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From the Vancouver International Auto Show: Comox Formula racer Nicole Havrda

Harvda became the first female Formula Pro USA champion in 2023 at the age of 18
After six years spent racing on tracks around the world, Comox Valley’s Nicole Harvda’s Formula racing dreams are becoming a reality. Radek Vebr photo

On July 1, 2018 over 300,000 Formula 1 fans watched as 21-year-old, Max Verstappen, crossed the checkered line in Red Bull’s iconic red and blue at the 2018 Austrian Grand Prix, marking the first time the Austrian energy drink brand etched podium gold on home soil.

Enamoured by the sights, sounds and suspense powered by roaring engines – the product of elite-level engineering – sat a young girl and her father from Comox Valley, B.C., who, while enjoying a European holiday, found two tickets to the elite racing spectacle.

Unbeknownst to the heroes on the track, fans in the crowd or even Nicole Havrda’s own father, that day, as the sun rose and set – a star was born.

“We went on a road trip through Europe and he decided we’d stop in Austria to watch the F1 Grand Prix. We go, we watch it and right as I get there I fall in love with it immediately. I actually asked my dad, ‘can you help get me there?!’ He thought I wanted to get a closer look at the track and I told him, ‘no no, I want to drive one,” Harvda says.

Nicole Havrda has been on a tear since she first suited up at the Saratoga Speedway, between Courtenay and Campbell River. From sit-down interviews alongside F1 Hall of Fame driver and seven-time World Drivers Champion, Lewis Hamilton, to becoming the first female Formula Pro USA champion in 2023 at the age of 18, Havrda says none of this could have been possible without the support of her family and the hometown that has cheered her on since the beginning.

“Behind the scenes, nobody sees the adversity but it’s there! My dad, mother and brother support me immensely. We have a family business. For six months of the year when we are out of town training and competing, my brother takes care of the family shop. Without him we wouldn’t be able to do this,” Harvda says.

“My parents do so much. The actual racing is only 10 per cent of what we do. From sending a billion emails, finding sponsors and teams, marketing my name and doing social media, it’s seriously insane. To get where I am now, the success we’ve had is built on the trust we have with each other. When I win a race, it’s not Nicole Havrda winning, my family is winning with me.”

Havrda and her father sat down with Black Press Media across the pond at the Vancouver Auto Show to share a behind the scenes look at her rise in the sport and what it means to leave a legacy of change, and empower the next generation of drivers from different backgrounds.

In her final year of high school, Havrda says the road to her success hasn’t been easy, though her determination continues to beat the odds. Spending upwards of 200 days away from home, training and competing on race tracks around the world, the Comox resident admits while grateful for the success and support she’s gained, there’s a great deal that people don’t see behind the scenes.

“I enjoy challenges because it motivates me to work harder, so these days the biggest challenge is finishing school – this June I’ll be graduating. What’s been difficult is balancing this with racing. Most days I’ll come back from training or competing and I’m met with a test or assignment. Because I’m online schooling, it’s made it harder to maintain close relationships with my friends back home. It used to be hard to explain what I do but the Forumla 1 documentary has helped them understand some of what I go through.”

When she dawns the red and white jumpsuit and hits the track, Havrda says the adversity is of a different nature, one that doesn’t receive enough attention in motorsports.

“Being a woman in motorsports, it’s definitely harder. When you’re going to the pits I often notice guys give me a weird stare. For me, I place my focus on the race. My helmet might stand out as it’s bright pink but when I put it on, to me, I’m just another racer and that’s what matters.”

When Harvda is not burning rubber on the track or deep in studies, her love of the sport has now grown into a commitment to inspiring the next generation of female racers. In 2023, Harvda teamed up with Mercedez, placing a spotlight on the 2021 trio of Demi Chalkias, Cherie Storms and Havrda who raced in the powerful Mercedes-AMG GT4 in an endurance race at California’s Buttonwillow Raceway Park.

The documentary and media campaign, Full Throttle, explored the each racer’s journey and provided a private look into what it took for the three talented drivers to break into the highest levels of motorsport.

Asked what advice Harvda gives to the next generation of racers facing adversity, the Formula Pro Champ says with conviction, “At the end of the day, go after it! If you lose or happen to fail, at least you tried and you know you gave it your all.”

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About the Author: Travis Devonport

I work as a branded content writer, photographer and videographer who works in digital and print media for Black Press Media.
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