When she was young, in an effort to replicate what she watched on TV together with her father and three brothers, she would get on her father's bike, which was parked in the garage, and imagine she was one of the stars of the sport racing on track.
Heather MacLennan never became a professional driver but since 2015, she has been responsible for the administration and organisation of commuting all members of the Sepang Racing Team. Everyone remembers the days when you were asked what you wanted to be when you grew up, but Heather still doesn’t have a clear answer to this day, despite the fact she is coordinating one of the biggest teams in the MotoGP™ World Championship.
And it was from within her family where Heather shared and nurtured her passion for sport, making it, over time and with unwavering commitment, her profession. “It was 2006 - I was 20 years old - when my father and I went to watch a World Superbike race and I realized that this was my place, I wanted to work there. So when it came to choosing a University, I decided to study Public Relations and Events Management, three years later when I qualified, I started looking for a job in the sector.”
With no direct contacts to those in the know in motorsports, Heather took to the internet to research the names of teams participating in the National Superbike Championship and then sent them several emails and letters containing her CV in search of a job. It took a while, with plenty of rejections and unanswered messages along the way, but finally, an opportunity presented itself with the hospitality sector in the British Superbike Championship. Heather hasn’t looked back since, combining contacts and experience to rise up the ranks in the motorsport world.
When she was still a university student, and when it came to choosing a topic for her thesis, she did not hold any doubts.
"The topic was stereotypes about women involved in motorsport. I based it on my work experience, I was already attending the Touring Car paddock at this point and there were very few women there. Then, I asked them what difficulties they had encountered in getting there, why there were so few and other reflections of this kind.”
A delicate and complex topic to which Heather wanted to delve into and decipher.
"When I met new people and told them the sector in which I worked there were two types of reactions: those who were amazed and enthusiastic and those who seemed almost disturbed by the idea that a girl could work and be interested in motorsport.”
Like other women before her, she often found herself dealing with preconceptions that, instead of holding her back, drove her on to be even more professional and determined to change them, but change takes time.
“So many things have changed in the world in recent years and the paddock reflects this change. The media pay much more attention to women and what they do now, inevitably this has an impact. Having examples to be inspired by is important because in this way the younger girls can see for themselves that someone has already broken down barriers, finding themselves with a much broader vision of job opportunities.”
“When I started working I was very shy and it was not always easy to bring out my personality. I had to overcome challenges to fill the role I’m in today, and from doing that I gained confidence. Stereotypes and certain types of comments do not disappear by themselves, they disappear through the commitment of as many people as possible.”
This solidarity is present and tangible, albeit discreetly among the #WomenInMotoGP, as Heather herself tells us.
"There is a solidarity among the women who work in the paddock. Personally, I don't know them all but when we meet we greet each other anyway and even if we don't know their stories, their past, I respect them and admire them for being where they are because it is not at all easy to be there and behind those shy smiles that we exchange, it is a mutual admiration.”
Heather's adventure in the MotoGP™ paddock began in 2012 through word of mouth: “A mechanic friend of BSB who had worked in the World Championship told me that the Marc VDS team was looking for staff for hospitality. It was an unmissable opportunity and for the next two years I was part of their team.”
Once in the environment, she then made herself known and was always keen to hear about other experiences. “One day Johan Stigefelt, our current Team Director, told me that he was creating a new team, the rider would be Johann Zarco, and he was looking for a Press Officer. It was the best news I could get. So in 2014, I was involved in the Caterham Moto Racing Team. The following year, we met Razlan Razali and became the Sepang Racing Team.”
From 2014 to today, many things have changed for Heather and for her new team, which has experienced exponential growth. From beginning in Moto3™, they soon entered a team into Moto2™,and from 2019, they have participated in MotoGP™. Their debut year was a resounding success, winning the best independent team title as well as Fabio Quartararo, now with the factory Yamaha team, claiming Rookie of the Year.
At first, Heather managed travel for 10 people, but in the space of just a few short years, the list has grown to 63 from 13 different countries.
"At the beginning, I was the only woman on the team and soon after, Chiara Agostini, our hospitality manager, arrived and right from the start it was a pleasure to be able to count on her both in terms of work and more. Today we are six women in the team.”
The Covid-19 pandemic has meant that Heather has had to take on even more duties in addition to what she had been doing. She must remain up-to-date on the varying regulations of each state where the Grand Prix circuit visit, and ensure that each member of her team complies with them. She must also make sure that the riders and the team have everything they need to go on stage, and despite what seems an impossibly busy schedule, she still has time to soak it all up.
“During the GPs I am often supportive of the team and planning the next step but I also have the time to live the emotion of the garage and watching what happens on the track. The moment I love most is the one that precedes the race: the atmosphere in the box before the riders go to join the grid is an amazing feeling, the concentration is tangible then the traffic lights go off and the show begins.”
In 2021 an icon of the sport joined Heather in the Petronas SRT box, as Valentino Rossi completed his move to the Malaysian based outfit, and it a source of great pride for Heather to work alongside one of the most recognisable names in motorsport.
"I have the privilege of saying that I do the job of my dreams, from this year I will work with one of the greatest riders of all time, in what I hope will be an example for younger girls, to convey to them the importance of believing in themselves so that they can become part of this environment or in any case that they always have the strength to make their dreams come true.”