dailysportscar.comMelanie Paterson – Fast Lady At Sebring
There are not many rookies that can say they have placed on the podium in every start, but Melanie Paterson can – says Gary Horrocks. Last season, which was her first in the ALMS, Melanie was able to finish in a podium position in all three of her starts, and just to make it more interesting, she was able accomplish this with two different teams and cars.

This season, she will be partnered by Ben Devlin in the Marshall-Cooke Lola-Millington, run by Essex Racing, with Jason Workman joining them at Sebring. Sponsorship for Melanie will come from Imation Canada Inc, a company specializing in data storage, and Cartech, a manufacturer of forced induction systems for automobiles. While funding is in place to run most of the year, they are hard at work, trying to get additional funding for the entire season.

According to Melanie, working with Essex Racing “has been great. Michael Gue and Tony Dowe have been very good to work with. Unless you have been fortunate to run one of their cars, you don’t really know how good they are.”

dailysportscar.comMelanie debuted at Trois Rivières in an Essex prepared, Nissan powered Lola, and was able to finish third in class. “While I was nervous, I fitted in better than I thought I would. We had tested quite a bit and spent a lot of time training. As I had previously been able to run in a few six and eight-hour endurance races, I felt comfortable with the style and also driving at night. What I didn’t expect was something very simple. Coming from a single seater background, I was used to having my mirrors adjusted quite wide, to the outside. This allowed me to see what was right beside me, as seeing behind in a series of cars with similar speed was not important. Well, my first time running on the track with other cars was really an eye opener. With not being able to see behind me, I was quite startled when the 900 Prototypes came past me. I soon learned to adjust my mirrors differently!”

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The next race for Melanie was at Mosport, where she was able to finish second in class in the Essex Lola. After taking a few races off, she came back for the Petit Le Mans, joining the Bucknum team in their second Pilbeam. This gave her the chance to compare the two different cars. “Earlier, I had tested a Pilbeam before we ran the Lola, and really, they are pretty similar. They handle very similar, and with both having the Nissan motor, they felt pretty close. I did notice that the Avon tires warmed up a little quicker than the Dunlops.”

Despite having some problems during the race, in which the Pilbeam was crashed heavily within the first 45 minutes, Melanie was able to once again finish on the podium, this time finishing in third. “Because Bucknum did not have a crew for their second car, John Bright, who works with Mike Pilbeam, was brought in, along with a new crew, to run our car. I felt I was very lucky to have John with me. He is very much like Tony, being very calm, and really knowing what is going on. Despite many trials, we were able to persevere. It really felt great to place third in this race and keep the streak together.”

dailysportscar.comMelanie has not had what would be considered a normal route to racing in the ALMS. Starting at age seven, she was racing on skis. By age 19, she had made it to the Ontario Provincial Team and had trained with the Canadian Olympic National Development Team. “I enjoyed it, but I reached a point where I saw what was ahead of me, and I decided to get out and move on. I had always loved car racing, and can still remember watching Formula One races on television with my dad, falling asleep with the engine noises, so I decided to give it a try. I had met David Empringham, who had also been a ski racer and we discussed it, which gave me the impetus to try. I really caught on quickly. I found that there are many qualities that are similar between racing on skis and in a car. Both require a spatial awareness, good depth perception and knowledge of using the proper line. You also need to be able to look ahead, to anticipate what is going to happen, and also have a good overall balance so you can be aware of your traction and also be sensitive to your input. Just as in skiing, where you become one with your skis, it is important in racing to become one with your car.”

It was in 1995 that Melanie made the change to cars. Because she had no money, she worked as a mechanic in the Bridgestone Racing School, and traded pay for a seat in one of the cars. “It was really good; an excellent season. I think being a mechanic really gave me knowledge to build on. The technical background I gained during this time really helped me to better communicate with my engineer and to set up my car better.” In the series, Melanie was able to be on the podium three times, winning once.

After this, she devoted her time to finding sponsorship, and keeping sharp while driving karts. In ’97, Melanie drove a “Legends” car, which is a small sedan-like car powered by a motorcycle engine. “This was awesome. I ran the season on local ovals, and ended up being the runner-up in the rookie standings.”

The next few seasons found Melanie racing in the Canadian Formula Ford series, racing as much as her funding would allow. “I saw limited success. I didn’t exactly set the world on fire, but it was seat time. I found out that to get the top rides, you need to have top money available to spend. I also found out that certain teams seemed to push well into the grey areas, which was why they were so dominant.”

While maybe she didn’t set the world on fire, Melanie did well enough to impress her sponsor, Sunoco, to continue support for two full seasons. The experiences made her stronger mentally. “I realized that despite just starting, I was able to compete with guys that have been racing since they were seven.” It was during this time that Melanie started to examine her talents. “I did some testing in Formula Atlantic, Indy Lights and Formula Palmer Audi in Europe, but I found that getting the required budget together was not easy. It is especially tough here in Canada to make the next step, as it is such a big step financially. I was not able to move on, but I did keep competing in the Canadian Formula Ford Championship. The testing was a success though, in that it did show me that my smooth driving style suited the higher powered cars better than in the FFords.”

“I saw that I did have a brain, and that some of the other drivers really didn’t, or at least didn’t use it. In FFord, it is so aggressive, almost all “red mist” aggression, without much thinking or planning. I realized that there was another way. Drivers in the ALMS are very intelligent, and I realized that you have to have a good brain to be a good racer. Drivers such as Jan Lammers, David Brabham, Jan Magnussen and JJ Lehto have brains and use them. I started to look into sportscar racing, and midway through 2001, things were looking good for a ride. I had good prospects for sponsorship through an American company, but just wasn’t able to close the deal. The whole business climate changed after 9/11, so plans changed. I feel fortunate that things have come along as well for me as they have. I wanted to be in an open cockpit prototype rather than a GT car, as I am used to the open wheel racing.”

Being from the great white north, where it is currently bitterly cold, Sebring can be quite difficult to adapt to with the warmer, sometimes even blisteringly hot temperatures. “Even when it is hot, you don’t feel it as badly in an open cockpit, rear engine car when compared to a closed front engine sedan. It maybe hot when you stop, but while you are driving, it really isn’t that noticeable.”

Away from racing, Melanie is still involved with cars. She is a partner in Driving Unlimited, performing consulting and contract work for various automotive manufacturers. Her partners are Danny Kok, who is also her driving coach, Ross Bentley and Tony Riddle. Being involved in this side of the business has made her aware of how to deal with her sponsors. “With Imation, we are involved in incentive programs for their distributors. I have a Sports Toyota that we display at many major events, and we also use it as part of the incentive program by having a track day contest. With every partner, we have different plans that work. We try to be flexible in how we work with our partners.”

What does the future hold for Melanie? “Right now I’m looking forward to getting out of the cold north, getting to Sebring and getting into the car. Eventually I would like to move up to the LMP 900 class. Racing is my life, and is what I have dedicated my self to.”

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