Laura Luft combines her full-time job with endurance racing, sim racing, and an additional sideline as a sim racing commentator. She tells us about the advantages and difficulties of sim racing and gives us an insight into her career.
WHEEL SISTERS: Laura, please introduce yourself.
Laura: Hi, I am Laura Luft from Offenbach (near Frankfurt, Germany) and I have been racing in the Nürburgring Langstrecke Serie (NLS, formerly known as VLN) since last year.
When Susie Wolff founded Dare to be Different, I immediately joined the initiative and was also able to help at some events on track as part of another company project.
This year two friends of mine and I also created a fan project called “Sparks&Splitter” where we tried to give fans a voice to ask questions directly to their favourite drivers or other people working in motorsport. We used a questionnaire to put some interviews together to give fans who could not be on-site at the track (due to COVID-19) some insights into different areas of motorsport.
WHEEL SISTERS: Laura, you started your racing career very late at the age of 24. You said the reason was your family. Your family had no motorsport background at all. Nevertheless your great ambition, passion and talent helped you to achieve your goals and to become the female racer you are today. Where does your motorsport passion come from?
Laura: It is true that my parents never had connections to motorsport but they bought me some match box cars I played with on my car carpet…so, it was something they pointed me towards as a little kid I suppose :-)
I regularly played video racing games like Nascar and Colin McRae Rally 2 together with a good friend of mine and we analysed several races on TV. This is when, at the age of around 10, I started to follow many racing series on TV including F1, AMLS, IRL, Nascar, etc. My dream was to become a race car driver but obviously I first needed to finish school and university. My family had no connection to any kind of inner motorsport circle, they only knew it from television, and were afraid that something could happen to me if I started with this sport.
Nevertheless, I always loved cars, the sound and power of speed, and so I tried to find a way of getting into this sport with my own budget. And this is when I started karting and from there fought my way up (all financed by myself) into the race car in 2016.
WHEEL SISTERS: Can you please describe your motorsport milestones so far?
Laura: In 2016 after several years of karting (mostly rental karting but with some years of four-stroke race karting in the GTC and participating in several endurance races in Italy and Dubai as well) I wanted to start with a full season in a race car. I shifted early on from being a sprint racer to endurance racing in a team so I wanted to also compete in endurance racing. The easiest way in terms of budget was the ADAC Dacia Logan Cup where I could race a full season. I knew that my dream was to compete in the VLN/NLS and 24h race on the Nordschleife and therefore I switched to the RCN in 2017, to a new team as well as a new car. So, from a 90 HP front wheeler to a 270 HP rear wheeler :-)
I could not finance a full season from there on, neither in RCN nor VLN/NLS, but with my current team Adrenalin Motorsport I had the chance to drive different cars and always found a spot to drive when I had saved the money I needed. 2019 was then my lucky year when I managed to get into NLS and did my Permit A license. Unfortunately, in 2020 I could only finance one race but wanted it to be a special one. That is why I selected the 6h race for my only race this year as this was directly on my birthday. One race is better than none and next year the focus is on the 24h race… if everything somehow goes back to normal.
WHEEL SISTERS: What do your parents say today about your motorsport career? Who else gives you the necessary support now?
Laura: My mom is still nervous when I tell her that I have a race and in the beginning my dad was not sure that I should spend my money on this, but generally I know that they are proud of what I achieved and I want to thank them for giving me the opportunity to be able to save some money for racing, especially during my studies. They helped me a lot generally in life so that I could follow my hobbies and do sport in my free time. And this free time for doing my sport is what I can luckily now also get from my partner who lets me live my dream and supports me wherever he can.
WHEEL SISTERS: Do you think your career would have been different if you had been able to start racing as a child?
Laura: I guess so as if you start early and have contacts in the sport it is a lot easier to find the right people to talk to. But you also need the financial backing and at some point this sport needs to be sponsored anyway. Maybe I would have had the chance to drive in other classes now but the top leagues are so expensive that you never know how far you can get by self-financing if no sponsors are involved. But, in general, I can be happy that I made it to this level where I am today with limited possibilities. This is a big achievement and privilege which others don’t have, so I’ve nothing to complain about. I hope that I can reach my ultimate goals of driving 24h races and we’ll have to wait and see what the future of motorsport will look like now anyway.
WHEEL SISTERS: If you look back – what had the biggest impact on improving your driving skills?
Laura: When I first started karting I got help from my karting colleagues but this stopped once I was getting quicker and quicker, and I tried to improve myself more or less. I also never had full coaching as such or data analysis in the car. Last year I got my first data analysis in my three VLN/NLS races and this helped me to identify some gaps I had to close to the pro drivers. I wish that I could have had this earlier to improve much quicker but it is how it is. I tried to learn from sitting in the simulator or watching YouTube onboards from other drivers.
WHEEL SISTERS: Would you like to try other motorsport disciplines too?
Laura: Since I was a Nascar fan as well I wanted to drive this car someday but now I pretty much like the endurance races I am in. I love the team sport and spirit. However, I might like to try driving a rally one day too, because I played that a lot on my PC. Huge respect to those drivers for how precise they are. But let’s see what is possible. For now, my focus is on competing in 24h races, not only in Germany but also maybe abroad as I have all the licenses I need for that.
Laura started her racing career very late at the age of 24 but than she made it in huge steps to the VLN.
Picture: Frozen Pictures and Artwork / Peter Elbert
WHEEL SISTERS: Apart from your racing career, you work as an event manger. What events do you manage?
Laura: I am employed full-time at an asset management company where we organise client conferences and events. Now this year we had to switch to virtual meetings and I am responsible for the digitalization of those events. So my day job shifted more to programming emails, websites, etc., as well as taking care of all the GDPR aspects and project management.
WHEEL SISTERS: Since 2018 you are the first female sim racing commentator in Germany. How did you get this chance?
Laura: Yes, in 2018 I started with sim racing in general on a motion simulator and also competed in a small series. The owner of the motion simulation centre asked me if I would like to commentate on a sim race as some races were streamed and I said yes. I was really lucky that he gave me this opportunity – I really enjoy it and I’ve also got more commentator jobs this year than ever before. It is super fun and I am curious what further opportunities will come on top of this.
WHEEL SISTERS: Sim racing in general: How realistic is it? How important is racing in a simulator for real-world driving?
Laura: For me it was good training in general as I didn’t have many kart races in 2019 and needed to prepare for the Nordschleife before my actual races. Luckily, I could use a motion simulator mostly in 2018 and 2019 but only for some training rounds. This year and on 14th November I got asked to drive in iRacing for a ladies’ team and spontaneously on 18th November to drive for a charity racing season. I had never driven iRacing before and also never on a static simulator so I needed to get used to everything as soon as possible as my first two races took place on 22nd and 27th November on this platform. As I was only used to Assetto Corsa, where I also had my first race on a static simulator on 9th October this year, I needed to find a way of anticipating all movements with my eyes and trying to feel the car. With the setup I have at home it is a bit tricky since the force feedbacks are not realistic but I just need to practice more. In general, I prefer to race on a motion simulator as I like to feel the car movements as if you were sitting in a real car but that is not possible unfortunately. The opinions and discussions in general are very diverse as some like motion, different simulations, etc., but in the end every driver can find their own preferred combination of hardware and software. In my opinion sim racing is essential for real racers in order to be able to train if there are no other alternatives available. It’s also important for learning new tracks as you can push yourself to the limit without worrying about budget. As the Hyraze League also brought this up for the future, Motorsport and sim racing might come closer together now than ever before.
WHEEL SISTERS: What makes a great sim racing commentator?
Laura: It is good to have knowledge about the simulation you’re talking about, especially all the differences, rules and regulations, and also possibilities. I lacked the knowledge in iRacing, which is why I started to race as well to be able to know more about how this works from my own experience. As I cannot race all simulations which are out there – these extra costs would be taken away from my real racing budget – I try to focus on the three main ones, iRacing, AC and ACC for now. Last but not least, it is good to know some drivers in the scene and to also be able to commentate on this race as if it were a real one. Nowadays, I would say that sim race and real race commentators need to have the same skill set, it just depends on the audience you are talking to and on which platform the races are streamed.
WHEEL SISTERS: What does a normal working week look like for you? And what challenges do you have to deal with in your daily business?
Laura: My normal work week is packed, although things do depend on my work load as I sometimes finish a bit earlier or later. I mostly worked from home this year due to COVID-19.
This has been a bonus as my commute time has dropped significantly:-) Now I only need 5 minutes to be ready sitting at my desk instead of 1h 30min with travel time. Besides that, all my other jobs, workout, house work, etc., still have to be done in the evening as I am normally not much of an early bird. I am more productive in the evening and therefore my day does not end until around midnight or even 1 a.m. sometimes. I also don’t have much free time left at the weekends as then I commentate on races, have races myself, do my workouts and other stuff which I could not fit into the weekday. And social media never stops either as I run my accounts and some additional ones as well … you need to be kind of a workaholic which I am :-)
WHEEL SISTERS: What are your hobbies beside racing?
Laura: I had to drop a lot of hobbies to concentrate on racing… so I stopped with badminton and street dance which I did during my studies and put all my effort and time into racing. I’ve liked horseback riding since I was a kid but this was a sport I could only do in my vacation, so nothing I could do regularly nowadays either. But if I do have spare time I fit in some horseback riding throughout the year if I can. I also did kickboxing for 7 years, although I had to stop this in 2013 when I injured my knee in a fight. But last year I started with Wing Tsun as I missed the self-defence training too much.
WHEEL SISTERS: Back to racing: Who is your role model, and why?
Laura: I have to say I really never had a role model as there were several drivers I admired for different reasons. But as my own way into this sport was different to that of most drivers anyway I could not live up to their achievements so I tried to follow and create my own path. With my story, I try to inspire others who think they are too old, etc., and try to help them find a way into motorsport by giving a little guidance. It is never too late to start living your dreams if you are willing to fight hard for them.
“Girls and ladies – don’t be shy and try it out. I didn’t want to regret not trying.”
Picture: Ringpressions / Florian Horz
WHEEL SISTERS: Women in motorsport: What should be done to encourage more women to take part?
Laura: First of all, the typical stereotypes need to disappear that motorsport is only a male sport. It does not matter if you are male, female, transgender or whatever. It is not about religion, race, skin colour or abilities. Under the helmet we are all the same: racers! Motorsport can and should be inclusive, not exclusive, and I guess if those barriers and “traditional” ways of thinking for many sports in general change, it would be easier to start achieving equality. I guess women are sometimes afraid of the comments they might get or think they are not good enough to race. Women have to fight harder and prove themselves more in this sport… why? This is not clear but I guess it’s also an ego thing. If we are all working together and try to show more empathy, inclusion and supportiveness in general – not only in motorsport – rules and stigma for the future might change.
WHEEL SISTERS: Have you experienced any sexism during races and, if so, how did you deal with it?
Laura: Sure, there are some guys joking about women in general (in a negative way to the extent that they say that women do not belong in a race car, etc.) or trying to flirt with you, but you develop a harder shell over the years and learn to cope with comments like this pretty well – at least I can. In the beginning some negative comments always made me think about what I could, should do better or differently but, in the end, that made things worse. So I try to follow my instinct and heart and don’t let my focus be distracted from my goals.
WHEEL SISTERS: What advice would you give to girls or women looking forward to getting into motorsports?
Laura: First of all, no matter who asks, everyone should know where their own limits are (financial, personal or general circumstances) as in the end, the reason and goal for entering this sport should be realistic. If it comes to women in particular, I would advise them to work harder than maybe expected, but still not to be pressured into losing their female charisma. Furthermore, don’t worry too much or overthink your actions. It is better to think less when sitting in the race car, kart, etc., than being fearful or having concerns. This can be riskier than if ladies just try to feel the moment. Some might not have the problem of overthinking everything but that did apply to me when I started.
And important: girls and ladies – don’t be shy and try it out. I didn’t want to regret not trying. It is also better to support each other than to be enemies.
Ladies, ask for help from your fellow female drivers as well because if we all work together towards a better world in motorsport for us, we can achieve more. More love than jealousy or hate!
WHEEL SISTERS: What are your private and sporting goals in the upcoming months or years?
Laura: Once we can go back to normal somehow after this crazy year that is 2020, I hope to be able to compete in the 24h or other endurance races around the globe… but primarily on the Nordschleife first.
I also want to work on my sim racing skills as I still need to practice this more. It would also be great to have the chance to commentate more races and to also work as a reporter at the tracks as this is something I also really enjoyed during the 24h race where I was able to work for Nürburgring TV in the pits this year.
When my motorsport career comes to an end (I don’t know when), I would like to own a horse to follow this hobby more in-depth than I can today.