the other kids taking practice laps.
“We had been there for five minutes and my heart was racing; the track felt like home. There was nothing I wanted to do more and convinced my parents to get me some equipment so I could take part too. Little did they know that day that they actually created two racers.
“I started testing and did my very first race in February the next year. I remember the feeling of adrenalin and nervousness as I sat on that grid as if it was yesterday. Only a racer can understand the feeling running through your body as your helmet goes on.”
From here, Taya participated in the Formula 1600 single seater racing series, describing this as “very different to karting”.
“Although faster in speed and having to learn gears, being higher off the ground gives you more response time as opposed to karting, which is fast paced with quicker thinking required,” she explains.
Undoubtedly a highlight of her racing career to date was being part of the FIA (The Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile) Girls on Track – Rising Stars programme, in France. This innovative programme was launched by the FIA Women in Motorsport Commission to detect and nurture female racing talents of between 12 and 16 years old who merit support as they strive to forge a career in motor sport.
It was an out-of-this world experience at the Paul Ricard in Le Castellet France in October 2021, Taya recalls with enthusiasm.
“It was incredible to be among all those girls from around the world competing in motorsport. I was filled with joy, nerves, exhilaration and complete excitement. It involved mental and physical on-and off-track training that tested every part of us, from our smarts to our strengths!
“The experience was over way too soon, but it will always stay with me. Girls on Track looks at the full package and not only driving ability and speed. I loved every part of it and am so grateful I got the opportunity to be there. I hope many others get that same experience.”
Taya’s most recent active season was as a participant in the OK-Junior class of the Rok Cup SA Series.
Although currently on a sabbatical from karting, Taya is by no means done with pursuing her passion and following her racetrack dreams. Until she’s back in the driver’s seat, Taya is happy behind the lens of her camera honing her love for photography at race days, capturing all the action.
Adrian Scholtz, CEO of Motorsport South Africa, says Taya has recognised that karting is the ideal place to get started in the sport.
“She wants to take what she has learned on her journey so far and apply it in order to assist girls and boys alike with their journey and provide insight into her experiences, especially at the FIA Girls on Track Rising Stars event.”
With the support of her mom, Taya is also actively working to involve more youth in karting and developing her knowledge of motorsport by learning what goes on behind the scenes.
“Motorsport is not only about being behind the wheel. Participants must understand what it takes to make a race day work as this teaches you an appreciation for the experience as a whole. With expanded knowledge, you can help new and younger participants achieve their full potential.
“There is a shortage of experienced people in the various fields within the karting community. I believe I am adding value at the moment by being at the track on race days, supporting my fellow participants and motivating them.”
“Participants are also fortunate to have the professional and ethical backing of a body like Motorsport South Africa. They make motorsport a safe and welcoming environment for everyone, regardless of your age, colour, sex or culture,” Taya says.
“I have learnt a lot, made lasting friendships and gained additional family. This, in my eyes, is truly the best sport in the world.”
Taya is willing to offer her support to other young women interested in karting and willing to train alongside them, as well as help those submitting applications for Girls on Track.
Taya is active on social media, encouraging other girls and women to get involved and sharing her insights on how to get started.
“I want girls to know they can be the next best thing in motorsport. Women are doing incredible things in South Africa and globally, which is such an inspiration,” she says.
Find a calendar of karting events on the Motorsport SA website – www.motorsport.co.za
PREPARED ON BEHALF OF MOTORSPORT SOUTH AFRICA AND DIRT BIKE FESTIVAL BY CATHY FINDLEY PR.