First female to win a major, full-season professional sports car championship in North America. Two-time International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) WeatherTech SportsCar champion. First Danish woman to compete at Le Mans. Nearly 50 podium finishes. What hasn’t Christina Nielsen accomplished in her decade-long racing career?
“I’ve never won a Rolex 24 At Daytona watch,” the 27-year-old native of Denmark says. “I don’t think I can retire before that happens.”
A six-time participant in the legendary endurance race, Christina had another chance to earn that watch to kick off 2019 — joining Bia Figueiredo, Katherine Legge and Simona de Silvestro behind the wheel of the No. 57 Caterpillar Acura of Heinricher Racing with Meyer Shank Racing (MSR). The all-female team rose to as high as third position but ended up finishing 13th in the rain-shortened race.
Though disappointed in the outcome, Christina is confident she’ll be back for another try.
“Once the race is over, all you can think about is, ‘Am I going to get another chance to do this 364 days from now?’” she says. “You’re exhausted, but you can’t wait to do it again.”
Like a lot of racecar drivers, Christina got her start in go-karting — but she came to the track a bit later than most. Tennis was her first childhood passion and a sport she pursued for more than six years. Then, at age 13, she drove a go-kart for the first time.
“I fell in love with the feeling of being behind the wheel, that adrenaline kick,” she says. “I went home and asked my dad if we could go driving. He used to race himself.”
That’s putting it modestly. Christina’s father, Lars-Erik Nielsen, raced professionally for many years, participating in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, 12 Hours of Sebring and Rolex 24 At Daytona. He told her if she was all-in on racing, he was all-in with her — and the two kicked off a career that’s led Christina to multiple high-profile series and more than 40 racetracks around the world.
“Racing is something we’ve been doing together for a long time,” she says. “This is something that I do with him every step of the way.”
In early 2019, Christina got the call from Jackie Heinricher — team owner of Heinricher Racing and founder and CEO of Booshoot Technology — asking her to join the No. 57 team.
“I’m really grateful to Jackie, Caterpillar and MSR for giving me this opportunity,” Christina says. “What I think makes this program special is that Jackie has put racers together who share a similar mindset and a similar opinion of how we want to be perceived, both as drivers and as women.”
As one of just a few women competing at the highest levels of professional racing, Christina is used to drawing stares on the track — but even she is surprised by the amount of interest the No. 57 car’s all-female driver lineup is generating.
“Individually, we generate some attention, but together we create a lot,” she says. “To have four women together in one race is unheard of. That’s something we love being a part of changing, and we love that Caterpillar is sharing that vision with us.”
Adjusting attitudes about what women can accomplish is a focus for Christina on and off the track. She regularly visits schools to talk to young girls about self-esteem, motivation and pursuing careers in areas like science, technology, engineering and math normally dominated by men.
“I love working with STEM programs because they open doors,” she says. “They let young girls see what it’s like to be a part of worlds that women aren’t normally a part of.”
In 2019, Christina co-founded “Accelerating Change,” an organization to celebrate women in the automotive industry and empower women of all skill levels to feel confident behind the wheel. Its first program, an all-female track day at California’s Buttonwillow Raceway, was held in March for International Women’s Day.
“We want to give women a comfortable environment where they can improve their skills,” Christina says. “We want to show them if they want to be part of the racing world, they’re more than welcome.”
When she’s not racing, training, traveling, planning events or visiting schools, Christina enjoys exploring her new home base in southern California — where she loves to hike, play tennis and spend time at the beach. She’s also an avid reader, exchanging crime novels with her mom.
Whenever she heads to Europe for a race, Christina makes time to squeeze in a couple of days back home in Copenhagen, where her parents, two sisters and seven nieces and nephews live.
“A day walking through Copenhagen, going by the little lakes and hanging out with my friends and family is a pretty good day for me,” she says. “Home is where the people you care about are — I truly believe that.”
Follow Christina Nielsen and the rest of the No. 57 team in their quest for the 2019 IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship on CatRacing.com.