Christina Nielsen is like any other California twenty-something. She likes spending time with friends but misses her mom’s home cooked meals. She is finishing up her most recent semester of college but is looking forward to doing some traveling this summer.
She isn’t in a hurry to do her household chores but always drives too fast on the crowded freeways coursing through the Bay Area. The only difference between Nielsen and the millions of other college students in California is that she knows how to handle a car at nearly 200 mph.
“If you see a Kia Sorento on the outside line, and then hitting the apex to move to the inside lane, then you know that one is me,” said Nielsen, a professional racer in two of the most prestigious circuits in all of motorsports. “I drive like I drive on the race track, but I’m also careful. People don’t react to situations like I would.”
Nielsen is one of the top drives – male or female – in the GT Championships circuit. The dynamic Danish driver is also one of the few to get behind the wheel in two of the highest classes of racing, TUDOR United Sportscar Championship and Pirelli World Challenge. Nielsen has the privilege of driving TRG’s Aston Martin V12 Vantage in both. Just last month, she was zipping around the turns at Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif. where she finished fifth in the GT Daytona class of the race along with her Aussie co-driver, James Davison.
“Laguna is a completely different track,” Nielsen said. “If you want to be a pro driver you need to be able to adjust all the time. It is not an easy task and that’s what makes racing special, your ability to feel the racing of that event.”
To offer new fans some insight into the event, Nielsen said safety is her main concern when heading into the track’s iconic Corkscrew turn. A blind turn and a three-story drop looks intimidating on television, but to driver’s like Nielsen, it’s just a matter of planning.
“One of the most important things in racing is your view,” she said. “Your eyes need to be ahead of your hands and the steering wheel.”
Later this month, Nielsen will have the option of racing in both TUDOR and Pirelli championships at Watkins Glen in New York and Elkhart Lake’s Road America in Wisconsin, respectively.
Nielsen said racing experience is a big factor in any circuit, but she said meeting people and learning from those at the next level is an important step to getting behind the wheel of larger race cars. She said it is important to thanks sponsors, meet people and always try to leave a good impression.
“Networking and knowing the right people is extremely important,” she said. “There are only a certain amount of teams that are competitive. People have put in a good word for me and said this chick can do it. Stay in a good place with other people and keep proving yourself.”
She also said young drivers should not get too caught up in one type of driving if there are opportunities to advance somewhere else.
“There are so many different championships,” she said. “Be open minded and look behind the obvious classes you might want to race.”
Nielsen said motorsports were not a lifelong dream of hers but something she was drawn to less than 10 years ago. At the age of 14, a friend took her to Go-kart race. She sat in a rental kart for the first time and was mesmerized by the speed and feel of the turns.
“I never had an interest until I sat in that Go-Kart,” she said. “Even though my father had raced for many years.”
Her father is Lars Erik Nielsen who raced Porsche at legendary events such as the 24 Hours of Le mans, 24 Hours of Daytona and 12 Hours of Sebring. The combination of the her newfound passion and her father’s pedigree, Nielsen started karting in 2007 and in just four short years qualified for the World Championship where she finished 3rd.
“I’ve been racing internationally since I was 16 years old,” she said. “To become the best you need to compete against the best. I was thrown into high level competition within my first year of Go-Kart and got my butt kicked a lot. But we improved a lot and it was good for me.”
From there she competed in Formula Ford in 2010 and Formula ADAC Masters in 2011 before entering her first Porsche 911 GT3 Cup race in 2012. “It felt like home,” she said.
In 2013, she and her father decided to team up with Farnbacher Racing in the German Carrera Cup, one of the most competitive one-make series in the world. She won two races in the B-Championships of the series and the best position ever achieved by a female driver in the history of the German Carrera Cup.
With all of her success, Nielsen keeps safety in mind at all times. In fact, her pre-race ritual is a sobering reminder of how quickly things can go wrong. The words on the back of her helmet read, “Forever with us, in our hearts Allan Simonsen,” along with two dates – his birthday and the day he died in June 2013 in a fatal crash at Le Mans.
“Before every race, I rub the back of a little bit for luck, and it’s written in my Danish lect, my homeland,” Nielsen said. “I feel like I have him with me.”
Nielsen will return to the West Coast tracks this fall with the Pirelli World Challenge Sept. 11-15 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, which she recommends as Central Californian’s best option to catch a GT Championship race on the West Coast.
“Laguna Seca is the final race of the season, so everyone is racing hard there because it is the final race of the system. People are racing every single lap like it’s the last one of the season. If I had to choose one race in California, it would be Laguna Seca because Monterey is a beautiful area, with cute restaurants and a cute city to go to. Sonoma might be the cheaper option but Monterey is the place to go.”
When she isn’t racing, Nielsen is working toward her degree in marketing and communications from the University of Denmark. Just another college student going 100 mph trying to juggle coursework, or, in her case, taking a course at 180 mph!