WOMEN OF SPEED
AN ARTICLE WRITTEN BY DR EMMA FULU FOR AUDI MAGAZINE
Hitting the track for a day of high-performance driver training, Audi Scholarship winner Dr Emma Fulu took plenty of valuable lessons away from the Audi 'InStyle' Drive Day and came away with a taste for the faster things in life.
Photographs by Ken Butti.
Dark clouds rolled over Sydney Motorsport Park and a mix of excitement and mild terror hung in the air. In the Audi corporate suite, nearly 20 Women of Style winners, judges, brand ambassadors and organisers gathered for the Audi InStyle Audi Drive Day. I grabbed another cheese and tomato croissant, a fresh café latte and settled into one of the white leather chairs, wondering what we were in for. I had never even seen a live car race before, let alone driven around a race track.
To me cars were a relatively mundane part of everyday life; they took me from A to B, transported my three young children around, and carried groceries. But the $2.5 million fleet of Audis lined up on the race track below us were anything but mundane. They were luxurious and powerful. And just looking at them set off a kaleidoscope of butterflies in my stomach.
Audi’s Chief Driving Instructor, Steve Pizzati’s, a former host of Top Gear Australia and himself a racing driver, engineer and motoring commentator tried to calm our nerves. We were in safe hands with the team of instructors – Steve Johnson, Dean Canto, Luke Youldon, Daniel Gaunt and Ian Dyk – who are literally the best in the business. And their enthusiasm was not going to be dampened by the rain.
“The weather doesn’t change anything,” Pazzati explained. “It’s not as though you open the curtains in the morning, look out the window and think it’s wet, I’m not going to drive today. Audi’s quattro system is built for this weather.” We laughed nervously, not totally convinced.
After Pizzati’s introduction to Audi’s Advanced driving experience I was expecting to have some fun, which indeed I did – there were moments I found myself literally bouncing up and down with adrenaline and excitement like my two-year-old twins do at the sight of a playground. I expected to learn a few driving tips, which indeed I did – did you know you should be holding your steering wheel at 3 and 9, not 2 and 10? I was not expecting, however, to come away with a series of important life lessons. But that’s exactly what happened.
Lesson 1: Step outside your comfort zone
From the beginning of the day, the Audi drive team encouraged us to step outside of our comfort zones. And boy, did they mean it. The first experience was a skid control exercise driving vehicles from the S range. As far as I could tell, S stood for sporty, sleek and built for speed.
Imagine this. Turn off the electronic stability control (don’t try this at home), then accelerate as fast as possible, pedal to the metal, straight into a slippery wet corner. The car leaps into action like a cheetah chasing its prey. Now spin the steering wheel as fast as possible all the way to the right until the wheel is locked. At no point step on the brake. The back wheels of the car skid out and you’re flying sideways across the track, out of control. Still don’t brake. Instead turn the steering wheel slightly to the left to come out of the skid smoothly.
This went against my every instinct of self preservation. But I put aside my anxiety and went for it. When I was able to safely bring the car back under control it felt exhilarating, and I knew had learnt a skill that could one day save my life or that of my children. Great things happen when we push ourselves and are not held back by fear. My experience with the InStyle and Audi Women of Style awards has epitomised this. Establishing the Equality Institute to address the global epidemic of violence against women required stepping way outside of my comfort zone, but has been rewarding beyond my imagination.
Lesson 2: Look where you want to be
The second exercise was the slalom: driving between red witches’ hats, spaced 20 metres apart as fast as possible. The driving instructors explained that we needed to look towards the space between the cones, rather than focusing on the cones themselves.
“If you focus on the cone, you will hit the cone,” he explained.
This was a revelation. The lesson was, don’t focus your attention on what you are trying to avoid. Rather focus your attention and your vision on where you want to be. At the end of the day Emily Taylor, editor of InStyle magazine, expressed perfectly what we were all feeling – “I’m going to take away, look where you’re going. Look at where you want to go, and I’m going to use that not just in motoring, but also in life.”
Lesson 3: Trust yourself – you are capable of much more than you know
The third exercise was emergency braking. From 60k/h, then 80km/h and finally from 110km/h. And for added fun, we were supposed to take our hands off the steering wheel as we slammed our foot on the brake. It sounded like insanity to me.
But we were taught to trust the cars, trust the instructors, and trust ourselves. As the anti-lock braking system came into effect and the car shuddered to a halt I learnt two things: one, it takes much longer than you think for a car to brake from 100km an hour; and two, I was capable of much more behind the wheel of a car than I realised. The experience unleashed skills I never knew I had and I came away feeling more confident as a driver, and as a person.
Lesson 4: Surround yourself with inspiring people
Finally, it was time to put all we had learnt to the test in the Motorkhana where we were timed to race through an obstacle driving course in an Audi RSQ3. It was so much fun that we all wished we could do it again and again and again. The winner, Sarah Ryan, was absolutely thrilled to be taking home an Audi TT (for a week). When I asked her what she enjoyed most about the experience she said, “Even over any of the driving, which was amazing, I realised how great it is to meet and connect with inspiring women, and I want to continue to do that more.”
And that is exactly what the Women of Style awards and this special Audi drive day have meant to me – the chance to celebrate and engage with women who are as innovative, powerful and progressive as Audi’s spectacular cars.
This article first appeared on the Audi Magazine website.