Race Car Driver Samantha Tan on Smashing Stereotypes and Her Beauty Go-Tos

A quick Google search brings up Samantha Tan's long list of racing accomplishments. 2021 Overall Winner GT Team and Driver in the 24H Series; 2022 First Victory for the new BMW M4 GT3 at the 12H Mugello; 2023 NLS 7 Class M240i Winner; 2023 Pro-Am Class Winner, GT World Challenge America, Road America: the list goes on. And while breaking new ground is something she's keen to do (and no doubt will), it is her legacy she is more concerned about. "It's always nice to be the first, but I also don't want to be the last," she tells Hypebae over Zoom.

The 26-year-old global ambassador for BMW M Motorsport fell in love with racing at a young age, and has dedicated herself to her craft from the age of 14. That isn't to say she has sacrificed her identity in order to succeed. In fact, the opposite is true. Tan has leaned into her femininity even more, wearing her bold flick (a sharp Tarte eyeliner) as war paint, and full acrylics beneath her racing gloves. Underestimate her at your own peril. But beyond the confidence and love of all things girly, it is a statement of intent and a means of taking up more space in the paddock for all women, not just herself.

Below, she speaks about how she got her start in racing, why she'll always be vocal about being an Asian motorsports woman, how beauty has turned into a secret weapon of sorts and more.

On her love of racing

It all originated from my dad [Kenneth Tan]. He's a big car enthusiast and racing fan, so I grew up around cars. He would always bring me to car meets and local track days in my hometown when I was young. I fell in love with the feeling of speed at a very young age. It wasn't until I was around 14 that my dad started enrolling me in performance driving schools. He wanted me to be a safe driver first and foremost, and learn proper car control. At the end of one of those programs, I got to sit in my very first race car. I had a professional driver take me out on the track for a hot lap and I was blown away by what the car could do. The feeling of the intense; braking and acceleration put the biggest smile on my face. It was like a roller coaster ride. That’s when I knew I wanted to be a race car driver myself.

On being the first Asian woman to win a major international endurance racing series

There are two different kinds of racing: there's sprint racing, which are races that range anywhere from 30 minutes to three hours. There's also endurance races, which run from four to 24 hours. 2021 was the first year I'd ever done any kind of endurance racing championship. It was such a formative year for me. I remember early one, when I first got to that series, I was speaking with a fellow competitor and I was very open about my ambitions to win the championship. They literally scoffed in my face. They didn't think I was serious. But we ended up winning every single title that we were eligible for. It meant a lot to me to prove all the haters wrong and prove that you shouldn't underestimate me. It means so much to show every girl who aspires to be like me that we can be successful in the sport. We deserve to have a space out on the track and the podium.

On being a woman in professional motorsports

I've had a lot of people ask why bring gender and my race to the conversation, but I think it is important and I don't want to contribute to the erasure of it. As someone who started in the industry over 10 years ago, I was often the only girl in the paddock. I didn’t have female, let alone female Asian role models that I could relate to look up to. When I was receiving hate or hearing these stereotypes about female drivers, I felt like I was facing it alone. I think it's incredibly important to continue normalizing [women in sports] in the media because it sets the next generation up a better future. When you see women in positions of power, it becomes the norm. If I can see it, I can be it. And that’s what I want to be for others.

On the power of eyeliner

My makeup and skincare are my war paint before a race: it's what sets me up for a race weekend. If I feel good, then I know I'm going to do good. My pre-race ritual is getting my eyeliner on point. Getting that perfect wing makes me feel more confident. That's not to say that I need it to feel confident, but it helps me along the way. I have eczema and sensitive skin, so it's really important for me to have proper preparation before I get in the car and sweat for hours.

On being a girly girl in a male-dominated space

I will show up with a full glam to the track if I feel like it. I do it authentically, because that is me, but also intentionally: to show others that you can have good hair and makeup and be successful. I encouraged myself to do that because, for a long time, I felt like femininity was discouraged in the racing community. It's so male-dominated and people think if you're into fashion and beauty, then you're not taking racing seriously. I've always made it a thing to show up as a girly girl at the track. I still wear my nails. A lot of people ask me how I can drive in them, but you're not really using your nails or your fingertips when you're driving... My nails don’t get in the way of beating others on the track.

On the legacy she wants to leave behind

My ultimate goal in racing is to be the first Asian woman to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans, which is the most prestigious endurance race in the world. The race just celebrated its 100th anniversary last year and there's never been an Asian woman at the forefront. I hope to be that person. Andd I hope to continue inspiring and empowering others to follow in my footsteps and keep chasing their dreams.

On her top beauty picks

Tarte "Tarteist Double Take Eyeliner"

YSL Couture Baby Clutch

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Samantha Tan, motor sportswoman, racing, formula 1, bmw, grand prix, female racer, race car driver, tarte, it cosmetics, cerave, sk-ll, sports,
Samantha Tan, motor sportswoman, racing, formula 1, bmw, grand prix, female racer, race car driver, tarte, it cosmetics, cerave, sk-ll, sports,

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IT Cosmetics CC Cream

Mixsoon Bean Essence

Sulwhasoo First Care Activating Serum VI

CeraVe Cleanser

 

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For more on women making moves in male-dominated fields, check out our interview with international amapiano DJ Uncle Waffles.