With new hopes and ambitions, 2020 is not only a new year for Abbie Eaton but almost a rebirth. The 28-year-old might be best known as the test driver on recent series of The Grand Tour but racing is her passion. Putting cars through their paces for Clarkson et al was only a welcome stopgap, one now concluded as Eaton anticipates returning to the serious business behind the wheel in the second season of the all-female W Series.
What she wants to do is race but Eaton’s career ground to a halt through lack of funding four years ago. She had repeatedly proved herself on track yet was left disheartened that success did not translate into backing. The W Series is her way back. The championship had a major impact in its first season and is set to build on its success this year. For Eaton, January cannot be over soon enough and waiting until the first round at St Petersburg in May is going to be trying.
When she does finally take to the grid it will be not only a vindication of her determination but, well, like coming home. “I was still in my mummy’s belly when I first went to a race track,” she says. “I was two months old when I first went as a baby to watch Dad karting. I have been at circuits ever since then.”
Her dad, Paul, was a committed tin top racer and mum, Denise, supported him, with Abbie in tow. By the time she was seven their daughter wanted in as well. Watching karting at Knockhill in Fife she asked her parents for a go but they were too busy.
Unsurprisingly her parents ultimately gave in. Eaton had her own kart when she was 10, and on her first outing in the cold and sleet of a January morning, all she would say was: “When can I go again?”
From there racing was all.
Since then Eaton considers that she has generally enjoyed support from male counterparts but acknowledges that it has sometimes been necessary to get her elbows out. “If guys think a girl will back out they will try and scare you a little bit,” she says. “In karting one guy would always knock me off on one corner. He did it again and at the next corner I just hit him off really hard into the barriers. Afterwards he came up to me and grabbed me round the neck but I looked him in the eye and said: ‘You won’t do it again though, will you?’”
Eaton won her class on her first year in adult touring car racing when she was 17, taking 15 wins from 18 races and 16 podiums. She followed it by competing in the Mazda MX-5 Cup, almost entirely self-funded by her far from well-off family. Her dad built the cars and her mum ran the team. In 2014 she won the SuperCup. In 2016 a season in the British GT championship was also successful, with second in class, but she could go no further.
Having never driven single-seaters before, Eaton is boldly taking on a real challenge, compared to which The Grand Tour was a pleasing distraction. “I really enjoyed doing it,” she says. “But returning to racing was always the goal.” Clearly, she cannot wait to continue the real journey that has consumed her since she was a child.
“When you’re young you have all these dreams and think: ‘If I am good and I work hard, I will be able to succeed’. You have all the confidence and determination that it will work,” she says. “As you get older you realise it’s not as easy as you thought but you don’t give up.”
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