Rachele Somaschini: my life in rallying
Becoming a driver is a dream for many, but very few succeed. And if you are a woman and diagnosed with a serious genetic disease at birth, the road is even more uphill. Perhaps that's why Rachele Somaschini began her epic journey with hillclimb events…
Where did your passion for cars and rallying come from?
I grew up in a family that was immersed in the world of motorsport. My father was always a huge fan of cars and races, to the point that every Tuesday, we would drive 10 kilometres to reach the nearest news stand in Milan and buy Autosprint magazine, which only didn't arrive in our local newsagent until Wednesday! When I was six, my dad got the chance to race with his friend Arturo Merzario. He did as much racing as he could, but work always got in the way as well – yet he definitely passed that passion onto me.
Did your interest in motorsport start at a young age?
Definitely. I was just a few months old and hadn't even learned to walk when my dad gave me an electric car that stayed in the middle of the living room, until I grew up enough to drive it. When I was only six years old, I was already driving my first 50cc quad bike and with my dad I always went to Monza to see the grand prix. But I was in a different situation to other drivers as I had to wait and see how my illness developed. My parents tried to protect me so I never really did karting, even though it would have been a good idea. It was only when I hit adolescence that it became clear that my illness was manageable, allowing me to lead a relatively normal life. By 14 I was on a moped, and by 16 I got my motorbike licence and was already running around on a 125cc bike.
How did you achieve your dream to become a driver?
As soon as I turned 18, I got my driving licence and then my racing licence, in just three days. I entered my first race in 2013 with the support of my father and Arturo Merzario, which was the historic Intereuropa Cup at Monza at the wheel of a 1967 Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint Veloce. Then on the Monday after, I had my exams! I actually started university, but the lifestyle wasn't doing my illness any good, so I dropped out before graduating. At the same time, I started doing more sport – as the doctors suggested – and this meant I was able to focus on motorsport too. Three years after my first race, I entered the Italian hillclimb championship for the full season. In fact, I was competing practically every weekend, as I also did the Italian Mini Challenge. That was really when my career properly started.
Then it was onto rallying: the Italian championship followed by the European championship?
I was always really interested in rallies, so I started off with single-venue events, to become familiar with having a co-driver and reading pace notes, then in 2018 the opportunity came to do the Italian championship, which started with the Rally del Ciocco. It wasn't easy, but you've always got that desire to succeed and slowly I managed to build up some experience.
As a result, I've managed to put together a programme on the European Championship, as well as some world events. It's certainly been an educational experience, but the whole covid situation has got in the way too. But I've still tried to take away as much knowledge as I can.
What's the best motorsport event you've been to as a spectator?
This might sound predictable, but going to Monza is always amazing: especially when I was going to watch Formula 1 with my dad. And I had the same feeling a couple of years ago when I watched the DTM race at Misano, where Alex Zanardi was taking part. I was always a massive fan of his from a distance, but I met him when I won the Mini Challenge title. Alex is one of the people that inspires me the most, my very own superhero, and I've been lucky enough to see him drive twice.
What do you like most about rallying?
I like the contact with people and fans: rallying is just much more interactive. And that's a huge benefit from passion project: #correperunrespiro. It's a charitable initiative that combines my passion motorsport with a cause that's really close to my heart: increasing awareness of cystic fibrosis and raising funds for scientific research.
What's the best rally?
I love the Monte Carlo Rally: with all its history and prestige. It's an event like no other: there are so many unknowns, right in the middle of this spectacular fairy tale setting. It was my first experience of the World Rally Championship, and despite the pain and effort I can't wait to do it again. Perhaps my favourite stage is Argentiera in Sardinia. Driving it for myself after seeing it for so many years on TV as a spectator was a dream: I love driving on gravel.
Who is your rallying hero?
One of my heroes has always been Sebastian Loeb, even though not that many people know him as he's a bit of a reserved character. My wonder woman, who I have so much respect for, is definitely Michele Mouton. Meeting her this year at the Monte Carlo Rally was incredible and she's always so happy to give advice or encouragement. When I had a problem on Rally Sardinia and retired on the first stage, she stopped to give me a bit of encouragement, which was a real boost. It's unbelievable to think that I was her huge fan as a kid, and now I know her personally.
What's your take on the topic of women in motorsport?
There's no real gender division in motorsport in the end, as we all race together. In the beginning, I think being a woman helps as it attracts a bit of curiosity. But then, precisely because you are a woman, you need to prove your worth even more by bringing home results. Otherwise you're not taken seriously.
What's your dream in rallying?
Just to accumulate more experience and skill, to help me get bigger and better results. If you'd asked me a few years ago, I would have said that my dream was to take part in a WRC round. That came true with my first Monte Carlo. I've always wanted to take the next step, but my illness has made it tricky, and maybe I've even rush it from time to time. But the end goal has always been to turn my passion into a real job and to be able to dedicate myself totally to it.
What would you like to do when you stop competing?
I'd love to run an all-women team and make a real difference in that area. And then I would want to continue with my work as a safe driving instructor, which I'm very passionate about because it gives me the opportunity to share and transfer my passion and experience to others. Being able to correct bad driving habits and be thanked for that my people afterwards is something that makes me very happy.