ALL REVVED UP: Barrhaven’s Erika Hoffmann chasing Formula Woman pro auto racing dream


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Erika Hoffmann is getting a chance to chase her childhood dream.

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When she was seven or eight, Hoffmann remembers her brother Alex switching the television channel to a Formula 1 auto race. It was love at first sight; she quickly took to the speed and the tactics of the sleek vehicles. Soon, she was paying close attention to racers like Lewis Hamilton, still her “OG.”

And, now, the 25-year-old Hoffmann, who grew up in Barrhaven, has been selected to compete in the Formula Woman motorsports competition, open to amateur female racers. The winners of Formula Woman will receive a fully sponsored McLaren GT4 seat in the 2022 GT Cup Championship. Hoffmann was one of three Canadians – along with Gatineau’s Isabelle Tremblay – among the 50 finalists (out of more than 800 competitors).

For Hoffmann, who leaves for England this week for the competition, it’s an incredible opportunity. There will be eliminations after testing March 2-3 at PF International Kart Circuit. Those remaining will go to a different track the next day for more testing. Then the Top 10 will go to another location where four finalists will be chosen.

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“I really got into (F1 racing) when I was young,” she said. “It grew from there. When I got my driver’s license, my parents were kind of hoping that it would appease me and that it would be enough. But no, now I really want to do this.”

Hoffmann, an aquatic supervisor for the city of Ottawa, has long been involved in the local sporting scene – including as a competitive kayaker, as a swimmer and in soccer, hockey and snowboarding.

“I loved a lot of things,” she said. “But racing is the one that has my heart.”

She remembers being inspired by seeing four-time Olympic gold-medalist Hayley Wickenheiser at a meet and greet at a Booster Juice location in Barrhaven years ago.

“I was star struck, I don’t think I said much,” said Hoffmann. “She signed my Team Canada jersey and I got to wear her gold medal. It really was pivotal for me because she was one of the only female mainstream athletes I knew. Getting to see her in real life was really an impactful moment for me as a young girl.”

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Erika Hoffmann is getting a chance to chase her childhood dream of being a professional race car driver.
Erika Hoffmann is getting a chance to chase her childhood dream of being a professional race car driver. SUPPLIED

The influence that moment had, realizing that women could break down barriers and shine in the spotlight, isn’t lost on her.

“I’m a big fan of women’s sports,” said Hoffmann. “Watching the Olympics when I was growing up, it was one of the only areas where women’s sports are prominently highlighted. I remember watching the Canadian women’s hockey team win gold. My dad was like, ‘You can be that, you can do that.’ It’s so cool to see the doors that have already opened for women in motorsports. To be part of that, to be part of elevating women in sports and opening doors for girls behind me would be such an honor.”

In 2019, she took her Subaru BRZ she bought when she was 20 to the track at Calabogie Motorsports Park. She got some coaching, then she raced in the GT Challenge, finishing second in the championship. She says she was “hooked at that point.” She was offered a job as a high-performance driving coach at Apex V2R, a virtual reality driving and racing simulation center in Nepean.

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“Racing on a track is so expensive,” she said. “(Virtual racing) is a really good tool. My mom likes it because crashes are less lethal. There are some differences. You’re not going to feel the same G forces or the fear you get in real life, but it’s such a good tool to progress your braking, your turns and all those things. It does really help.”

She was told she should enter the Formula Woman competition. Last year, she did an assessment at Lombardy Karting, near Smiths Falls, alongside competitors from as far away as Hamilton. There were also physical, written and screen tests.

Her mom Helen and dad David are on board with their daughter’s pursuit of a racing career.

“They’re my biggest cheerleaders,” she said. “They were like, ‘You talk about this enough, you’re passionate about it, you should go for it.”

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Her sister Polly will be going to England with her for the competition. Hoffmann says she’s relaxed after some initial anxiety about the opportunity in front of her, where she’ll be tested on things like reaction, how she handles a car and the mechanics of the vehicle.

“I’m getting flown out to Europe to race cars and I was a little overwhelmed because it’s such a big opportunity and I want to perform well,” she said. “I drive better when I’m loose, I don’t want to get stressed. I’ve played a lot of sports and I’ve done a lot of coaching so I’m used to competition. And I’m really good at breaking down things, evaluating my own performance. I’m decently good at staying calm under pressure and not letting outside distractions rattle me. Driving is pretty intuitive for me. The first time I got in a car to race and it started to spin, my reaction was to catch it and counter steer.”

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Soon enough, she will be challenged like she’s never been challenged before. But she’s ready.

“This whole process has been a great learning experience, whether I progress (to the next level) or not,” she said. “That motivation to train has made me a much better driver. The more I learn about driving, the more I’m thinking there’s so much more to learn. I don’t want to just drive a faster car. I want to have the skills to be a better driver. If you look at the odds to get to drive a GT Formula McLaren for a season, I’m in a much better position than I was before. It’s kind of crazy. Even people who have been carting their whole lives don’t always get this opportunity. I really want to make the most of it, but I also don’t want to rob myself of the experience by stressing out too much.”

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