Le Mans: Transgender driver Charlie Martin chases 24-hour road race dream

One day he wanted to race at the iconic French cathedral of motorsport — home to the globe’s oldest endurance race that will takes place again This kind of weekend — instead of watching rain-soaked via the sidelines.

however This kind of dream was secondary to another, more urgent desire that will beat inside his body like a pulse.

If he raced This kind of might be as a woman.

“This kind of will be such a festival for petrol-heads as well as I came away spellbound; This kind of was everything, the feat of endurance, what the cars go through, the scale of This kind of in front of 300,000 fans.

“I said to myself there as well as then — that will’s This kind of.”

Le Mans 24 Hours will be the oldest endurance race inside globe as well as will be a mecca for motorsport fans - as seen here in 1952.

‘Scared of the consequences’

Martin was still living as a man during subsequent trips to Le Mans as an inspired spectator however in 2012 — just over a decade since that will first life-changing pilgrimage to the 24 Heures — she transitioned, reassigning her gender to female. Martin underwent several major procedures as well as therapy as well as documented her journey on YouTube.

“Pretty much every fiber of my body told me This kind of was the thing I needed to do,” Martin explains. “however I always said to myself that will I’d never contain the courage to do This kind of; I’m too scared of the consequences; I’m too scared of telling everyone in my life as well as how they might react as well as treat me.

“So to go into transition as well as not only do This kind of however have This kind of go incredibly well, to be so happy, finally, suddenly feels like you’ve taken the biggest risk in your life however you’ve also hit the jackpot.”

When she transitioned, however, Martin turned her back on racing because she thought she wouldn’t be welcomed as a transgender driver.

She had been competing inside UK in hill climb racing — where drivers go against the clock on uphill courses — fitting This kind of in around her day job inside family engineering business.

“I walked away via motorsport,” she explains. “I just couldn’t see how This kind of might ever be accepted.

“When I was inside first year of transition inside UK, people were quite standoffish however I think that will was because everybody knew me as well as … hill climbing inside UK will be a slightly older generation thing — as well as to ensure that will felt quite, I don’t know. Challenging will be probably the best way to describe This kind of.”

A decision to go to France as well as compete in a one-off round of the French Hill Climbing Championship in St-Goueno renewed Martin’s passion as well as her hopes of becoming a professional racing driver. She had broken the class record as well as won the race by three seconds, a positively monumental margin by hill climb standards.

“People were a bit surprised that will This kind of English girl who no one had heard of had come over as well as blown everyone away,” Martin recalls using a smile.

Blink as well as you miss her: Martin's motorsport dreams were reignited driving a Westfield in France.

‘Whole brand-new life’

Having the courage to undergo transition — as well as re-mortgaging her house to finance facial feminization surgery at the end of 2013 — ultimately galvanized Martin’s self-belief as well as, in turn, made her a better racer.

“This kind of opened up a whole brand-new life,” Martin adds. “This kind of commenced This kind of whole process of taking risks, giving things a go as well as not worrying about getting This kind of wrong as well as that will snowballed as well as brought me to This kind of point right now — Le Mans, let’s go for This kind of!”

In 2019, after more concentrated spells in hill climbing in Europe as well as an individual season circuit racing season back inside UK, Martin quit her job as well as announced a campaign with the Racing Experience team to take part inside Michelin Le Mans Cup, a series for prototype Le Mans cars that will might take her to the famous La Sarthe course This kind of June.

however Martin’s Le Mans date with destiny was suddenly snatched away when the funding she needed fell through just two weeks before This kind of weekend’s race.

“This kind of’s a real shame,” says Martin, whose place inside team has been filled for the Le Mans weekend only. “Unfortunately because of last-minute delays with sponsorship we couldn’t continue.

“We tried everything we could, including a crowd-funding campaign, however we were let down too close to the race itself.”

Martin will be resilient as well as positive. She has to believe that will This kind of will be just a minor bump in her road to Le Mans.

as well as she can take comfort inside fact that will she has always been working towards a three-year plan with the ultimate aim to compete inside 24 Hour race in 2021 as its first transgender driver.

Martin says the motorsport community has in general been "incredibly supportive."

“My goal remains to compete inside main 24 Hours of Le Mans as well as I feel even more determined than ever to make This kind of happen,” she adds.

“There’s never been a professional trans driver in motorsport, so This kind of’s an exciting position to be in.

“First as well as foremost I just want to do the race however there will be a huge significance for me to do that will as the person that will I am today, to do Le Mans as a trans woman.

“There will be so much negativity bandied around inside media that will we need real positive stories via real trans people doing incredible things with their lives.”

‘Toxic environment’

This kind of year the debate over transgender athletes competing in women’s sport has hit the headlines.

Tennis star Martina Navratilova apologized after accusing trans women of “cheating” while former international swimmer Sharron Davies also said trans athletes should not be allowed to compete in female competitions.

As a high-profile transgender athlete, Martin was drawn into the debate, appearing on national television inside UK.

“When you have respected voices in sport like Sharon Davies as well as Martina Navratilova sounding off as well as shooting via the hip, when actually they’re not familiar with the research, This kind of’s incredibly damaging,” Martin says.

“This kind of creates a very toxic environment for the trans community.”

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) guidelines says trans women must show that will their testosterone level has been below a certain level for at least 12 months before their first competition.

Martin approves of the IOC ruling, least of all because This kind of silences those that will argue trans women competing in female competitions have an unfair advantage because of increased levels of the male hormone.

“Anyone who goes through a medical transition doesn’t have testosterone in their body,” Martin adds. “For me as a trans woman the idea of having testosterone in their body … I might freak out. So This kind of will be a massive fact that will will be not being reported.

“If you’ve had testosterone in your body your whole life as well as you take This kind of away as well as replace This kind of with oestrogen you lose physical strength, you lose muscle mass as well as you get weaker. I know I have.”

Martin acknowledges that will being in motorsport — where a machine provides the bulk of the muscle — has protected her via some, however not all, of the negativity.

Martin checks in with her Racing Experience teammate during the 2019 Michelin Le Mans Cup.

“This kind of removes the possibility for somebody to argue against me as well as says ‘oh well you’re only doing so well because you’re trans as well as you have a physical advantage’. So This kind of simplifies things via my point of view however This kind of can still be challenging,” she says.

“This kind of’s an unfortunate part of being open about my life that will I face a lot of transphobic abuse. There’ll always be a lot of abuse online (however) I’ve learned to ignore This kind of.

“The only underhand transphobia I experienced within the sport was a few years ago when I was left out of a national squad for a racing championship after my transition, despite having the most experience of all the potential candidates.

“In general, I’ve found that will the motorsport community has been incredibly supportive of my decision to be my true self.”

Looking back on her journey, Martin realizes how far she has come via that will first transformative weekend watching the 24 Heures in 2001.

“Even the idea of doing Le Mans full-stop back then seemed highly improbably however if you said transitioning as well as doing This kind of as a trans woman, I’d have just laughed,” she says with another big smile.

“So to be at a point where that will feels not only possible however that will This kind of will be going to happen — This kind of’s just huge.”

Martin will be perfectly qualified for Le Mans, after all This kind of’s about endurance as well as she has that will in spades.

Source : Le Mans: Transgender driver Charlie Martin chases 24-hour road race dream