The Blancpain GT Series has provided some of the most thrilling racing in recent times, with the 2017 season seeing a record number of entries from some of the most prestigious brands in motorsport. One driver aiming to climb the GT ladder while competing in the championship, is talented young Aussie Caitlin Wood. Speaking of her debut season in the series, where she drives alongside teammate Marko Helistekangas, Caitlin gives a brief overview saying, “I am driving in the Blancpain Sprint Series with Reiter Engineering in the Reiter Lamborghini Gallardo R-EX. As this is our first year in GT3 and Blancpain, we have really just approached this season as a learning year to gain as much experience as possible. There is so much experience and knowledge within this field of drivers so I am just trying to soak it all in as much as I can. We would really like to continue to achieve podiums in the Silver Class category and keep working on improving and moving forward at each round”. Caitlin and Marko achieved a superb podium result in the Silver Cup at the opening round at the Misano, a great effort on their GT3 debut in such a competitive series. Since then, it has been announced that Caitlin and Marko are switching over to the Endurance Cup for Paul Ricard and Catalunya, where they will be joined by motorsport veteran Tomas Enge.
Caitlin started her car racing career in Australia where she competed in multiple national Formula Ford Championships against some of the best drivers in the country, learning her racecraft and developing the skills she needs to compete at the highest level. In 2016, Caitlin made a huge step by moving to Europe to compete in the European GT4 Series for Reiter Engineering in their KTW X-BOW GT4, where she achieved multiple top-10 results, with a best finish of 7th. Speaking of the challenge faced by moving to Europe, Caitlin commented, “It has been the most amazing experience but also one of the hardest things I have had to do at the same time. I love living so close to the workshop and being apart of the team but I do also miss home, my friends and family but it has been pretty good so far with none of my stints in Europe being no longer than 5 months. I think one of the hardest parts is the language barrier as I am based in a little country town in Germany so obviously not many people speak English, I have been trying to learn German but I must say I am not picking it up very quickly haha. But if I want to be a professional driver these are the things I need to experience and go through, so I am extremely grateful to have this opportunity with Reiter Engineering”.
As part of Caitlin’s move to Europe, she was able to join the Reiter Young Stars program which is a driver development initiative put forward by Reiter Engineering to take drivers in a similar position to Caitlin with aspirations of GT racing to achieve their dreams by being part of a professional and successful outfit competing in both GT3 and GT4 series. Caitlin has already taken so much from this fantastic set up and speaks of her delight in the experience so far, commenting “Being a part of the Reiter Young Stars (RYS) program has been fundamental in my growth and development as a driver. Before 2016, and competing in RYS I had no previous experience in closed cockpit/GT cars so to be able to work with Reiter to get me up to speed in the KTM X-BOW GT4 was a really great experience. The RYS program teaches young drivers all of the fundamentals associated with GT racing focusing on all aspects of driving e.g. driver changes, technical knowledge and of course on-track speed and ability”. The Reiter Young Stars program also strives for diversity within motorsport and Caitlin has been able to learn from fellow female driver Naomi Schiff for example, with former German F4 racer Marylin Niederhauser also becoming part of the package for 2017.
As part of the Reiter Young Stars program, Caitlin was given the chance to compete in the 24 hours of Dubai, a race which has grown in stature in recent years with classes ranging from GT3 to Touring Cars. Caitlin competed in an all-female line-up with Anna Rathe, Naomi Schiff and Marylin Niederhauser, driving a KTM X-BOW GT4. Although the overall result wasn’t what she hoped for, Caitlin was thankful for the experience and pleased with her overall performance, stating “Competing at the Dubai 24hrs in the all female driver line up was something very special, even though we didn’t come out with the results we were aiming for I feel we still showed a lot of potential during the weekend – I set the 2nd quickest fastest time in the GT4 category during the race and we were moving forward in class before Marylin’s incident. It was a great experience working with the other ladies who were just as motivated and passionate as I was to do well, so hopefully we can come back at another round in the future and show what we are truly capable of”. Caitlin drove the opening stint of the race and showed fantastic pace, moving forward in a highly competitive class of GT4 cars before an incident took the team out of contention for a podium finish.
Last season was also the first where Caitlin drove with a teammate, after competing in mainly single seaters during her junior racing career. The adjustment to sharing a car with another driver can be a challenging one, but Caitlin enjoys the challenge and can see a number of positives for both drivers in the team, commenting “I feel like it changes your mindset more than your driving style, as you are not the only one driving anymore and both drivers usually need to make compromises and work together for the driver pairing to work e.g. seat position, belts, mirrors etc. I guess you also have the added stress of bringing the car back in one piece for your teammate and not wanting to let them down so I feel like it really brings out your sportsmanship. I do enjoy driving with teammates and sharing a car as I am always trying to learn and absorb new information or experiences off everyone around me”.
Making the step up to GT3 for this season was always going to be a challenge for Caitlin as she became one of the youngest drivers in the Blancpain GT series, however the transition has been smooth with Wood showing strong pace in the opening meetings, reflected by a class podium on debut in Misano. Speaking of the differences between the two classes, Caitlin added “There is obviously a speed difference between the KTM X-BOW GT4 and the Lamborghini Gallardo but I feel driving the KTM X-BOW GT4 last year prepared me as much as possible for GT3. The biggest thing I have had to adapt to when progressing to GT3 was just the driving style and making sure that I am driving aggressive but also smooth at the same time as tyre degradation and pick up play a big role”.
With her GT career still in its infancy, Caitlin is open minded about the future and is grateful for the opportunities she has received over the last two seasons, now competing in one of the top GT series across the world. Commenting on her future plans and goals, Caitlin said “My ultimate dream/goal is to win the 24H of Le Mans, and essentially to become a professional endurance driver so essentially yes my long term goal is WEC but there are so many different paths and possibilities within the motorsport world so I am pretty open minded for future drives as I want to gain experience in as many different categories/cars as possible. I am enjoying driving in The Blancpain GT Series so much, it is quite surreal; I never thought 2 years ago that I would be in this position so I am extremely grateful to Hans Reiter and everyone who has helped me along the way. I would love to continue working with Reiter in GT3 in the future but we will just have to see what happens, hopefully we can get some competitive results in Blancpain this year”. There is no doubt Caitlin has the ability and determination to succeed in the ruthless world of motorsport, with progression in the Blancpain GT Series being her main goal for the remainder of 2017. Caitlin’s next race for Reiter Engineering will be at Paul Ricard where she will make her debut in the Endurance aspect of the Blancpain GT Series.