Detroit — Christina Nielsen knows about working with a lot of men.
The Danish racer, the first women to win a Sports Car Championship series title, has done some things women have not done before.
Students at the Detroit International Academy of Young Women, including their robotics team, may be headed into male dominated workplaces, too.
So, when Nielsen met with them Wednesday, as part of Detroit Grand Prix activities around the city, she said she hoped she could provide a sense of things to come, and a message.
“Don’t stop,” Nielsen said she told the students.
Some of the students also will attend a field trip to Belle Isle June 1, during grand prix weekend, when Nielsen will race in the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) Sports Car Championship series.
The 48-year-old series includes the 24 Hours of Daytona, the 12 Hours of Sebring, a six-hour race at Watkins Glen and eight contests, including a one is an hour and 40-minute sprint, the Chevrolet Sports Car Classic, at the Raceway on Belle Isle, June 2.
“What I told the girls is when you are going to come out to the race track and when you are going to get a tour with the team,” Nielsen said, after meeting in the school, a Detroit Public School, housed in the former Northern High School, on Woodward. “And when we’re going to show you around, I’m going to make you aware that there’s two women on our team. One is in charge of public relations, and then there’s me.
“So, all the others are men,” she said. “But they shouldn’t be discouraged by that.
“It’s completely normal that there’s quite a few men, but that shouldn’t stop them from thinking and believing that’s a role they could have one day, if they would like to.”
Some of the students at the academy are studying robotics, engineering and computer science and have won prizes for their work. The Pink Panthers robot team displayed its robot.
“Whenever we can, we bring in the professionals to show them the way,” said Cetaura Bell, a middle school science teacher at the academy.
“Our girls truly enjoyed it. To be able to show them something, and for them to hear someone else say, ‘OK, you can do this instead of being the lawyer.’
“You can actually follow your dreams and not somebody else’s dreams.”
Comerica Bank, Chevrolet and Lear were all part of the sponsorship for the event.
Nielsen also talked about the importance of role models, and about some of the things girls sometimes here when they think about what they want to do when they become women.
“How is their confidence level?” she said. “Do they think about it when someone says things like, they do something like a girl?
“Or have they experienced being told that there was something they couldn’t do? What’s the reason behind this, and how did they react?
“And what is important to focus on in those situations.”
Her father Lars-Erik Nielsen, who has raced in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the 2000s, was her role model.
“You’re not going to make it through life without help from other people,” she said. “But sometimes you won’t always have a role model or the person may do something that you don’t agree with.
“So, it’s important also to be able find your own way and make your own motivation yourself.”
Local interest in the IMSA series may be heightened this year. The “home team,” Team Penske, now races in it.
Three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves has joined the new Acura Team Penske program, too, after his long career in the IndyCar Series.
Nielsen said she is seeing “a little bit more women, maybe,” in racing. She worked with a female engineer last year.
“I see more drivers coming up, now,” she said.