A Woman's Take On A Man's World – Meet Bia Figueiredo
Too often, racing and watches are considered a man's province, but women like Bia Figueiredo make it perfectly clear how woefully inaccurate that belief is.
Watchonista recently sat down with Ana Beatriz Figueiredo (or Bia Figueiredo), a Brazilian race car driver, entrepreneur, and new mom. She drove for Formula Renault in Brazil for three years and became the first woman ever to win in Formula Renault. She is the first woman ever to reach the podium in an Indy Lights race at the Nashville Superspeedway. And she drove IndyCar from 2010 to 2013, getting her best Indy 500 position with Dale Coyne in 2013, finishing 15th.
She is an example of determination and how women can accomplish anything once they set their minds to do it. I was fortunate to talk with Bia about her career, watches, and business, and all in Portuguese! That being said, I translated our discussion for easier reading.
How It All Began
Bia started racing at the age of 8 and was the first Brazilian female to break every Karting record. Added to that, Bia is the first and only woman in the world to win a race in Formula Renault and be one of only a handful of women to race at the Indy 500. But what made her decide that racing was for her?
“I come from a family that has no history in motorsport. My father is a psychiatrist, and my mother is a dentist. So apparently, something went wrong or right [laughs].
Ever since I was a little girl, I always liked dangerous things and played with the boys, adventures, and always loved sports. When I was around 5-6 years old, Ayrton Senna was still alive and was highly successful in Formula 1. As well as Emerson Fittipaldi in IndyCar, so almost every weekend, we were watching races at home. And I loved it. My father realized that I was interested in racing and took me to Interlagos to see a go-kart race. And I fell in love.
I was lucky because Brazil is a Latin country, and Latinos are usually more macho. But my father supported me, and he thought it was super cool and supported me in my dream of motorsports. When she noticed that this was what I wanted, my mom was super supportive of my career. That is how I started my career about 28 years ago!”
Every successful driver has role models who inspire them to be the better of themselves and to whom they look up. For Bia Figueiredo, growing up with the tales of Ayrton Senna and other successful drivers, the answer was quite evident.
“Ayrton Senna and Emerson Fittipaldi. Ayrton because of everything he did for Brazil at the time of his third championship, and all his heroism, determination, dedication, and his obsessiveness for victory. And Emerson for having opened doors in Europe and IndyCar; he is a tremendous national idol.
I also admire André Ribeiro as he always managed his career. Rubens Barrichello, whio I think is fantastic. I ended up meeting more women at IndyCar, and I admire Danica Patrick, Sarah Fisher, and my race companions. There are great women in motorsport who have achieved many things.”
Women and Motorsports
Women who chose to pursue a career in motorsports are a rare breed. But Bia has found a way to enjoy being a racing driver while also preparing the future stars of the sport.
“Last year, when I became a mother, I had to stop racing for a bit. And now that the baby is a bit older, I was hoping to get back on the track. Then an invitation came from our Brazilian Confederation for me to be a godmother and ambassador of FIA Girls on Track, an FIA program in Brazil that encourages girls and women in motorsport.
Since 2019, I was already a mentor for a young pilot called Antonella Bassani. So, I followed her career. During that time and I saw that she had a great talent. And I'm also mentoring all the go-kart girls from the FIA Girls on Track for Ferrari Academy. But also, I’m involved in and support any act of the FIA that encourages women, not only drivers but mechanical engineers, in any area of motorsport. And I ended up bringing this project to Brazil. It is excellent.”
Being one of the few women in motorsports, I had to ask what she would advise any young lady who wants to start racing?
“First and foremost, you need to have the will and the passion. This is very important as Motorsport is more expensive than any other sports. But if you would like to try, take your first step and train and get results.
The more passion you have, the more you dedicate yourself more to succeed, the more you will open the door to getting sponsors, which will help you fund your passion. I was lucky enough to have a sponsor fund me to IndyCar, which was, for me, the most significant category.”
But What About Watches?
As we all know, watches and motorsports go hand in hand, as we saw in our latest article about Formula 1. And of course, Bia Figueiredo has some great stories about watches too.
“I have always loved big watches! When I was at IndyCar, my team owner André Ribeiro lent me a Panerai. It was huge, but I loved it. Honestly, I still have it! But here in Brazil, no one cares about how big your watch is, so no one judges me for wearing it!
I also feel a connection to the watch brands that support motorsports like TAG Heuer. In 2019, I did a campaign for [TAG] for "Don't Crack Under Pressure" along with four other great Brazilian sportspeople.
Also, in 2019, I went and did a test drive for Richard Mille’s Le Mans program. It was just after I got pregnant, so I was not able to join the team. But I was able to run with them now in Sebring.
And, of course, Rolex!”
As for the watches she would love to have, she follows her heart on the racing front.
“I ended up buying a TAG Heuer because of Ayrton Senna. I love what Richard Mille does, but that is also because I love working with them [laughs].
But I never had a Rolex. If you if win at the 24 Hours of Daytona, you get a Rolex. But it hasn't happened yet to me.”
The Longest Minute
At Watchonista, it is a tradition to ask everyone we interview about the longest minute in their life or career. We often hear surprising anecdotes like Lewis Hamilton's or about iconic moments in sports history, as with George Foreman. For Bia Figueiredo, her longest minute shows that a woman's strength and determination can guide her to finish the tasks at hand.
“I struggled and fought a lot for a long time to get into IndyCar, and in 2011, when I got my first chance to race the entire season, we went to St. Petersburg for the first stage of the championship. We started the race, and on the second lap, I hit Graham Rahal wheel to wheel. And the steering wheel broke a bone in my hand.
At the moment, it hurt, but the car was intact, so I continued the race. I was in a lot of pain, but I still went 70 laps with a broken hand. And when the race was over, I was in a lot of pain. The medical center diagnosed a hand fracture.
My bone was broken in half! They said that we had to operate, and there was a chance I would not get back in a car. I told them they were crazy! It was my dream, and I was living it. “There is no way I don't get back in a car.” This was my first full year in IndyCar, I was not ready to give up. Thankfully, when I arrived in Indianapolis, the doctors, being used to what happens in IndyCar, did a surgery that got me back on track ASAP.
In the waiting room, the hand specialist said, "Who's the race car driver that drove 70 laps with a broken hand?" And I said, "It's me." He looked at me with stupefaction, "You?" As if to say, “You are a lady!”
I told him, "Doctor, women are way stronger than men when it comes to pain."
At the moment, Bia is currently racing on an all-female team in the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) Series in the U.S. from 2021 through 2025. She is also an active ambassador of the FIA Brazil and is a mentor to young women aspiring to become race car drivers.
Discover Bia via her website: http://biaracing.com
(Images © biaracing.com)