Nathalie Richard Rally Car Racer>

Nathalie Richard (of Halifax, NS) will return to competition as of 2012 Rally America series kicks off its winter event. The SnoDrift Rally, the first of six rounds in the American series, will celebrate its 46th anniversary on the snow and ice-covered roads in and around Atlanta, Michigan. Richard and her partner L’Estage, who narrowly missed out on a second consecutive Rally America title in 2011, will debut their brand new Mitsubishi Evo X this weekend.

HerHighway’s Editor in Chief Christina Selter finally got to meet Nathalie for an interview regarding how the motorsport industry has opportunities for women and why it is so important for women to seek a career in automotive. The video is coming soon, but for now enjoy some of the Q&A below.

Did someone mentor you in this industry to help you get started?
Two people really helped me when I first started competing in rally.  The first was fellow co-driver Mark Williams in 2000, who at the time, was co-driving for Tom McGeer and Subaru Rally Team Canada.  Pacenotes, the method of accurately describing how a road should be driven at speed, were just starting to be used in North American rallying and Mark Williams was the one person to really get me to feel comfortable with the concept of how to write them and use them properly.  I could always turn to Mark if I needed help or advice, and even though he wasn’t on my team, he always made time for me if I needed it.

The second person that really helped me when I started rallying was my brother, Pat Richard.  He started competing in 1999 but we lived over 4000 km apart so I didn’t really know what rallying was right away.  He introduced me to the sport and took a big risk by bringing me on to Subaru Rally Team Canada in 2004 when I had less experience than someone should have to sit beside him in the car.  It was baptism by fire but because Pat was so hard on me to be my absolute best, he ended up building a good foundation that I further developed into the co-driver that I am today.  It was with him that I won my first few championship titles on both sides of the border.

As a woman what features are your favorites in a car?
I think the features I look for in a car are person specific and not necessarily gender specific.  I’m not someone whose head spins when a sexy car drives by; I’m more someone who looks for practicality.  I’d want a reliable, powerful, 4WD vehicle that I can easily throw things into whether it’s gear, groceries, or kids!

Why does the auto industry seem like a difficult environment for females?
In the rally community, the difficulties I face are not because I am a woman and I have never been presented with a situation that specifically affects me because of my gender. I believe the guys in my sport respect me for my accomplishments and my experience.  The rally fans love to see a woman competing at the top and they are always very sweet and complimentary.  More importantly, a lot of parents like to bring their young daughters to meet me or take photos and I am thrilled if I can give them something to strive to be!

Why did you want to work in the auto industry?
I never had aspirations to be in the motorsports world, it was really thanks to my brother that I was introduced to the sport of rally car racing and even at that, I didn’t think I would be a competitor.  I’m an organized and ‘take charge’ kind of person so it was a good fit when I started off as manager of his private team early on in his career.  I loved the people and camaraderie that I experienced at the events and I quickly became the substitute co-driver when his co-drivers weren’t available for competition. Now I love what I do and couldn’t imagine NOT doing it.

First automotive job?

The only two paying jobs that I have ever had relating to automotive or motorsports were rally co-driving and television host. I’ve been a professional co-driver since 2006, which is also the year that I started hosting rally-related TV shows on ESPN, TSN (Canada – English) and RDS (Canada – French).  My background is not in the automotive industry at all – I have my Commerce and Teaching degrees and I’ve used both of those degrees a fair bit but I am lucky enough to have have a job doing something that I am extremely passionate about.

Proudest professional achievement?
In total, I’ve won seven North American Overall championships as well as four Canadian and three America and I’m proud of them all.  The Triple Crown (awarded to the team winning all three championships in any given year) has only been awarded twice in its history – to Pat Richard in 2004 and Antoine L’Estage in 2010.  Both times, I was their co-driver, which makes me the only two-time recipient.  I’m very proud of that too because with all the competition and challenges we face, it’s definitely not an easy feat to accomplish.

I’ve now tied the co-driver with the most North American championship titles but if I want to tie the driver with the most, that’s John Buffum and he’s got two more than I have so I’d better stay in this game for at least another two years!   What I’m most proud of is that these achievements are against everyone involved, men and women alike … I didn’t just get these titles because I’m the best woman out there.

Current challenge at work?
Even though my ‘office’ is on the right seat of a rally car, the challenges I face at work are similar to other jobs – making sure I’m as organized and prepared I can be for the job at hand, not spreading myself too thin so that I’m too exhausted to perform properly, stretching a given budget to be able to accomplish as much as we can the best that we can, ensuring proper flow of information amongst the other employees/team members, and dealing with politics and power struggles that are beyond my control!

Dream job?
I currently have my dream job; rally co-driving for a top team in North America, winning championship titles on both sides of the border.  If ever I could get to do some professional rallying over in Europe or in the World Rally Championship, that would be the icing on the cake.  But, where I’m at in my life, I don’t see myself moving to another continent again so here in North America, it doesn’t get any better than what I’m doing right now!

What you do to relax?
I try to work out at least 6 times a week – my current favorites are spin class, which I do a couple of times a week, as well as TRX training, which I do 2-3 times a week.  I really look forward to both of those workouts and sometimes they’re the highlight of my day!  I’m just about to do a rock climbing course so maybe that’s something I’ll do a bit more in the future.