21-year-old racing driver Hannah Grisham has been involved in motorsport from a young age. Having driven karts and ridden motorcycles, she first began competing in karting at the age of six. Fifteen years later and she has over 800 competitive starts to her name, has won multiple championships and last year secured a new role as a test driver with Pirelli North America. I spoke to her about her career so far, what she can learn working with Pirelli and her passion for inspiring others.
Like many drivers, Hannah’s first involvement in the sport came when she was a child, with her father, himself a motorcycle racer, instilling a love for it early in her life. “I have been interested in motorsports from a very young age. My Dad got me into it when I was three so I grew up racing and also riding motorcycles. It has always been a big part of my life. I started driving in a little off-road buggy my Dad got me. He saw that I had an interest so that led to me racing,” she said. Three years later, she began competing locally in Southern California, taking part in a number of karting series. “I started when I was six in go-karts, and the first championships I ever raced in were kid karts, mainly at Adams Motorsports Park in Riverside, California, and Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, but also at other tracks,” she explained.
Although starting as a hobby, Hannah’s impressive performances soon led her to achieve an important career milestone and in turn, her family to consider her potential in motorsport. “The first championship I ever won was TAG PRD Cadet when I was 10 or 11 years old. Racing initially started as something fun for me and my Dad to do together, and I raced a lot, but as I got older things started getting more expensive so my Dad asked me if this was something I actually loved to do. I of course said yes and when I was around 11 or 12, we started taking it pretty seriously,” the American driver told me. Hannah went on to take multiple karting championship wins, including two national titles, and became only the second female driver to be awarded the IKF Lake Speed Achievement of Excellence in Karting award, an extremely prestigious honour. At the age of 16, she made the transition from karts to cars entering the Spec Miata class, a low cost, limited modification class that provides opportunities for young and entry-level drivers. Over the last four years, her career has continued to flourish with her winning both the Southern California Teen Mazda Challenge Championship and So-Cal NASA (National Auto Sport Association) Spec Miata Championship in 2019. “Most recently I have been racing in Spec Miata with NASA SoCal, but I also have some new racing I will be doing this year,” she explained.
Hannah also has a new role that will go alongside her racing. Towards the end of 2020, it was announced that she had become a test driver for Pirelli North America. “I was actually recruited by a head-hunter through LinkedIn,” she said. “I initially had Zoom interviews, then they invited me to Pirelli’s North American headquarters in Rome, Georgia, for an in-person interview. It went great and of course I was very excited to accept the job.” As one of two vehicle dynamic test engineers for North America, this involves her testing and providing feedback to allow the company to develop a better product. Speaking of her role, Hannah explained: “I am the subjective driver, providing feedback to help aid in the design and production of the tires we make in North America. We typically go through about 40 to 50 sets in a four-day testing session. Pirelli puts the performance and quality of their products of the highest importance, and I am very proud to be part of that.”
Working with Pirelli will surely also help her to develop further in her own racing, with Hannah learning about many aspects of the sport in fine detail. “I am honing my skills on a regular basis. I am constantly in a car improving my vehicle dynamics in all kinds of conditions like snow or rain. The attention to minor changes and data and the exercise of providing meaningful feedback and technical reports has also greatly benefitted the technical aspects of how I analyse and approach a race weekend. Plus, it is a great opportunity to really learn the ins and outs of the industry, and make new connections,” she told me.
Along with her passion for racing itself, Hannah is also incredibly passionate about inspiring the next generation, changing perceptions and empowering young girls and women to get involved in the motorsport industry. One of the organisations she works with is Athena Racing. The non-profit corporation was founded in 2019 by Loxley Browne, a champion of women in STEM. Their online program focusses on engineering, design and innovation, encouraging students to use analytical and critical thinking skills. Speaking of her involvement, Hannah said: “I got involved with Athena Racing through a mutual connection, and I thought what they were doing was amazing so I became a part of it. I think it is so important because although I race and that it is a male dominated sport, there are so many aspects of racing and STEM that are under-represented by females.” Hannah has also worked with the ground-breaking W Series, having tested with them, and also taken part in their E-sports League. After their 2020 season was cancelled due to the pandemic, W Series created their own virtual competition, inviting Hannah to join them as a guest driver for three rounds. With her history with the series, it could be a possibility for her in the future. “I previously tested for W Series and it was an incredible opportunity and experience. I would for sure race with them if I had the chance in the future. I think it is a great series and they stand for some really amazing things,” the young driver explained.
With a lot of success throughout her career, Hannah has had many proud moments, however it isn’t just the victories that are meaningful to her. “The highlights of my career have been winning my karting championships, including two national championships and the Lake Speed Award, and my championships in Spec Miata. Another real highlight has been all the amazing people I have met and that have helped me along the way in this sport,” she said. At only 21 years old, Hannah is still relatively early in her career, but knows it will take hard work to reach her dreams and this is also part of her advice for other young people wanting to get involved in motorsport. “It is a tough sport,” she said. “It requires a lot of hard work but it is very rewarding and worth it.”
Heading photo credit: Erik Nielsen