The week I spent at sea

Carnival Spirit at sunset

I never thought I’d be the type of person to go on a cruise. I had an abstract idea of the type of person who went on a cruise, and while I couldn’t exactly define it, I knew it definitely wasn’t me. I was even a little embarrassed to float the idea of a cruise to my boyfriend when we were starting to think about what we wanted to do. We were both desperate for a holiday, and I was ready to go almost anywhere, as long as there were a pool, cocktails and lots of relaxing involved.

Holiday requirements

When I looked at the requirements, going on a cruise was the clear winner. Not only did it meet all of the aforementioned criteria, but it was also cheaper than any of the other options we had come up with and we got to spend a bit of time exploring a place we never would have been too otherwise.

It turns out, there isn’t a cruise type. There were so many people on board from all walks of life that my notions of the type of person who goes on a cruise were completely shattered. Is there a certain type of person who works on a cruise, definitely, but for those of us who don’t spend six to eight months at a time at sea, there is no shortage of normal ways to spend seven nights at sea.

Getting into the carnival spirit

We chose a Carnival cruise from Syndey to Noumea, Isle of Pines and back. We spent the four sea days on the Spirit, one of two ships to be permanently based in Australia, doing almost nothing, with lots of time by the pool, taking advantage of the unlimited food and iced tea and picking and choosing the activities and entertainment that we wanted to do. The two excursion days were filled with snorkelling and learning about the history of French colonisation in the area. We spent the final day onboard looking up other cruises that we want to do.

The best part for me was the effort that goes into creating an atmosphere and environment that all passengers will enjoy. From families with young kids to those with teenagers, groups of friends, young couples, older couples and whatever else in between you can think of, there was something to interest everyone. You could call it an all or nothing approach, and where we took the close to nothing approach, there was no shortage of activities to keep everyone occupied.

The main lobby was decorated for Halloween and the continued the theme throughout the week with a costume night and the legend of Patch the Pumpkin Pirate. While we chose the buffet most nights for dinner, the main dining room was a chance to meet your fellow passengers and participate in the Cruise Elegant, Caribbean and Halloween costume nights. We thoroughly enjoyed the comedy shows and the movies on the deck by the pool were a great way to relax in the evening.

On to the next

Whatever I thought about cruises before I went on one, I’m forever a cruise convert. We met a couple who were on their 51st cruise, and while I can’t imagine hitting that number any time soon, it’s comforting to know that we’re in good company.

Five years of FSAE-A

UTS Motorsport electric

December is a time where my newsfeed is full of comp results, congratulations and reflections of the FSAE-A year that was. Teams are either rejoicing in their success or committing to regroup and come back swinging the following year. Some just want to share the mountains of photos that they took during the year but never posted, providing a year-long snapshot that you can flick through in a couple of minutes.

The cycle is always the same, as the competition gets closer, teams start posting more – testing videos, photos of parts being manufactured, a group working on their static presentations. Just as quickly as the content ramps up, so too it starts to fade. In only a few short months, maybe even less for some teams, the cycle begins all over again, because December 2019 really isn’t that far away.

It’s now well past FSAE-A 2018, and the photo galleries and videos have slowed down as students acclimate to normal life. The first few weeks post comp is a glorious time for teams. For a little while, the deadlines are behind them. They can go to bed at a reasonable time and get a full night’s sleep – something that probably didn’t happen much during the lead up to the second weekend of December.

It’s the reflection posts that I like the most. While it’s good to celebrate your achievements, if you don’t stop to think about where you can from then you can’t appreciate where you are now. It’s these posts that inspired me to write this. It’s been five years since my first, and only, FSAE-A as a competitor and so much of what I’ve done since 2013 has been directly shaped by those 18 months.

If it weren’t for UTS Motorsports, I wouldn’t have started volunteering with Supercars. I wouldn’t have met some of the most hardworking and dedicated people I know, who I’m lucky to call my friends. I wouldn’t have had the opportunities to be involved with the Bathurst 12 Hour, RX Aus or the Australian Motor Racing Series (AMRS).

I think I’ve written about this before, but when I think back to when I first stepped on to the track at Werribee, I can still feel the excitement I felt and the moment of, ‘this is what I want to do with my life.’

So much of that week is a blur, but the things I do remember are etched into my memory forever.

The sadness we felt when we thought the engine was cooked on Saturday after the first dynamic events and then the exhilaration when it came back to life.

How confident I was going into Business Presentation, and how deflated I felt when we only came sixth.

The exhaustion of pulling together Design documentation until the early hours of the morning, and the relief when it was all done.

Teaching Sylvie how to drive manual through the dormitory carpark. The whole team staying in a dorm with two other university’s teams. Everyone working together to get shit done and hoping for the best outcome at the end of the weekend.

Even now I miss that. Walking through the pits at Winton in 2018, I wished, just for a second, to be able to go back and do it all over again.

I joined UTS Motorsports my first year of uni. I wanted to be involved and feel like I belonged to something. My first two-and-a-bit years of college in the States were not what I had always hoped they would be.

When I started at UTS, I promised myself that I would have the university experience I always wanted and would make my studies more of a priority than I made them before.

I had never heard of Formula SAE before finding the UTS team on the university’s website. I knew nothing about it other than you got to build a race car and compete against other universities at the end of the year. I reached out to the team, not really sure what I could offer since I struggle to add 2+2 most days and to build something like a car, I imagined, required a lot of math.

Luckily for me, they needed business students.

I dropped into the workshop a few days before classes started in 2013, and they couldn’t get rid of me for the rest of the year.

If you’re not familiar with the competition format, there are four dynamic and three static events designed to test the students’ understanding of everything that goes into making a competitive race car. One of those events is a Shark Tank-style presentation where you have 10 minutes to pitch your business model and car design to a panel of investors to convince them to give you money to bring your concept to life.

I only attended one comp as a member of my team.

There were a lot of team members graduating or who had made the decision to not be active members of the team the following year due to final projects and other academic commitments the following year and nothing was quite the same. I wasn’t enjoying it anymore and until that point, I had always been someone who just kept going and didn’t know when to give in, even if the situation was no longer a healthy or positive one. Leaving in the middle of the year was a tough decision because I felt like I was letting the team, and myself down.

I made some great friends in 2013 and had to learn to separate the two things – the friendships would still be there even if the team weren’t. That was probably the most challenging lesson to learn because would we still be friends without the team in common? The relationships did change, but the friendships never went away.

I flitted in and out of FSAE-A for the next few years. I attended a few comps as a spectator to cheer on UTS Motorsports as they changed from combustion to electric and settled into the new location at Calder Park.

At the end of 2017, thanks to a random series of events, I was introduced to someone who helps organise the Presentation event. We kept in touch over the coming months, and when it was time to start pulling together volunteers for 2018, I jumped at the chance to judge the Presentation event.

The calibre of the presentations and the effort that went into putting them together blew me away. Most of the teams seemed better prepared and much more on their game then when I was in their shoes five years before.

In 2018, my comp experience came full circle, and I’m eager to see what challenges and opportunities 2019 brings for me, the competition and the teams. With its new home at Winton Raceway, I see nothing but big things ahead for our Australasian competition.

 

Winton SuperSprint – hits and misses

Winton SuperSprint hits and misses

I don’t get to nearly as many races as I’d like to during the Virgin Australia Supercars season. But Winton is one round that I am yet to miss since starting volunteering with Supercars in later half of the 2015 season.

The relatively quiet Supercars races offered up some unexpected wins and disappointing losses. By contrast, the challenging weather conditions on Saturday morning put the Aussie Racing Cars to the test in what was effectively a trial run for the night race scheduled for Supercars at Sydney Motorsport Park later this year. The Touring Car Masters navigated the wet conditions on Saturday without incident, while an error on the restart after a lengthy safety car period in race 9 prevented a clean sweep of the weekend by Steven Johnson. For V8 Touring Car’s Jack Smith, the road to round victory was a bumpy one, but the young driver was ultimately able to extend his championship lead.

Hits and misses, ups and downs, wins and losses – whatever you want to call them – here are my thoughts on the weekend that was the 2018 Winton SuperSprint.

Rick Kelly’s win – hit

There was something very poetic about Nissan Motorsport’s performance this weekend. There’s no doubt that the past week has been a rollercoaster ride for the Kelly brother’s Melbourne-based team after Nissan confirmed that it will no longer back the team after the end of this season.

Nissan Motorsport’s weekend started off with a strong start in Friday practice with Rick Kelly and Michael Caruso topping the charts in the final practice of the day. The momentum continued throughout the weekend where the pair locked out the second row in qualifying for races 13 and 14 and both finishing in the top 10 on Sunday.

Scotty’s save – hit

Race 14 on Sunday started as many have recently, Scott McLaughlin was on pole. Once the lights went out, Scott dropped from first to eighth within a matter of seconds. As the field swallowed him up, an early call to pit from engineer Ludo Lacroix gave him the clear air he needed to make up the lost ground.

Scott worked his way back through the field to finish third behind teammate Fabian Coulthard and Shane Van Gisbergen.

The SuperUtes – hit

‘Boring’ and ‘slow’ were two words I heard used to describe the fledgling SuperUtes category over the weekend, but I must disagree. This is a brand-new category finding its feet and I think we’d all do well to let the drivers and teams settle in before writing them off. Winton was only their second round and it’s nice to see something different on the track.

Maybe next year they can open up the dirt section of the RXAus track to give the utes a little purposeful off-road action?

Winton itself – hit

The track is home to both maiden wins – Tim Slade in 2016 during his first year with BJR – and high-profile teammate clashes – James Courtney and Garth Tander in 2015. There seems to be a collective less than enthusiastic view of Winton. Maybe it’s because I’m still relatively new to this game, or maybe because it’s just not true, either way, I tend to disagree with the humdrum response that this track can elicit.

Over the last few years, the Benalla Auto Club has been working tirelessly to improve the facilities and securing money from the state to resurface the track in 2016. Winton is one of the few places where you can pack up the tent and camp trailer and make a weekend out of the race. Camping was sold out this year and last year, and it’s good to see the viewing areas packed with spectators during the sessions.

Percat’s broken promise – miss

This one hits hard for me, given my connection to Brad Jones Racing. The home-town advantage didn’t do much for BJR even though a strong practice 2 result for Nick Percat on Friday seemed to suggest otherwise. Making his way to third in Friday’s practice, Nick showed a glimmer of promise to repeat his strong results in round two at Albert Park. Nick qualified 10th and 15th and finished 18th and 14th on Saturday and Sunday.

Dave’s dismal weekend – miss

I like David Reynolds. He calls it like he sees it and isn’t afraid to err on the side of slightly inappropriate. He and Erebus are a good fit, and he’s starting to come into his own as a driver since signing with the squad last year. I’ve enjoyed seeing their collective successes this year and proving that you don’t have to be a powerhouse team to win races.

It was disappointing to see him finish last of the classified drivers in race 13 due to the damage he sustained in the early laps of Saturday’s race.

Thigh gaps and imperfections

Gala dinner
I don’t get dressed up that often, but when I do, I take a terrible selfie.

When I first moved to Albury, NSW in January 2016, I knew nothing about the border town, other than I had driven past it during a trip to Melbourne and coming home from Christmas camping one year. Now, almost two years later, I’m proud to call the border home.

As I’ve started getting more involved with the business community in recent months, I am blown away by the vibrancy and diversity of Albury-Wodonga businesses. The Business Women Albury Wodonga Gala Dinner was another ‘ah-ha’ moment for me as I spoke with and listened to some amazing businesswomen who are making their dreams a reality.

The guest speaker for the evening was Mia Freedman, and while I don’t tend to follow mamamia.com.au, I was interested to hear what she had to say, given the year she’s had with two major media faux pas and the success of her multi-million dollar business. As a writer and content marketer, when Mia said that her site publishes 40 to 50 pieces of content every day, my jaw dropped. Add in podcasts, videos, social media and everything else Mamamia does and I tip my hat (if I wore one) to the staffers who keep the content pumping – even writing this feels like it’s taking far too long.

The theme for her speech on the night was ‘Real is the New Perfect’ and I don’t think it could have come at a better time in my career to hear it. A fair portion of her speech related to parenthood and the trials and tribulations that come with marriage which doesn’t really resonate with me yet, but what I did take away from her speech, I hope to carry with me for a long time.

Work-life balance is like the elusive thigh-gap

On the night, Mia said that while we all want balance, very few of us are able to have it – kind of like the thigh gap. This one I didn’t exactly agree with, but I think it’s still worth noting. I agree with Mia in the sense that yes, sometimes we have to “lean into our work, or lean into our family, or lean into our mental health. And leaning is hard.” But there still has to be balance.

For me, leaning too hard into university and my studies for more than four years, just made me angry and depressed. It actually detracted from my ability to do my best. Because I was all university, all the time, I was so miserable that I couldn’t see the negative effects it was having my on grades, my relationships and my mental health. I leaned into university so much that the thing I was trying to do so well ironically took the biggest hit.

We have to have balance in our lives. Yes, we need to hustle and work hard to get where we want to go. For me, at that point, ‘where I wanted to go’ was getting my degree and by the end instead of feeling like I accomplished something, I felt like a deflated balloon and two years later I am just starting to feel like I’m coming back to life.

If you don’t have the right foundations, everything will crumble

This one resonated so well with me where I am right now in my career. In her talk, Mia recounted how she always wanted to get to places fast. She was editor of Dolly at 24 and always charged full steam ahead. What came next is something that I will probably turn into a mantra of sorts to say to myself whenever I need a reality check – “Like a house, if you don’t have strong foundations, everything will crumble.” She was specifically talking about her relationship with her husband, but I liken this to my journey since going back to uni at 24.

Taking a year off study and a year of TAFE before going back to university technically part-time (3 subjects per semester) meant that I didn’t finish my Bachelors until I was almost 27. Yes, I know in the grand scheme of things, 27 isn’t old, but when there are 22 year-olds graduating with the same degree it’s hard not to feel like you’re behind the eight ball.

I’ve always been very career driven, and not that I exactly know where I thought I would be at this point, I’ve always felt like I’m not far enough. I’m my own biggest critic, so it’s easy to feel like I’m not doing enough, or not trying hard enough. This is where I have to remind myself about the importance of balance. This also brings me to the next point.

Real is the New Perfect

Just because you aren’t on top of your game all of the time, doesn’t mean you’re a failure. Some days we have to eat baked beans out of a can for dinner and go out without makeup on because we overslept and can’t be late for the morning meeting. These days will probably happen more often then we’d like to admit, and unless we have a team of people around us doing our grocery shopping and making all of our appointments, I really don’t see how we can be on top of everything 100% of the time.

For me, this was the most important aspect of the night. I’m somewhat of a perfectionist so when I feel like something hasn’t gone the way I intended it to, I internalise it make it into a much bigger deal than it needs to be. Social media has become such a large part of our lives, and so much of what we see on social media is the carefully curated 5 or 10% that people choose to let us see.

Whether it’s weight loss, perfect hair or even a career win, reality is far more common than perfection.

 

Out of my comfort zone

Orange is still not my colour.
Orange is still not my colour.

This weekend I stepped out of the media centre and into a flag point for round one of the Winton Motor Racing Championship as a trainee flag marshal. I learned more (and knew more!) than I thought I would and have an even greater appreciation for track-side officials. Ten hours in a concrete box with a tin roof is no easy feat.

There is no denying that watching racing on TV or from the grandstand is an exciting experience. One small miss-step or one race winning move has the power to draw a collective “oh s***” from the audience, I would say more so than any other sport – think SVG’s recent Bathurst 12 Hour debacle in the dying laps of the race or Fabian Coulthard’s heart-stopping smash at the Gold Coast last year. But, I’m not much of a sports fan outside of things with four wheels or a pigskin so don’t quote me on that.

But there is something to be said for being right in the action, breathing in the smell of a bit of burning rubber after a wheel lock or the sound of a turbo 13b brap-brap-brapping its way passed or watching the water in your bottle vibrate as the cars zip by. Seeing, hearing, feeling – that’s how you learn and that’s how you grow. You can’t write about what you don’t know and there is plenty about motorsport that I don’t know. I’ve never been the type of person who enjoys just sitting behind a computer commenting on what’s going on around me. I want to live and breathe the things that I write about.

I’m looking forward to many more 10-hour days in a concrete box with a tin roof in the future.

My opinion on opinions

WARNING: this post contains a lot of opinions; the irony is not lost on me.

We all know the saying: opinions are like a** holes, everybody has one.

But opinions are more than that, they make us who we are. They help to distinguish us from our peers and shape how we see the world around us.

Some opinions are simple: “Cats are better than dogs.” and “Blue is the best colour.” These opinions aren’t based in any sort of concrete fact, but it doesn’t matter because they are harmless. Sure, the cat versus dog debate has long been a highly contentious issue and that blue is way better than red has the potential to spark a heated argument between friends on the primary school playground, but you can just hug it out and move on. You can’t prove these opinions, and you shouldn’t need to. They are just harmless observations about how we perceive the world (even though we all secretly know that cats win every time and there is no way red is better than blue).

There are some opinions, however, that carry a bit more weight. The 2016 US presidential election brought out the worst in people – I think that’s something most people can agree on. Pro or anti-Trump, everyone has an opinion on the 45th President of the United States. But, unlike cats and dogs or red and blue, these opinions are serious. Disagreements on these opinions can’t be as easily hugged out and forgotten. These opinions have the power cause arguments between family members and friends and to divide a nation.

The next four years are going to be long, they are going to be trying, and they are going to rewrite the history of our nation. Now, more than ever, our opinions on the direction and actions of our government need to be informed. We need to base our opinions on hard facts, that we can research and validate through credible sources. We can already see the damaging effects uninformed opinions are having – the difference between Obamacare and the Affordable Care Act is a perfect example. The recent Jimmy Kimmel segment where people on the street were asked if they preferred Obamacare or the ACA shows just how dangerous uninformed opinions can be. One woman stated that she preferred the ACA over Obamacare because she doesn’t like Obama – she had no idea they were the same thing. This is frightening.

We need to have our opinions. Our opinions eventually become our beliefs. Our beliefs are integral to who we are and they are incredibly hard to change, no matter how many facts to the contrary we are presented with. And that’s okay – that’s amazing. It’s that kind of belief and faith that something can be done that has led to mankind walking on the moon and building the Pyramids of Giza. BUT – those opinions were based in some sort of substantiated fact that what was being attempted could be done.

I have a cousin who is a staunch Trump supporter which is causing some tension on that side of the family. A recent exchange with her and a few other family members is what inspired this post. My one request is that when you express your opinion – that we all have every right to – that you don’t ignore hard-core facts that may contradict that opinion. I want us all to remain vigilant and to do our research before we make decisions that can drastically affect the rest of our lives. Opinions that can cause harm to others need to have more behind them than ‘alternative facts’ and fake news. For the love of everything we all hold dear – please spend five minutes checking a reputable source. It’s like using Wikipedia as a reference for a university paper – did you ever get credit for it?

This of course, is all my opinion and I have little recourse to substantiate any of it.

This time last year

This time last year Mark Winterbottom was poised to win his first championship  One year later, a new first-time champion has been crowned, leaving the veterans to contemplate their own mortality in this game.

This time last year, I was in awe of everything around me and I was doing my best to not be a giddy school girl volunteering at my second Supercars event. I felt so incredibly lucky to be sitting in a room full of some the most notable motorsport journalists and photographers not only in Australia, but around the world. Many things have changed for me over the past 11 months – I’ve moved out of home (again), started a new job in a new town, made new friends and celebrated my first two-year anniversary with a boyfriend. I’ve learned a few life lessons, and there are a couple that are taking longer to sink in that I would like.

This time last year I had just finished my degree and was eagerly anticipating life after university.

This time, this year one thing hasn’t changed. I still feel incredibly lucky for the opportunities I have been given and the people I get to spend my days with on race weekends. The collective knowledge of motorsport and photography and journalism all working towards the same goal is awe-inspiring.

Every single person I have met since I began volunteering is here because they love what they do. They are here because they want to be, they aren’t just showing up to the office to collect a paycheque every week.

As this year draws to a close, there are many more changes on the horizon and we are reminded that nothing is for certain. Long-time stalwarts have found (or are still looking for) new homes and young guns with bright futures are making names for themselves with each passing race. We are also saying goodbye to Sydney Olympic Park, which has been home to the season finale since 2009.

What I’m trying to say, and not doing so very eloquently at all, is pretty simple: so much can change in a year. For me, 2016 has been an adjustment period and a year full of things that I would do a little differently if I were given the chance. While this year definitely had its highs, it also had some lows and that will be very happy to shake off once the clock strikes midnight.  In 2017 (much like the finale round for Supercars) I’m looking forward to moving on to bigger and better things.