Wednesday 22 February 2017

Girl-racer Gabrielle is our top speed queen

Now you see her, now you don't --

Published 03/04/2011 | 05:00

SHE is 17-years-old, from Greenhills in west Dublin, doing her Leaving Cert, and she can out-gun a Ferrari or Lambo. Her parents bought her car for €6,500 with a loan from the credit union, yet only a €1m-plus Bugatti Veyron is very slightly quicker from 0 to 60 (and there are none of those in Ireland) so she's officially our quickest driver.

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Meet Gabrielle McDonald, Ireland's, Britain's and -- if her parents hadn't run out of money and couldn't raise sponsorship -- last autumn she could have been Europe's number one junior drag racer.

Her reactions are preternaturally fast, and that's the thing that counts in drag racing. By the time you and I would see the lights go green, foot down, hold on -- by the time you finish this sentence, in fact -- Gabrielle is over the eighth-of-a-mile finish line.

She is officially Britain's number one junior drag racer -- number two and three are boys. Her reactions are so fast that she attracted the attention of the Americans, and last year she was brought over to the States by drag race organiser and former NASCAR driver Bill Lancaster and his wife, from Chicago, and taken to the US junior drag race championships in Benton, Illinois.

Using a borrowed and much faster car than her own, and with the unfamiliar American rather that the European starting light system, she came 10th in a competition involving 1,200 other kids, almost all of whom have been drag racing since the age of eight and even younger in many cases.

She is so good she is being brought back to the States again this July for another week-long tournament in Tennessee for which she has high hopes. She has no European racing this year, as she's studying for her Leaving.

Her parents, Graham, a mechanic, and Edel, seem equally amazed and amused at their daughter's choice of sport.

Graham says: "It was a bit of fun at the start, but she kept winning and winning, and we all thought let's go for this, let's come first and she did."

She picked up the bug while on holiday with her parents in California in 2005 when she was only 12. They went to Speedway amusement park which has little dragsters for little kids. "She took the ride about 20 times and the man who runs it came over and asked if she was one of the American kids who are racing since they are tiny. He was amazed she hadn't done it before."

As a 16th birthday present her parents bought her a junior dragster -- for competing at the Santa Pod Raceway in Northamptonshire -- "the home of European drag racing" which attracts 300,000 visitors a year.

With only 28bhp and weighing just 102kg and burning methanol, Gabrielle guns her car across the eighth-of-a-mile finish line in (a limited) 7.9 seconds. She passes the 60mph mark at around three seconds and then has to limit her speed to under 90 and not surpass the 7.9 second finish point by too much, or she would lose points.

It was only bad luck that she did not win the European junior championship, known as the Nordic Cup.

Her mother says: "She won all before her and the first two legs of the Nordic Cup were in England and she won them. She won two of the three legs, and all she had to do was turn up in Sweden for the last. But it cost us too much.

"We went to Motor Sport Ireland but they weren't interested and we just couldn't get sponsorship. It's a pity, really, but she's great and she knew she had won anyway."

The listing on the UK junior drag racing site shows how great her achievement is. She lists as team members: "My dad Graham, my mam Edel and Scott Hauser (when he comes and visits)."

Scott is the American enthusiast and talent scout who spotted Gabrielle and arranged for her to travel to the States and participate in last autumn's junior championship with Bill Lancaster.

Her sponsorships (major car companies back some of the UK juniors) are: Greenhills Credit Union, Walkinstown Industries, Church of the Holy Spirit and Spray Tec.

And the future? Edel says: "She could go the whole way, but the cost is enormous. It's millions to take part at the top. Bill told us she could get a place in a university in Indiana which has scholarships for drag racers, but she doesn't want to go to university in America.

"She wants to stay here and study social care or forensic science."

Gabrielle and her parents can be contacted on Mcdonaldracing.moon-fruit.com

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