Exclusive interview to Ana Beatriz Figueiredo, the only woman in the world to win in the Firestone Indy Lights and in the Fórmula Renault.
Born in São Paulo, Brazil, Ana Beatriz Caselato Gomes de Figueiredo, or Bia, as she’s known in the racing world, she has no family history of race drivers. Her father’s a psychiatrist and her mother is a dentist. She graduated with an undergraduate degree in Business from Faculdades Metropolitanas Unidas while she was racing cars in Brazil. As a young child Ana Beatriz was involved in ballet, soccer, volleyball, tennis and acting school (to help her overcome her shyness). Portuguese is her native language and she also speaks English and some Spanish.
For the past 5 years she’s been living in Indianapolis and lately she’s been back and forth between São Paulo and US.
Ana Beatriz, you started kart racing when you were eight. Did you already know then what you wanted to be when you grew up or were you racing just for fun?
Ever since I was three years old I was crazy about racing and all types of sports. I was a total “tomboy”. When I saw a go-kart for the first time I went mad, I was only five years old at the time. I kept begging my dad to let me drive, but it wasn’t until three years later, when I turned eight years old that he actually let me kart. Originally as a child I was focused on the “having fun” aspect of racing. At the same time I dreamt of someday becoming a professional race car driver. However, I had no idea just how difficult it was to drive at those speeds, much less the degree of dedication and effort it takes to rank among the best. As time went by I learned to appreciate the sport and its racers at a totally new level, which further fueled my passion to race!
This is obviously a male dominated industry. What advantages do you have as one of a handful of women in this industry and how have you leveraged those advantages?
A friend once told me something that I feel really applies to my career: “You are running in a straight line between Fantastic and Ridiculous. If you do well, it’s fantastic, but if you fail it’s ridiculous.” By reaching a top series like IndyCar and becoming the first Brazilian woman to do such a thing I have some media and sponsorship advantages. By the same note, I tend to get more recognition by being one of the only females in the field.
Becoming a “feminine” female driver helped me get more attention from the media, sponsors and new opportunities that are targeting women. This has positioned me to gain interest from cosmetic companies whom do not traditionally enter the racing industry. Being a woman driver has even helped me acquire Ipiranga as a my main sponsor, given that my gender helps their brand reach women and kids—something difficult for a Gasoline brand that has traditionally targeted men.
Yet, inside the track gender is irrelevant, and I don’t feel any different from a male driver. We are all aggressive and share the same goal of winning the race. However, outside of the track I have leveraged my femininity to overcome bad situations using traditional women skills of tact and diplomacy while maintaining a firm versus aggressive stand.
What are some of the biggest challenges you face in your industry and in your everyday job?
The biggest overall challenge is to stay in IndyCar and run a full season. However, this is directly tied to my “core” challenge which is attaining strong sponsorships that provide me and my team with the financial fortitude that allow me to focus on racing, and my team on readiness avoiding the mechanical failures we have encountered this year. Unfortunately racing is the most expensive sport because of the car, engine and team structure. I have clear in my mind that having the right chance and the right support we will have the chance to win races and have a fair fight for championships. Achieving this sole objective is HUGE!
What do you find the most satisfying part of your work?
My greatest satisfaction is that I get to do what I truly love and am passionate about! There is nothing greater for me than the sensation I get with the speed, danger, and uniqueness of the sport. The only equal satisfaction, is getting to meet so many exceptional people. I cherish the relationships I am fortunate enough to gain throughout my life. That to me is simply priceless!
What advice do you have for other women who have unusual (or challenging) career goals?
I usually say that the place for women is wherever they wish to be. Sky is the limit and I believe that women are so much more determined than men in general. Work hard, be humble and never give up. Overall, I don’t believe there is such thing as “unusual” career goals—If you can dream it, you can do it! Find your inner confidence and if at anytime you find yourself seeing something as a barrier (something women tend to create for themselves—which I believe to be optical illusions) then turn it into an opportunity. Yes, there are challenges but without them life would be boring. Challenges is what makes us grow….so embrace them and overcome them…because if anyone can do it…it’s a Woman!
How do you feel about being a role model for girls and young women who might want to go into racing? Do you speak in schools or other organizations and events about this?
This is the most humbling experience yet and something that has more value than I can put into words! I have the opportunity to talk in some schools and organizations, and there is nothing more rewarding than to see a child’s eyes shine with interest in something. Telling my story to them somehow allows me to open the possibility to dream beyond the every day. I can only hope to inspire them to go after their dreams and make them a reality as I did. In the coming months, my marketing team will be seeking out other opportunities to interact with more young girls and women. It truly is an added bonus to have the stage where I can give something back to the next generations of women…and my striving for winning is also an inspiration I get from other women I see whom have excelled in their careers. I love seeing more and more girls at kart track starting and doing well in this amazing sport.
Could you mention one or more women who have helped you get to where you are now?
I have one that came right to my mind. She didn’t like the idea of me racing first, but when she realized that was my passion she overcame all her fears and supported me throughout my career. I believe I got her determination gene. She is my mom, Marcia, one of the best dentists in Brazil. Second person that comes to my mind is Mrs Grace Lieblen, former President for General Motors Brazil and current Vice President of Global Purchasing and Supply Chain at General Motors Company. I had the humbling opportunity to spend some time with her in Brazil and US. She was someone I identified with right-away because we both work in male dominant jobs and for her to achieve such a high level responsibility in a huge/global company like GM is something that I really admire. In addition to the position she holds, she is an absolutely kind woman with everybody. She is extremely personable and shows a tremendous amount of self-confidence. She carries herself in a soft and feminine demeanor, while balancing herself with the highest professionalism, dedication and firmness needed to succeed in her role. This balancing act is something I constantly strive for on and off the track.
You can follow Ana Beatriz – Bia and get in touch with her here:
Web Site: www.biaracing.com
Facebook Page: Ana Beatriz “Bia” Figueiredo