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Shining on the national stage in auto racing
“Science girl” racer is master of both driving and maintenance

Ayaka Iwawaki

At the All Japan Student Gymkhana Championship held in August of this year, Ayaka Iwawaki took second place for the women’s individual race. A “gymkhana” is time competition where contestants test their automobile cornering skills and more. In the auto racing world where men make up over 90 percent of the participants, Iwawaki is supporting the noble name of the Waseda University Automobile Club as a rare female racer.

“In high school, I was part of the tennis club and in university I thought I would enter the tennis club there, as well. However, I was given a flyer for the Automobile Club from a junior member which had this attractive statement that you could learn driving skills and thus get your driver’s license cheaply. It was that which lured me to go the club information session and was the event which caused me to enter this world,” says Iwawaki, laughing.

In addition to gymkhana, there are also numerous other diverse events, such as dirt trials, where racers drive at speeds up to 130 km/h on unpaved dirt and sand courses, and figure 8 events, where drivers race through narrow courses enclosed in white lines, testing their ability to control their vehicles at the centimeter level. Further, participants must maintain and repair their cars themselves, making auto racing a sport which comprehensively challenges one’s abilities, from intelligence to physical strength. “I started as a complete amateur who couldn’t drive a car and didn’t even know the types of cars driven on the road, so I struggled with many things. It is necessary to increase your physical strength so you can drive while controlling the handle, accelerator, brakes, and side brake, and technical study is also essential to being able to replace and improve parts within a limited budget. Plus, because all of the club members use the same car, you can’t just do your own thing. Auto racing is a team sport, and that’s its true appeal, I believe.”

©Waseda Sports Weekly
At the All Japan Student Gymkhana Championship. Iwawaki achieved a good time of one minute, 33.126 seconds and second place on roads made wet by incessant rain.

Facing these difficulties, Iwawaki is now a complete car maniac. When there is any car trouble, she opens the hood herself and looks for the trouble spot.

“Perhaps it’s because there aren’t many girls like that, but whenever I open the hood people always ask me if I’m alright. Well, mostly it’s just old men who like cars,” says Iwawaki , laughing again.

Now a member of the School of Advanced Science and Engineering, Iwawaki says she is immersed in daily research with the goal of going on to graduate school. In the future, will Iwawaki choose a car-related occupation?

“The laboratory I belong to is conducting research into fuel cells, solar cells, and rechargeable batteries. Batteries are an inseparable component to the creation of a new car society, but I’d like to get a job where I can harness what I have accomplished so far, not necessarily just at a car manufacturer. All the same, I will be retiring from auto racing in my fourth year.”

Devoting half of her summer vacation to club activities, Iwawaki also served as a TA for a driving class and worked as a tutor. Every day Iwawaki is extremely busy.

“The All Japan Student Automobile Racing Championship (figure 8) will be held at the end of November and it’s my last goal for the year. As I aim to achieve victory there with all my strength, I would also like to give my all to my studies and play, as well. I’d also like to have a full love life, but...one of the faults of being a racing girl is that your date’s driving skills bother you, so we’re no good for driving dates,” says Iwawaki, laughing once again.

Kicking up dust during the Dirt Trial.

Driving lessons held at an Automobile Club practice ground in Niigata Prefecture. A member of the Automobile Club participates as a TA.

Although there are not many female members in the Automobile Club, Iwawaki and her female teammates have distinguished themselves in races and have shown real presence.


Ayaka Iwawaki
Third-year Student, School of Advanced Science and Engineering

Originally from Tokyo, Ayaka Iwawaki graduated from Tokyo Soka Senior High School. She began auto racing after entering university, quickly distinguishing herself by winning the All Japan Student Dirt Trial Championship last year. In 2013 she is aiming to be the top student in Kanto in two races with different courses.