“It feels very special to be announcing this next stage in my racing career,” says ground-breaking British racing driver Charlie Martin. She still remembers the moment when she fell in love with the sport: “I was watching a friend's father in his Morgan three-wheeler,” remembers Charlie, smiling. As a teenager she attended Le Mans for the first time in 2001, with her brother. “That left a massive impression on me,” she recalls. “Le Mans, for me, is the most epic form of motorsport. You think of the famous drivers that have been there and the film with Steve McQueen. I was determined to devote myself to racing."
Charlie entered motorsport with no family history or financing – just sheer determination to reach the top. On leaving university, Charlie bought a racing Peugeot 205 GTI for £1,500 and began entering hill climbs in the UK. When her mother died of cancer at only 59, racing, says Charlie, gave her a focus. But money was tight. She reveals: "Back then I was on a shoestring, spending £120 per hill climb plus running costs. I was camping in a tent, doing whatever it took, saving the money to compete by doing shifts on gardens and then restaurant work."
37-year-old Charlie’s proven track record of personal determination and motorsports success has set the stage for one of the most unique and compelling stories in modern motor racing. By making her debut in this year’s coveted Michelin Le Mans Cup as a member of the Racing Experience team, Charlie is aiming to become one of the fastest women in Europe.
The talented driver is competing in a 5-litre 420bhp Norma M30 LMP3 car, partnering Luxembourgian brothers Gary and David Hauser in the six-round championship. Five of these rounds are two-hour endurance races, held on European Le Mans Series race weekends at such iconic circuits as Monza, Paul Ricard, Spa-Francorchamps and Barcelona. The flagship ‘Road to Le Mans’ round, comprising two, 55-minute races, then takes place in front of hundereds of thousands of fans a few hours before the 24 Hours of Le Mans race at the legendary La Sarthe track – where Charlie has already stood on the podium, having achieved third place alongside Nicolas Schatz in the 2017 Trophée Tourisme Endurance.
But how did she get there? After graduation, Charlie worked as a property developer and for her family's engineering firm, spending most of her earnings on the sport. In 2015 she began three, multiple-podium years competing in the Championnat de France de la Montagne and FIA European Hill Climb Championship; swapping her Peugeot to a Westfield, a Formula Renault and then the Norma M20 FC which first took her to Le Mans. She also became a fluent French speaker. "My confidence grew. At the Saint Goueno Hillclimb Masters for example, I smashed the class record and won my race by a huge three seconds. It was a defining moment,” she confirms.
However, it wasn’t an easy ride. “Motorsport is my passion in life. But competing internationally throughout Europe, often returning to work in the UK between rounds, was exhausting,” she admits. “Even so it was always an adventure and I enjoyed every moment… apart from Mont-Dore in 2015 when the weather was truly horrific!”
On returning to the UK in 2018 Charlie took on a season of circuit racing in the Ginetta GT5 Challenge, resulting in three class podiums. This year she is expected to compete in the Michelin Le Mans Cup for a single season, before joining the European Le Mans Series. She believes she will need financing of around £1million to eventually compete at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
It was that natural enthusiasm, coupled with her racing achievements and personal journey, which inspired NGK SPARK PLUG’s UK business to become a supporter of Charlie four years ago. As a top provider of high performance ignition and sensor technologies, the global company has been one of the most trusted technical and commercial sponsors of motorsports series, teams and drivers around the world for many years.
Charlie, who away from the track is also a motivational speaker, graphic designer and adventure sports lover, is unequivocal about the dividends the sponsorship brings to her performance. “My partnership with NGK SPARK PLUG has gone from strength to strength, ever since they first began supplying me in 2015,” she confirms. “It’s a great feeling to know that your engine is always producing the optimum spark, especially when you’re chasing power gains. Whatever happens, they’ve got my back!”
And when the 5.8km Paul Ricard (Le Castellet) circuit on the Côte d’Azur hosted the Le Mans Cup’s opening round on 14th April, Charlie kicked off the season in impressive style. With 62 drivers and 31 teams entered,
not only did she qualify the car in 4th place and achieve the 14th fastest lap of the race, but – together with teammate Gary Hauser – her Racing Experience team was placed an outstanding 4th on the team tables overall.
To follow Charlie’s Le Mans Cup success for yourself, keep an eye on NGK SPARK PLUG’s social media channels. And for sure Charlie’s website www.gocharlie.co.uk also cover the on-track action.
See you on the podium Charlie!