Uncharted racing for charity: the Project 356 World Rally Tour
Behind the wheel of her faithful 1956 Porsche 356 A, Renée Brinkerhoff is preparing for the final stage of her Project 356 World Rally Tour. And when Renée says “world” she isn’t being hyperbolic. This (northern) winter, she will take on what could be her toughest challenge yet, taking her Porsche where none other has driven before – Antarctica.
Realising a passion
For most of her life, nothing pointed toward the Colorado-based mother-of-four embarking on a global racing adventure. In fact, it wasn’t until Brinkerhoff was folding clothes in her laundry room one day, that a little voice at the back of her head began saying “I’m going to race a car”.
“We went over there and it was a 356. I’d never seen one before, and this happened during the time when I realised I was going racing,” Brinkerhoff says. “I just fell in love with it and I thought that’s the car I want.” Shortly afterwards, the same cousin helped source what would become her automotive companion. “I didn’t even look at another car,” she remembers. “When I saw that one, I knew it was the car.”
“How do you drive a racing car?” To help build her skills, Brinkerhoff attended classes at the Porsche Track Experience where she had the Chief Driving Instructor – and America’s most decorated endurance racer – Hurley Haywood in the passenger seat.
Not your average racing debut
In 2013, at the age of 57, Brinkerhoff once again arrived at La Carrera Panamericana – this time to compete in her own car. The famed rally has strong roots in Porsche history as it happens to be the namesake of not one, but two models – the Carrera and Panamera – commemorating the brand’s major successes with the 550 Spyder in the early days of the race.
Never having planned to compete in more than one race, Brinkerhoff found herself back in Mexico in 2014, this time finishing second in her class but with an impressive 14th place overall.
Taking on the world
In the time after the accident, two key decisions were inspired by what Brinkerhoff describes as an organic series of events. Secondly, a massive undertaking started shaping up as the Project 356 World Rally Tour.
Brinkerhoff had scoped out six races on all seven continents to challenge herself and raise awareness for the new charity. This time, she fared better than her last race in Mexico, once again winning her class and kicking off the World Tour in style. Brinkerhoff proceeded to put the pedal to the metal in 2018, first traveling down under to the Targa Tasmania in Oceania, then rising to 15,000 feet in the Andes Mountains during the Caminos Del Inca to check off South America.
Valkyrie Racing crossed the finish line in Africa as the only female-driven team. This has been the case in several races, and along with her philanthropic work, it is a factor of great motivation for Brinkerhoff. More than being on the podium, that whole team experience and having the ability to affect positive change in people’s lives and go out and be a motivation to them – that to me has been the most rewarding, she says.
Sep 01, 2020 at 16:07