Student race team appoints its first female racing driver
The University of Wolverhampton Racing Team (UWR) is driving forward its equality and diversity agenda by appointing its first female racing driver - and the team is back on track for the Britcar Prototype Cup after unveiling a striking new livery for its Praga R1 car.
UWR is the only student racing team in the UK competing in the professional motorsport competition.
Jessica Hawkins, 28 from Poole, is a British racing driver and stunt driver and will drive the Praga R1 car in the 2023 competition alongside UWR professional racing driver and University mentor, Shane Kelly.
In the 2023 season, the Praga Cup will run as a standalone class in the new Britcar Prototype Cup, where Praga R1s will compete alongside a variety of manufacturers invited by Britcar.
After a successful year of racing in 2021 that saw the team crowned Formula 3 Cup Class champions, UWR competed in the Praga Cup 2022 following a substantial £200k sponsorship for a new Praga R1 car and branded infrastructure from Midlands-based firm, Highclear Investments, led by local businessman and philanthropic entrepreneur, Walter Gleeson.
Walter’s driving ambition is to get more diversity into engineering and motorsport, especially women, as his daughter was the sole female student on a computer course at another University.
Walter, who co-founded musicMagpie with Steve Oliver in 2007, set up Highclear Investments in mid-2021 as a private commercial vehicle to invest in business opportunities within the Midlands & Shropshire regions and across the UK as well as to support various philanthropic causes.
Jessica said: “I’ve seen lots of stories about the University and the Racing Team over the years and it’s a great opportunity for me to work alongside the students. An exciting bonus for me is the impetus to get more females interested in STEM subjects.
“We’re also aiming to get more females into the sport and it’s something I’m really passionate about so I’m sure that this is the start of what will be a great relationship. I’ve been racing a long time and there are things I can pass down to the younger generation.
“I’m excited to start this journey with the students and am more than happy to get my hands dirty – even though I’m not an engineer, I’ve learned a lot over the years and it will be great for us all to grow together, and I know I’m going to learn things as well.
“When I was growing up, it was a given that Motorsport was a man’s world. I started racing purely because I saw a Kart Circuit in the distance and I begged my dad to let me have a go and that was how it started. He probably wouldn’t have thought that was something I would be interested in which is also why I’m so passionate about helping females into Motorsport. I do think there is still some stigma around it and some people still think it’s a man’s world but we are slowly changing that idea.
“It needs to become more accessible and we need more female figureheads in Motorsport for the younger generation to look up to.”
Dr Aman Dhir, Head of the Department of Engineering said: “Our investment in enhanced provision and expanded facilities in our Department of Engineering demonstrates our commitment to providing the next generation of skilled engineers. Our new courses combine activity based learning and live industrial project work with a real focus on employability.
“The appointment of our first female driver will undoubtedly prove beneficial to increasing diversity on our engineering and manufacturing courses and the continued experience of engineering alongside professionals in the industry will further enhance the student experience to really prepare them for industry-standard careers in the future.”
With equality and diversity at the heart of the sponsorship, Highclear CEO, Walter Gleeson, said: “This sponsorship is primarily about promoting manufacturing and engineering jobs as viable career paths for all, but especially women and students from the BAME community and I’m delighted that the team has appointed its first female racing driver.
“I’m really hoping that this continued investment will provide the necessary exposure to the range of courses available at the University whilst at the same time allowing us to give something back to the community. And I’m sure that Jessica will be a positive role-model for potential students looking to study Engineering at the University.”
UWR is made up of students undertaking a variety of degrees including Motorsport, Automotive, Mechatronics, Aerospace, Manufacturing, Mechanical and Chemical Engineering in the School of Engineering at the University's Telford Campus based in Priorslee. It is part of the University’s commitment to producing graduates who can apply both theory and practice in the industry, offering them hands-on experience to equip them with real-world skills to boost their employability.
The Highclear sponsored Praga R1 car is a single seater, mid-engine race car powered by a 4-cylinder R-A Praga T Engine – producing 365BHP and 395NM of torque. The car’s bespoke carbon fibre chassis is accompanied by an advanced aerodynamic package capable of producing 3G’s of lateral cornering forces.
The new livery was unveiled by students and staff at an official ceremony at Telford Campus.
Despite being deemed ‘too small’ Jessica Hawkins got her first glimpse of a kart aged eight and immediately ‘fell in love with racing: the speed, the competition, everything.’ Jess grew up in Poole, Dorset, and showed talent in several sports, including netball, hockey and football, which she played for Reading. Aged just 12 years old, Jessica was crowned British Karting Champion and in 2008 won the Honda Cadet British Open Championship. A podium in the 2014 Michelin Clio Cup followed, with a hard-fought runner-up place the Mini Challenge title in 2017.
Never losing her passion for racing, Jessica became a pro stunt driver with Fast and the Furious Live and the James Bond film, ‘No Time to Die’ under her belt. She’s also a Guinness World Record holder.
Jessica, one of the star drivers of W Series, the international Formula 3 championship for female drivers only, recently joined Aston Martin Cognizant Formula One™ Team as its new Driver Ambassador.
As well as racing in the 2019 W Series championship, in which she delivered impressively strong points-scoring drives at both Assen and Brands Hatch, Jessica has raced in Formula Ford, Formula 4, the British Touring Car Championship and the Jaguar I-Pace eTrophy.
The Britcar Prototype Cup race schedule is as follows:
25 & 26 March – Silverstone GP
22 & 23 April – Brands Hatch Indy
27 & 29 May – Oulton Park
16 & 17 September – Snetterton 300
14 & 15 October – Donington GP
All races will be livestreamed on the Britcar YouTube channel.
Anyone interested in courses being offered in the School of Engineering should check out the website or register for one of our forthcoming Open Days.
For more information please contact the Corporate Communications Team.