Zoe Whittaker, Professional Female Driver to Promote Georgia’s Tourism Potential

Zoe Whittaker, one of the few women who races classic cars and is a track car driver and who has worked in Formula 1, is on a visit to Georgia to launch her new project ‘Driving with Zoe,’ which will see numerous classic cars rallying around the Georgian countryside with drivers taking in the best sights and Georgian hospitality.

The Race with Zoe team are working closely with the Georgian side, who are “extremely helpful,” Zoe tells GEORGIA TODAY.

Co-Founder and director of the British-Georgian Chamber of Commerce, Mako Abashidze is assisting Zoe in making the right contacts to get the project off the ground.

“I was hooked the moment I heard about it,” Mako tells us. “Georgia is busy promoting its food and wine, but this is something totally different, and something which has huge potential!”

The idea to start an annual rally came up on a visit to Le Mans famous 24-hour race in France, where Zoe, together with her Georgian friend Berdia Kamarauli, founder of the UK-based Cenimex, a British import-export venture specializing in Georgian wine export to the UK under the Georgian Wine Club brand, suggested that Zoe taste Georgian wine, “because, of course, French wine is good, but Georgian is better” (“and it is!” Zoe confesses). His bold statement, combined with the realization that she, like many Brits, knew very little about this far off country “somewhere near Russia,” piqued her interest enough to make her ignore warnings of it being a risky country to visit and get in her car to see for herself. And there is no desire to turn back.

“The people are amazingly hospitable here,” she says. “So welcoming, so helpful, with so many ideas and such a willingness to bring the idea to fruition. I want to share Georgia with as many people as possible”.

Indeed, her constantly updated Instagram account of her travels here has grabbed the interest of not only her friends and fellow drivers, all of whom have expressed a desire to come themselves, both as tourists and competitors in the rallies, but of the British media establishment.

“Georgia can look forward to a rising number of tourists from Britain, not just thanks to Zoe’s future project, but also thanks to the direct flights (provided by Wizzair and Georgian Airways) and the ongoing bilateral relations between the two countries,” Mako says.

Zoe’s mission this week is to explore the terrain and plot her rally route. She is happy with the condition of the roads, and says that occasional potholes on the back roads are no cause.

“Most of the classic cars that will participate were built for rough roads,” she assures us, adding that a specially trained team of Georgian mechanics and foreign specialists will be with the drivers at all times during the rally.

We ask her if other aspects of the Georgian infrastructure concern her, like accommodation and dining for the racers.

“That is for the Georgian side to organize,” she says, emphasizing that they have been most willing to do whatever is needed to make the annual event a success, from training hotel staff in the regions to recommending the best restaurants. “We’re working very closely together on all aspects of planning,” she adds.

The first rally is set for May, dates to be confirmed, and she expects it will involve a close circle of drivers, “up to six, perhaps,” who will test-run the show. They will bring their classic cars over to Poti in containers and those containers will then be transported to Tbilisi.

“The capital is a stunning city and I want it to be the start point. We’ll make sure we’re seen so that local people can enjoy the experience with us and, if they own classic cars, be inspired to get those cars out of their garages and join us in future rallies!” Zoe tells us.

The 2019 rally will then be open to all applicants. If extremely popular, there is even the chance that more than one rally can be held each year, with one, say, specifically for pre-WW1 cars or classic bikes (the owners of both have already shown interest in the idea).

“The rugged nature, monasteries, mountain roads, coastline are all well worth exploring and make such a change from the European landscape- it’s an authenticity that many European drivers will appreciate,” Zoe says.

Another very important issue that Zoe plans to emphasize and promote is Road Safety awareness among Georgians, especially the need for child car seats and safe driving legislation to be in place and well-enforced. She had meetings with Tbilisi City Hall representatives on her last visit and will continue to push the point.

It seems to be the year for Georgia’s shining image abroad, no matter the politics and past difficulties. And that image is getting set to brighten further as this tiny country-at-the-crossroads gets the spotlight it deserves and prepares to welcome a new breed of tourist: the racing driver.

Katie Ruth Davies

26 October 2017 21:20