‘It was pretty crazy really!’ is how Katie Milner responded to the request to give an overview of her year in the Junior Saloon Car Championship. It’s not really an assessment that anyone can disagree with. Eight wins and eleven podiums were more than enough to make her the first female champion of the series as well as allowing her to pick up a plethora of trophies including the British Women’s Racing Drivers Club Gold Star award and British Automobile Racing Club most outstanding female.
‘The second round was really where it clicked’ she elaborated. ‘I qualified on pole for the first time, won the first race and almost won the second race as well. It wasn’t really until that meeting that it all came together.
‘And then the meetings after that we were constantly finishing in the top three. In the middle of the year we sat down and thought, we can actually win this.
‘It wasn’t until I won the championship that I realised how special it was because a female had never won a race in that championship, never qualified on pole let alone won the championship.
‘I couldn’t believe how all these achievements kept coming. It was really incredible to see so many people getting behind us and supporting something that isn’t different, but sort of very new.’
Since her remarkable championship winning year in 2016, Milner has been recognised as one of the most successful female racing drivers in the UK. But she wasn’t going to sit back for long and enjoy her success and it was onwards and upwards for the teenager.
‘Coming back into a different championship this year has brought me back down to earth, learning a new car. Thinking back to all the effort we put into earning the awards reminds me of how much effort I have to put in this year to achieve awards at the end of the year.’
For 2017 Milner made the step up to the Ginetta GT5 Challenge, finishing the season in eighth. While from the outside it may not seem as much of an outright achievement, Milner insists that her learning year has been a success. With increased media attention and a new paddock to learn, 2017 has been about more than just driving.
‘We’re in a completely different paddock now, there are so many more spectators and a bigger media presence and it’s all different things to get used to.
‘It’s been strange going into a paddock where you really don’t know anyone. I have the mentality that once you get on track nothing else matters. You’re not looking at the crowd or at the people on the pitwall looking at you.
‘It’s been daunting getting those looks when you are walking around because you are a girl and almost different to everyone else. But once you are on track and there to do a job I don’t find that daunting.’
‘We’ve been close to a podium three or four times this year but it hasn’t quite clicked yet. We’ve got good plans over winter to just get that bit extra I need to hopefully finish top three next year.’
Beyond that, Milner is looking to continue to move up the GT ranks and make a real career out of racing. Although she may not be dreaming of Formula 1 like many of her peers, her aspirations remain lofty…
‘I suppose the aim would be to race at Le Mans’ she considers.
‘I don’t fancy single seaters but if I was given the opportunity to drive one I probably wouldn’t say no. I think for a lot of people the realistic goal is the GT route because there are so many more opportunities to get paid and sponsors are looking to sponsor GT cars so I think that’s the way to go. I’m working with Guy Smith now who won Le Mans in 2003 and currently drives for Bentley. We’ve already had talks with a manufacturer so there is hope to get to the top.’
It’s hard, when asked, for Milner to define exactly what she loves most about racing. For most young thrill-seekers it’s all about the speed and the adrenaline, but Milner gives a much more rounded answer as to what motivates her to dedicate so much of her life to motorsport.
‘I think everything really. I absolutely love the stuff with the media and meeting with the sponsors and engaging with different people. I think it’s not just the racing it’s being part of the motorsport family and all the different things that come with that. It’s hard to just pick the racing.’
If she does get to the top she won’t be the first in her family to become a motorsport star. Her father, Jonny Milner, won the British Rally Championship in 2002 and 2003, as well as making a comeback in 2010 to win the National Gravel Rally Championship. Katie may have big boots to fill, but there are many benefits to being brought up by a racing expert.
‘He won the British Rally Championship when I was three so really my whole life I’ve grown up watching him compete and succeed. I grew up watching the end of his career and then in 2012 he stopped and I started really. It’s all really because of him.
‘He’s very different [to most drivers’ fathers] with being a rally driver and knowing cars inside out and our family business is just a local garage, working with mechanics every day. He’s been a big help and a big saving as well because he has managed my car through the year.
‘He coached me, if I was struggling on a certain corner he would tell me to try it this way or we’ll change the car and see how it feels. He’s really good at explaining as well. It’s not just being a parent it’s a lot of other things as well.’
And with motorsport in her blood and a racing expert on hand, Miner’s definitely one to watch for the future. Her impressive history, taking four championships in the last six years, speaks for itself. She made her debut in autograss and quickly made her mark -‘It shocked a lot of people that I came straight into it and I was winning heats and was close to winning finals.’- and she has been proving her talent ever since. Today Ginetta GT5s, tomorrow Le Mans.
Quick Fire Questions
Who is your driving hero?
I’d say my dad!
Which of your races means the most to you?
I’d say the last race last year. I had a lot of pressure to go out and win the championship and the first race of the weekend didn’t go that well. I cut down the whole of Silverstone straight on my rival and overtook him by the end. I actually came from tenth and won the race. I think that race I was so determined to prove that I was deserving to win the championship.
If you could have spectated at any race in motorsport history what would it have been?
I would love to have gone back to when people like Senna were racing and really see how motorsport has developed.
A quick message for young women wanting to go into motorsport?
Just go and try it. It’s a weird sport, it’s not your typical football or rugby that everyone goes into. I don’t think before you’ve tried it you can really get the bug for it. I’d just say get down to your local karting track or go down and watch your local race and if you get the bug for it and like it, why not enter a few races and see what you think.