Dividing her days between leading a medicinal cannabis company and working on race cars, Carmen Doran is part of a rare all-female motorsport team.
When Carmen Doran was 15 years old, she competed in a Formula Ford for the first time. Racing alongside her dad, and three races in, she drove faster than him.
“All of his friends laughed and said: ‘You’ve got two options now – you can either tell her she’s not allowed to race ever again, or you need to step down and let her race’,” Doran recalls.
He wisely did the latter.
Now Doran is one half of the only all-female team racing in the South Island Endurance Series, working as the engineer to driver Debbie Chapman.
She’s able to use the skills she picked up in her Master of Engineering degree – which has also come into play in her interesting day job, as the CEO of New Zealand’s largest medicinal cannabis company.
Doran’s curiosity for how things work started at a young age, spending hours building and fixing things with her father in the garage.
At the age of 11, she began racing go-karts and would travel all over the country with her family.
It was then she first met Debbie Chapman, but it would be years before they would work together. Doran would race with Chapman’s kids; Doran’s own mum given the role of ‘Camp Mum’ alongside Chapman during meets.
Doran continued to race throughout her adolescence, making the natural transition from karts to Formula Ford. She followed her passion for motorsport and all things technical to university, where she studied mechanical engineering, focusing on control systems, management and manufacturing optimisation.
Being one of only five women in an engineering class of 120 wasn’t an unfamiliar feeling for Doran.
“I’d been around racetracks most of my life before that and been quite used to being around a lot of guys,” she says. “So I wasn’t completely surprised by that; it was somewhat expected.”
Doran then worked towards a Master’s in biomedical engineering (awarded with distinction) from the University of Canterbury – something that would later inspire work in a completely different field.
Her racing career came to an end when she finished her education and ventured overseas. But her involvement in the world of motorsport continued, attending race meetings across the world.
She returned to New Zealand in 2014 with her now-husband, Matt Waters, a mechanic who has worked for Formula 1, IndyCar and Formula E. They met through mutual friends.
After working with various race teams across the country, the couple set up their own workshop in Cromwell in 2019 and started running racecars under the Track Tec Racing banner.
When she’s not on the track, Doran runs Helius Therapeutics, the largest medicinal cannabis company in the country. While to the uninitiated the two occupations may not seem compatible, Doran explains that there are a lot of similarities.
“With that Master’s degree, I was working with both engineers as well as with doctors in developing control systems for patients who are critically ill and managing their glucose and their insulin levels. So this is probably my first step in the crossover of being an engineer and working in the health world.”
Helius Therapeutics received their licence to manufacture medicines in July, a boost to help the company bring products to the market for Kiwi patients. Doran explains there’s also a lot of crossover between her role at Helius and her work with Track Tec Racing – especially with the thought processes and how things work.
“At the moment Helius is in a big ramp-up phase, so that’s where my experience working overseas and also as an engineer is really important – bringing the team together and focusing on a lot of the same things we focus on for the race team. In bringing different skillsets together, having a clear focus, and then going out there and making that happen,” she says.
The company also has skin in the racing game, sponsoring Chapman’s Audi RS3 TCR car.
With over 30 years’ experience racing, Chapman has gained the nickname ‘The Fast Lady’. Her history is impressive – she holds the title of the Class B South Island endurance one hour champion, and has raced a BMW SuperTourer on the Mount Panorama circuit at Bathurst.
Doran’s role as engineer with Track Tec Racing involves analysing data, optimising driving styles and working with Chapman on race days to ensure the smoothest ride possible. Having felt like she’d known Chapman all her life, their relationship has naturally progressed and their complementary skills create an effective partnership.
Debbie isn’t the sole member of the Chapman family competing in the series – her husband Dennis is also racing with Track Tec. He sits in second place overall, just ahead of Debbie in third place going into the final round this weekend.
While Doran and Chapman are the only all-female duo competing at the series, it doesn’t weigh heavily on their minds. They didn’t even fully realise the fact until someone pointed it out to them.
“I’ve been around racetracks most of my life, so it’s just what I do, and I don’t think about that. It’s only when someone else points it out that it’s a little bit different or unusual,” says Doran.
“And I think Debbie’s the same. You know, you put your helmet on and you go driving and that’s just what you do. You don’t recognise that you’re the only female out doing it.”
Doran emphasised there were plenty of women who are essential to running the tournaments and making things happen, including Cate Paddon, who is the coordinator for the series.
Paddon, who’s a cousin of professional rally driver Hayden Paddon, was the first Kiwi to take up the trans-Tasman female motorsport exchange.
The final round of the South Island Endurance Series takes place in Christchurch on Saturday, where the team of Chapman and Doran are looking to finish out the series strongly.
“We [Track Tec] sit second and third in the championship this weekend,” Doran says, “So the key thing for us is about getting out there and continuing to run at that level and finishing the races, to then be able to convert that across to a series podium.”
*Kiwi driver Emma Gilmour will make history as the first woman driver to compete for the McLaren Racing team, in next year’s Extreme E series.
Gilmour, from Dunedin, has vast experience in rallying and rallycross, and has been a reserve driver in this inaugural season of Extreme E, which races in remote corners of the world to raise awareness of the impact of climate change. McLaren is the latest team to join the series in 2022.
You can read Gilmour’s profile in LockerRoom here.