Photos by Ariana Gastelum.
Professional IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Champion Christina Nielsen drove up in a street-legal IndyCar this morning onto the grounds of Gant Elementary to engage students in conversations about driver safety and what it takes to become a professional race car driver.
Nielsen is the first female to win a WeatherTech Sportscar Championship series title. She started out racing in karts, but she now drives a GTD Ferrari, which she will be racing as number 63 at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach this weekend.
Students in kindergarten to fifth grade sat attentively on the playground as they listened to Nielsen explain the various ways she has to stay safe while racing, such as wearing a helmet, seatbelt (or in her case, six seat belts) and proper racing gear. Even her underwear has to be fireproof, she told the young crowd.
Nielsen also emphasized the importance of teamwork. Her team is responsible for keeping her safe and working as efficiently as possible.
When the students were asked who wanted to be a race car driver, almost every hand was raised.
“If it’s your passion, if it’s your dream, then go for it as long as you have fun,” Nielsen advised. “That’s what matters.”
Nielsen also visited Naples Elementary, Franklin Middle School and Oropeza Elementary this morning as part of the annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach Educational Series.
James Hinchecliffe, Verizon IndyCar Series driver and Dancing With the Stars season 23 runner-up, was scheduled to appear alongside Nielsen but was absent.
Tristan Nuñez, who is also a professional IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship driver, will be speaking to students tomorrow morning at Smith Elementary, Birney Elementary, Los Cerritos Elementary and Powell Elementary.
“It’s a lot of fun because [the Toyota Grand Prix] is in our own city,” Gant Elementary Principal Cassie Fanton told the Post. “It’s something the kids are so familiar with, and having them see it up close is really cool. And to have a female driver here is really awesome for them to see.”