From a tiny town in Canada to being on the brink of making it in the motor-racing history books, Megan Gilkes’ career currently hangs in the balance. Girls like her, simply haven’t had this shot before.
As one of the 28 remaining hopefuls in the all-new women-only W Series, Megan’s working all hours of the day (and night) to make the final cut.
With the prospect of an all-expenses-paid-for drive in one of racing’s most exciting new adventures, 18-year-old Megan is pushing harder than ever before.
“I want to be a Formula 1 driver one day,” she says with certainty. “It’s always been my dream to race at the top of motorsport.”
She fell in love with life in the fast lane thanks to her dad who was a semi-professional driver in America. Megan used to cheer him on at the track when she was “just a little girl”, and she quickly got hooked on the adrenaline.
“Growing up, I used to see some of his races and when I was nine, I had the chance to try out a kart for the first time,” she says. “As soon as I drove, I loved it.”
From that point on, there was no stopping an enthusiastic Gilkes.
She admits that compared to other racers she’s inexperienced. Although that doesn’t mean that she hasn’t had success. In her first year of single-seater racing, Megan walked away with two second place finishes in two separate championships in a male-dominated environment. Not bad for someone who’d driven nothing other than a kart until this point.
“In 2017 I was second in the Sports Car Club of America and the South East Majors. Last year I was runner up in the Canadian F1200 series, despite not having done all of the rounds,” she says. “I’ve won five races in single seaters.”
Now, Megan continues to chase the motorsport dream thousands of miles away from her hometown, where she’s studying towards a degree in Aeronautical Engineering. If she doesn’t make it as a professional driver, then the brown-eyed youngster is insisting that she’ll still call F1 home.
“My degree is challenging, especially trying to balance everything with the racing as well,” she says before admitting that she still hasn’t got used to the dreary British weather. “I find it quite difficult, but I keep pushing. Engineering is applicable to the racing but I don’t have too much trouble at the moment with balancing the two. Let’s hope it stays that way.”
Until that chance is ruled out, Megan is putting her all into the W Series selection process. At the end of January, she and 53 other qualifiers from around the world headed to Austria to participate in 10 intense challenges.
She found out about the new initiative from her brother, while travelling to university lectures in London. With the W Series’ aim to promote women in the industry, Megan eagerly jumped at the chance.
“He gave me a call and told me to look on the internet at a new European series that was only for women,” she says. “It was going to be a free ride for anyone that got into it, and he said that I’d be interested in it. When I saw it, I knew it was for me. I applied as soon as I could and they accepted my application. They mostly asked about my racing experience to date, and my results to see who would be qualified to race a Formula 3 car. I got an email from them to say that I’d been chosen to go through and I was so excited.”
When she received the good news, she put her head down and grafted hard to ensure that she was ready for the most “important days” of her life to date.
“The test in Austria was being carried out in road cars, so I tried to get as much seat time as possible,” she recalls. “All of my racing so far has been done in single-seaters so I spent two half days at a race track in the U.S. just getting some laps in.
“One day it was wet and one day it was dry, so it was good to get some experience in different conditions. I also drove my mum’s Mini Cooper at a local circuit while I was back in Canada for the Christmas holidays and I actually wore out the new winter tyres that she’d just had put on.”
In Austria the hopefuls were judged by four giants of the sport, including ex-F1 driver David Coulthard, Le Mans winner Alex Wurz and – Megan’s ultimate idol – female IndyCar racer Lyn St James.
Megan will head to Spain in March for the final part of the W Series tests, where she has her heart set on a race seat for 2019.
“St James was talking about how the passion for racing comes from deep within all of us and that really stood out,” she says fondly. “It’s absolutely true. I was there because I love racing and it’s what I want to do for the rest of my life.”