When Nathalie McGloin first took up motor racing, it was as a challenge and a hobby. At the time, she could not have known how far it would lead her. She certainly didn’t ever picture herself on a Formula 1 podium.
Much of Nathalie’s life has been about taking on and conquering challenges. At the age of 16, she was a passenger in a road traffic accident that left her paralysed from the chest down.
Her approach since can be summed up in her own words: “I don’t like to be beaten by things.”
This mantra saw her through almost a year in hospital, back to school and then on to university. She took up wheelchair rugby and made the British squad, then began racing competitively in 2015.
An unapologetic Porsche fanatic, she drives a specially-adapted 987 Cayman S and currently competes in the Porsche Club Championship and Classic Sports Car Club. Among other alterations, her car is equipped with hand controls, mounted to the right of the steering column, leaving her left hand free to steer.
Racing drivers generally feel a car’s behaviour through the base of their seat, but as Nathalie is paralysed from the chest down this is impossible. Instead, her seat is shaped to fit her ribcage, allowing her to feel the car in this way. Since starting out in racing, she has learned that wet weather lends itself to this particular adaptation.
“I don’t have any sensation below my chest, so I read the car differently to non-disabled drivers,” she explains. “When it’s wet, all of the senses are heightened and so everything the car does is very obvious. It gives me more feedback and more confidence, so I’m more comfortable in the wet and with that more competitive.”
This first clicked for Nathalie during a rain-hit race at Brands Hatch, where she found herself carving through the field on her way to sixth place. But racing can take away just as much as it gives. At the same circuit, her participation in the sport was nearly brought to a halt.
“I knew that crashing was on the cards, but you never think it’ll happen to you,” she begins.
Nathalie had been working with an instructor in her car at Brands. For the final session she went back out alone to see what kind of time she could put in without the added weight and with fresh rubber.
“I could hear a weird noise; when my instructor got out I didn’t unplug my helmet, so I assumed it was just feedback from the intercom.
“It turned out to be a wheel bearing about to collapse. As I approached Paddock Hill Bend at 130mph I went to apply the brakes and the ABS failed. I locked up and hit the wall at 70mph.
“I’m still suffering from soft tissue damage because I was trying to steer away from the wall, whereas a more experienced driver might have taken their hands off and braced for the impact.”
She couldn’t compete that weekend or at the following event. Before her next scheduled race, she realised she was dreading simply getting back into the car.
“My partner Andrew came back one afternoon and found me in floods of tears. I told him that I didn’t know if I could race again.”
She did, but the enjoyment she’d once found was gone. It wasn’t until an end-of-season race at Silverstone with her fellow BWRDC (British Women Racing Drivers’ Club) members that things began to change.
“Silverstone’s one of my favourite circuits so I knew it was the right place to do it. I told myself that if I still hated it when there was no pressure, I’d leave racing.
“It was such a chilled-out weekend and I got my first podium – it always helps when you win some silverware! I’ve since taken a third-place in my class at the Classic Sports Car Club race at Silverstone this year, so I’m still riding the wave.”