Meet Jade Edwards, the bright new star of racing who’s continuing a family legacy while championing a new order
The last time a woman competed in the British Touring Car Championship, Jade Edwards was a 16-year-old watching from the paddock.
Thirteen years later, it’s her turn and a childhood dream will become reality at Silverstone next weekend.
In an exclusive interview she told NewsChain: “This is what I’ve always dreamed of doing, I am really proud that it is me. I was a child at the time in the paddock watching the last female in the race, 13 years later I am actually replacing that name.”
‘That name’ was Fiona Leggett and Edwards will become the eighth member of an elite group.
You could say the 29 year-old from Ascot had a head start - her father, Jim Edwards Jnr, is a former BTCC race winner and her grandfather, Jim Edwards Snr, raced in the Sixties.
But despite making her first appearance in the paddock at just two-weeks-old, she has now made a name for herself in the sport and while happy to carry on the family name, is determined to follow ‘her own path’.
At Silverstone she will drive in Power Max Racing’s Vauxhall Astra in rounds 16, 17 and 18 of the 2020 season.
She said: "It will be a massive tick in the box, but financially it’s always been quite hard to get the sponsorship and equate to that level of motorsport.
“It may lead onto more but I’m happy to just be achieving the dream I set out to do as a kid really.
“For a female in sport and for a female in motorsport it’s a really proud moment for me to be that first female to go back after such a long gap.”
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the event is being played out behind-closed-doors and Edwards is aware what a big miss that will be.
"The fans being there is a huge thing and I will notice when the fans aren’t there because it’s those fans who share my content.
"From an on-track perspective, I probably won’t notice a huge difference because I’m focused on the job in hand.
“But little things like when you are out in the paddock area and there are young kids coming up to you and asking for an autograph or a photo, it’s enjoyable for me.”
Edwards first raced competitively at the age of 16 in the Ginetta Junior Championship and spent her childhood watching her father and her 18-month older sister Chloe compete around the country until she was old enough to take part herself.
Her father is her hero and her inspiration but she says there are pressures with having family members in the sport.
She said: "I would love to carry on the family name of getting that success, but I can’t dwell on it too much because I’ve created my own path and my own story and some things which I’ve achieved he hasn’t achieved, so I have to focus on those bits.
“Coming into the sport as a child of a name, male or female, there’s a natural amount of pressure. But my family don’t put too much pressure on me, I probably put the most on myself.”
In 2015 Jade and Chloe both raced in the Aston Martin GT4 race as teammates and won the event, becoming the first two sisters to do so.
Edwards has also raced in the UK’s Clio Cup competition since 2018, which is the moment she really started to build a brand for herself after creating a successful sponsorship campaign.
As her career continues to blossom and after years of being strapped in behind the wheel, she is known as ‘Jade Edwards the competitor’ and not ‘Jade Edwards the girl’.
She said: "I’ve got a very stern view on females in sport and females in any industry. I think if you are good at what you do you are going to gain respect. I’ve never really competed against women, I’ve only really ever competed against men.
"It’s nothing different, it’s just a name on a car I don’t see the person in it. I don’t care about the person in it in the nicest possible way, they are just a competitor.
"Nine times out of ten it’s the same in the opposite way, the men don’t see me as Jade Edwards the girl, they just see me as Jade Edwards the competitor.
"I have raced in the last three seasons in the support category to British Touring Cars and I was the only female for all of those seasons.
“So it’s not unheard of for me to just race against the men, it’s what I know.”
But at whatever level she has competed at, there is always ‘one’ who takes a ‘disliking’ to racing against a female, but that she ‘rarely pulls the female card’.
She added: "When I’ve done grassroots stuff I feel like ego’s (are there) because maybe they are at a lower level and they are trying to prove themselves all the time. And that they kind of don’t like being beaten by a girl or don’t like racing by a girl.
"You will always get that one person or driver that maybe takes a disliking to it. As I’ve moved up the ranks people know me as my personality, my character and what I’ve achieved in racing so far. There’s been a bit more respect especially if you are competing against the same drivers throughout the whole season.
"But I will never say ‘oh I got contacted because I’m a girl’ I will just say ‘it’s for the natural reasons of motorsport’.
“Motorsport is technically a non-contact sport so we never go out there aiming to hit other cars, but I think some of the races that I did last year prove to me that I’m quite happy driving side by side with other men and other cars and not be phased by it.
“It’s all about being nice and kind but at the same time you are still a competitor, so I’m quite assertive with that side of things.”
But with very few females in the sport, she is doing whatever she can to break down stereotypes by using her platform to show that females can compete.
“It’s not necessarily pushing anything specific it’s just being there and competing, not whinging about being a girl, and just showing that if you want to do something, set your mind to it, it doesn’t matter who you are but you can achieve whatever you want to do," she added.
But motorsport is not like other sports, there are a number of barriers in place to reaching the very top, she says, adding that the sport is ‘money related, not talent related’ which can be ‘frustrating’.
She said: "In motorsport a lot of the drivers even at Formula 1 level aren’t always being paid to be there. It’s all done through sponsorship. You almost have to go (to a team) with your money and go ‘this is how much I’ve got, can I race with you?’ And hopefully, you can earn a wage from it.
“So there’s not a structure of male and female pay. But it’s fairly equal because it’s done on a sponsorship basis, there are obviously categories where the males can’t crack into where females can and vice versa. So it’s purely a case of are you a personality that sponsors want to latch onto.
"In some ways (it’s rewarding) because your personality has to go fight for what you want and a lot of the time even if there is a driver who is a little bit better than me, they don’t have that persistence to keep going and get the sponsorship.
"But what is frustrating is when you see drivers that are so much less talented than you but have so much more money available to them that they can basically go and pay for their seat.
“I might be there as a race winner but if I’ve only got half the money from the guy finishing last, technically the guy finishing last can just pay for that seat.
"So if you’re in F1 and you still have to pay for your drives, how am I supposed to accept that someone is going to pay for mine.
“That’s why sponsorship comes in, so I need sponsors to pay for the privilege as such, it’s unbelievable. It’s a weird sport in that sense."
However, she is motivated to keep on pushing and to hopefully compete in the British Touring Cars full-time and to be the ‘first competitive female’ in the championship.
But off the track, Edwards is still very much on the scene working for Auto racing team McLaren with their supercars and in F1 as a motorsport guest host.
And when her driving days come to an end, she added that she would love to go into anything ‘media-related’ in F1 or in British Touring Cars.
Being an F1 fan she also revealed that British racer Lando Norris ‘gets her vote’ because he’s a ‘brilliant driver’ and brings in a ‘new fanbase’.
Edwards will compete in the British Touring Car Championship on September 26-27 at Silverstone. All coverage will be on ITV4.