Irina Sidorkova: “I have a unique opportunity to gain a lot of experience”

For many 16-year-olds, working in another country and devoting their life to racing may be daunting, but for SMP Racing junior driver Irina Sidorkova, that is just what she has done. Having raced in multiple series previously, this year sees her compete in the Spanish Formula 4 Championship for the first time. I spoke to her about her early career, racing single-seaters and the categories she hopes to race in in the future.

As with many drivers, Irina’s love of motorsport began early in her childhood. It was at the age of 6 when she watched the Pixar animated movie ‘Cars’, that she fell in love with the sport. “My whole family went to the premiere. I saw on-screen how cars were driving on the track and at that moment something clicked in my head: since I’ve had a great desire to become a racing driver,” Sidorkova said. Not long later, a karting track local to her in Petrozavodsk began advertising on the TV, and she soon managed to convince her parents to take her. “Since then, I’ve been in the world of motorsport,” Irina explained, adding: “then I realized that I wanted to build a career in it.”

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The Russian soon began to work her way up the motorsport ladder after impressing in karting. “The first series I took part in was Easykarts competitions on a small local track in St. Petersburg. It was my first experience of participating in motorsport competition,” she described. The transition from karting to car racing came when Sidorkova was 11 years old. Having spent 5 years in karts, Irina had begun considering other opportunities. “The Rally Academy team suggested taking part in the SMP Russian Circuit Racing Series (SMP RCRS). Of course, I needed to work a lot and prepare myself as cars are a totally different world. I had to learn a lot of new things for me, such as how to drive a manual gearbox car or a four-wheel drive car – these were probably the hardest moments during my transition. I was learning how to drive a car for more than a year,” she told me.

During this time, Irina also started driving touring cars, going onto race them in 2013. However, it isn’t only tarmac on which she has been competing, having taken part in ice racing since she was young, an experience that has been a huge benefit for her. “There is a lot of difference between driving on asphalt and ice, from tyres to different car setups. I’ve been taking part in the Ice Circuit Racing Championship in St. Petersburg for many years and this is a valuable experience for me. For example, I know how to control a car in rainy conditions,” Sidorkova explained. This knowledge proved incredibly useful with Irina winning the Ice Circuit Racing Cup in 2017 and finishing second in the Russian Circuit Racing Series National Junior class championship in the same year. She then went on to better this the following year by finishing 1st in the National Junior Class in 2018. However, Irina’s first championship win came in 2012 as she triumphed in an eventful and action-packed race. “It was at Aravette track. I experienced unforgettable emotions, one of the greatest races full of moments. I beautifully overtook here for the first time and the race itself was quite unusual: the round finished suddenly a couple of laps before the finish as an accident happened in the pack and one of the drivers turned over. At this moment I was leading the race and fending off the attacks of my rivals,” she explained.

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Despite currently racing in the Spanish Formula 4 Championship, it was only last summer that Irina made her single-seater debut in the SMP F4 NEZ Championship. “In August 2018, I drove behind the wheel of a formula car. SMP Racing offered me a great opportunity to try myself in a formula class. It wasn’t easy, especially under the given circumstances. Firstly, the track in Myachkovo is not easy itself, and the rain started. In addition, I hadn’t practiced driving a four-wheel car for a long time. It was hard, but SMP Racing coaches helped me to cope with all the difficulties. I think it was quite a good first experience for me,” Sidorkova described. As previously mentioned, Irina is currently competing in the Spanish F4 Championship and at past the half-way point in the season, already has multiple top 10 finishes to her name. “Participation in Spanish Formula 4 is a very important step in my life. I have a unique opportunity to gain a lot of experience during the season. In general, I think, there will be a lot of different moments, positive and negative ones. For now, I can say that I’m making big progress with SMP Racing and I hope that the rest of the season will be much better and I will be scoring points in every round,” she told me. “When you achieve good results and finish in a good position, it gives you not only confidence, but motivation for moving forward and improving. It’s always nice to see the results of all your work and effort.”

With the success of the inaugural season of W Series, the championship is proving itself to be a valid route for gaining experience and raising driver profiles both to those in the sport, and motorsport fans alike. The first season has only just finished, however a shortlist of the 14 drivers who will compete for a place next year has already been announced, with Irina one of them. “Of course, I’d like to try myself in W series. This is a very serious championship, where the strongest female drivers fight for the win. I cannot say when it will happen, but I hope that in the near future I’ll have a chance to compete with other women in this championship,” Sidorkova said. Although she believes her future is hard to predict at the moment, Formula 4 remains her top priority, and W Series an option in the near future. “It’s hard to make plans and speak about the future,” she said. “Now, I’m fully focused on SMP Formula 4 and Spanish Formula 4 championships. But if I allow myself to dream, then I’d like to win in W series and hear the Russian anthem, standing on the highest step of the podium.”

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When it comes to standout moments from Irina’s career, she was keen to express that there have been both positive and negatives events from her racing that she remembers. “If I need to name the most memorable ones, then probably for me it’s a successful race at Motorland in Aragon, where I managed to finish sixth. Speaking about negative moments, then my race in SMP Formula 4 in Grozny. First retirement for such a long time, and it was my fault. I could have made contact with rivals, I could have been forced off the track, but this time I made a mistake myself and had an accident,” she explained. However, difficulties such as crashes and accidents have helped make her a better driver, learning from these mistakes and knowing how to avoid it should the situation arise again.

16-year-old SMP Racing junior driver Irina Sidorkova has been competing since the age of 6. After watching the Pixar movie ‘Cars’, she persuaded her family to take her to a local karting track and 5 years later made the transition from karts to cars. Having raced in touring cars, on ice and in single-seaters, she has a lot of tools and skills in her armoury. Although currently fully focussed on SMP Formula 4 and the Spanish F4 Championship, looking forward, W Series is a real possibility for the young Russian. Speaking of the advice she would give others the same age who may be interested in motorsport, she said: “my advice is to always stand your ground and never give up. In any situation just move towards your goal, despite all the failures, which are inevitable in a career of a sportsperson. You need to accept situations, to learn lessons and move forward.”

(Photo credits: SMP Racing)