Successful women in motor sports


(Published in The Produktkulturmagazin issue 4 2015)

You need patience to be a good rally passenger. You have to be conscientious and well organised. Tina Thörner is all this and successful. During her motor sports career she won three ladies’ world champion titles and gained second place twice in the Grand National rally world championships. Two of her most excellent positions are second and third place at the famous Dakar rally.  

The Swedish superwoman brings her experiences from motor sports into her readings and into coaching for companies, managers, organisations or school pupils and university students. On topics such as ‘what makes a winner team?’ she demonstrates how you can view hurdles as challenges and further develop and better use your personal potential.  

Tina Thörner talks with us about her racing sports career and what motivated her to take the steering wheel into her own hands and determine her own direction. 

When and how did you come upon motor sports?

I discovered motor sports indirectly. At sixteen years old I did my glider’s license. After that I told everyone I wanted to be a pilot. That’s why I also wanted to go into the military, as they paid for the pilot’s license there. Of course having a woman in the military was unusual back then. I was one of the first to be able to do the entrance test. I passed it, but nevertheless, they rejected the idea of a woman in a fighter jet. I then went to the flight school in New Mexico. Six days a week I flew everything - hot air balloons, paragliders and planes of every type. Then I met my first boyfriend, Lars-Erik Torph. He got me enthusiastic about motor sports. First of all I just helped with the logistics of the race. But even then, you have the inner desire to take on challenges. I had already worked a lot with the technology before, as everything in a car is almost the same as in a plane or helicopter.

One day there was a driver missing and I had to jump in at the last moment. For something like this there is no school that you can visit before in order to know how to deal with such a situation. You can only ask the experienced drivers and get tips. That means drive, drive, drive. But if you have a talent for reading the character of the route and because of this, being able to find the way on a map, then you have the opportunity to become successful.

What especially fascinated you about rally driving?

Firstly the comparison of the technology excited me and I liked the speed. Then there’s your own input in this sport. When you are part of developing something, you have an influence on the result. That was exciting for me as I have seen the development in the technology. And of course working together with others. The ‘we’ in the team can also control a person because you have to feel his energy. 

But there wasn’t just a career to be built up in motor sports. There were highs and lows. When I look back, I have had a very eventful life up to now thanks to sports. I travelled around the world, have discovered other ways of life and religions and had the opportunity of learning a lot. But I have to say it was very difficult as a woman in this male domain. But he who likes challenges and goes his own way gets the job.

What are the tasks of a rally co-pilot?

As a passenger you sit in the car for 10 to 16 hours a day, write notes on the route or read the map. However there is a difference whether you are co-pilot of a normal rally or of a long-distance rally in the desert. Different experience is necessary. In a normal rally it is most important to note the driver‘s descriptions of the route right and to recite these correctly. At a desert rally on the other hand, you first have to know where you are and how you navigate to the next point on the map. You have to be 100 percent concentrated here. If you make even a small error, you can end up sliding and getting stuck in the sand or loosing orientation between gigantic dunes. In all of this you have to keep an eye on the time, as everything depends on time. If you don’t reach even one point on time there are time penalties. You have to be prepared for all eventualities and have to consider everything exactly - and sometimes find the right solution very quickly.

What physical and mental strengths does this job demand?

Mentally you primarily have to be able to adjust to many different people. And as co-pilot, to the driver. It also plays a large role whether it is a man or a woman. Men react differently to risk than women do. Reason wins women over while for men status is important. You can observe this very well when you meet drivers with different experience, backgrounds and abilities. Physically, what you eat, how you sleep and how you rest are very important.  

How did you experience your active time in motor sports to be?

My most excellent experiences were definitely the second and third place at the notorious Dakar rally.  We experienced so much with the team, for example the victory at the Wolf Cup in the rally raid series in 2009. Then, I was able to write history in the middle east, when I rode together with Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah from Katar. He is one of the most well-known sportsmen there. In 2008 we won two Wolf Cups, one in a desert series and one in Fias Baja. In our constellation, a Muslim man together with a woman as co-pilot, there was only one successful team in the world. I am very thankful to Nasser’s mother that she rose her son in such a way that he had no prejudice against the sex, skin colour or religion of his co-pilot.

My motor sport career began in 1990. Since then I have won three Ladies’ World Championships and received second place in Gr. N. Rally World Championships. I navigate for 20 international drivers. The most well-known ones were Collin McRae, Jutta Kleinschmidt and Ari Vatanen.

What do you advise young women who also want to go in this direction?

You should never let yourself be discouraged. I have certainly played a part in women becoming more accepted in motor sports. However, each one has to believe in their personal goals, otherwise it is not possible. And above all, you have to know what you want to do all this for. Really it should be an ego trip. You have to want to do it for yourself. You will experience things which you never experienced before, or which you had never thought about and you will have to be able to take a lot.  

You are a purposeful person who is geared towards success. Where do these characteristics come from?

I grew up on a farm in the Swedish province of Värmland. We were a very big family and I quickly learnt to look after the others and manage everything. Maybe that comes from the fact that I manage to achieve everything I want to do. For example, my grandma had a globe which I always spun and saw how big the world was. At 13 I already wanted to see the world and I knew: as a pilot you have the best possibilities to do so. After all, that is the fastest form of transport. So I wanted to reach my goals at an early age. In order to be a good rally co-pilot, you need to have this way of thinking.  

Where do you find the motivation and drive for your professional everyday life and personal life?

As a result of our success in sports. Just as Nelson Mandela did it in South Africa. He also used sports. In 2000 I met him, as I was driving with a South African at the time. He told me of a lot of his experiences and was so proud that a Swedish woman was driving with a South African man. In his opinion, we showed the world that men and women can cross limits and reach goals together.

When did you first encounter the topic of coaching for the first time and how did you notice that you also have a talent to impart knowledge to others?

This was at a project for a school. There were 17 teachers and 300 pupils, of which 22 percent had not completed their school-leaving diploma. I was to help and train them. A great challenge and my big test. I worked there with everyone for two years and restructured the school. After that they all managed their diploma, without exception. I summarized these experiences for a digital platform afterwards.

Who is your coaching aimed at? What topics do you look at and work through in your workshops?

I coach companies, organisations, women and men in sports as well as teams or groups who want to reach the world-class level they set themselves as a goal. My workshops are therefore aimed at everybody. Coaching is a method which shows people how they can help themselves. With the help of talks and a lot of questions they then find out the answers by themselves. This type of communication creates new recognition of how you can maximise full potential and deal with the challenges in life. This, in turn, leads to self-recognition. We always start in the same way: we reflect together in the status quo and then work forwards towards the desired future situation. 

What goal are you aiming for with your work? What ‘tools’ do you have to mould and smooth out the new behaviour and ways of thinking of your participants?  

During my work I use different tools such as the neuro-linguistic programme. It is a simple but very successful concept to develop your own personality and learn efficient communication. Project management is also a part of my programme, just as is stress reduction and fitness exercises. Recently, I also got to know the ‘Structogram’. It is a very useful tool to understand human nature and the human being better. This is very important for personal development, as we are all individuals and therefore unique.

What makes a good team leader in your opinion? 

A good team leader should learn how he can lead, how he can steer and coordinate activities and functionalities within a project properly. At ‘Project Leadership’ in Stockholm, I learnt just how important the role of a project leader or team leader is when it’s about involving and motivating participants. The knowledge gained there is worth its weight in gold for me and helps me a lot with my projects worldwide. When you don’t know your group as a leader and don’t know how differently people work, then you can’t really manage them. And: you have to know that women can just do some things better. That is also an important point for correct management and division of a team.

With what tips for motivation can you get the best out of your employees every day? 

I try to respond to my conversation partner and attune to his personality. For example in conversation with men I prefer to ask something technical as most men know about technology by nature. I do that because I know that he can tell me something about it. Many people call this ‘flattery’. And yes, you have to flatter your conversation partner now and then, otherwise our inner joy wilts. Flattery means rating ourselves positively. It doesn’t have to be the whole time, but now and then it is important. Many forget this, as most people are too busy with their own tasks. A lot of people are just lazy in this aspect, and don’t take any notice of what happens around them anymore.

Why does your role as trainer and motivator bring you such joy?   

It is great when I can see how happy others are when they achieve something new. I feel the incredibly thankful energy which comes back at me. Those are the happiest moments for me. It is confirmation and reward at the same time.   

How can people get in touch with you best?  

The best way is through my website. Here, my whole new programme and much more information about me can be found here.

How important is music to your life? 

When I was little, all children in Sweden had to learn the recorder. I would have preferred to have played the guitar. My music teacher said after a year: “Tina, you don’t have any talent at all”. Then I started with sports and that’s where I got the right results. I didn’t continue to follow music at first. Until 2006 when I took part in a Swedish TV competition. At this time I was working parallel to this with children in a school and everyone knew that I couldn’t sing. However, I promised that if I won, we would write a song and record it. I practised for 12 weeks and at the end I actually won. I wanted to show the children that you don’t necessarily have to have talent from the beginning, but have to learn a lot and then you can be a winner.

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Tina Thörner is one of the best rally co-pilots of the BMW Equip and is one of the most loved Swedish sports moderators.  She is a PR assistant, radio presenter and won in a duet with the singer Andres Esteche on the Swedish TV show ‘Stage Fright’. She works as a coach and motivational trainer and has published several books.

Picture credit ©

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