Race-Car Driver Hanna Zellers Discusses Her Racing Career

Up-and-coming race car driver Hanna Zellers reflects upon the road ahead.
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On Zellers: Diamond pavé swirl earrings in 18-karat gold, Corum Golden Bridge 39-mm watch with red alligator leather strap, available at Provident Jewelry, Jupiter

Photography by Robert Nelson

Seven thousand race fans are settling into their seats at the Homestead-Miami Speedway as 22-year-old Hanna Zellers warms up the cherry red TLM Racing/FITTEAM Porsche 997 GT3-R cup car on the track below. Tires primed and settings maximized, she returns to Garage 30, trading tips and technical specs with co-driver and car owner Jeronimo Guzman. Then there’s a throng of fans to greet, VIPs to schmooze, media interviews to give, and selfies to snap. It’s a lot to take in, but Zellers is unfazed.

Of the 90 drivers on today’s FARA (Formula and Automobile Racing Association) Miami 500 roster, Zellers is one of only four women—a distinction laden with a whole host of sexist notions. “People just expect you to not be good or not be quick,” she says. “I have to jump through extra hoops more often than the guys to achieve my dream.”

Zellers tells it like it is, so you believe her when she says that, unlike some other female drivers out there, “becoming” Danica Patrick—the most successful woman in the history of professional racing—has never been part of her dream. Still, she admits that as a kid growing up in Indiana, watching Patrick fight her way to the front to lead the 2005 Indianapolis 500 made Zellers think, “I’m gonna do that, too.”

“I’m a wild card. It makes me extra versatile because I have to adapt really quickly to different things.”

Born into a family of racing fans (her parents eschewed a traditional honeymoon, opting to attend the famed Skip Barber Racing School to celebrate their nuptials instead), Zellers started kart racing for fun at age 7. “She has a lot of energy,” her folks told bystanders who balked at the sight of a little girl behind a kart wheel. “We gotta find some way to channel it.”

Zellers attempted other pastimes—volleyball, baseball—but none stuck. “I was always too aggressive for those sports,” Zellers says. “I got in trouble for it.” In racing, that aggression became an asset. By age 9, she was racing competitively and began qualifying for major kart competitions, frequently landing atop the podium and bringing home championships.

Leggings, T-shirt, Versace; leather jacket, LaMarque; all available at Saks Fifth Avenue, Boca Raton; diamond tiered hoop earrings in 18-karat rose gold, diamond pavé ring in 18-karat white gold, available at Provident Jewelry, Jupiter.

In 2013, Zellers earned her racing license from the same school where her parents honeymooned. She jumped from karting to the Sports Car Club of America and tried her hand at Formula One cars, followed by a stint driving NASCAR-style stock cars. After transitioning to Le Mans Prototype 3 endurance races, Zellers began competing on the FARA circuit, which features a mix of sports cars including Porsches, Ferraris, BMWs, McLarens, and Lamborghinis.

With more than 200 starts, 70 wins, 61 poles, and 55 podiums to her name, Zellers gets it done no matter the make of the car she’s in. “I just follow the opportunities and drive whatever it is that’s put in front of me,” she says. “I’m a wild card. It makes me extra versatile because I have to adapt really quickly to different things.”

That versatility is one of the reasons Zellers was selected in 2019 as the first woman to participate in the Porsche Young Driver Academy, a program that identifies the racing world’s most outstanding new talent. “With Hanna, we saw a driver who’s got the talent and is putting in the effort,” Rob Owens, Porsche’s One-Make program manager explains. “It just made perfect sense to bring her into the program.”

But occasionally, even the best talent can’t win the day. Sometimes you’re at the mercy of the car. At the Miami 500, the Zellers/Guzman team was in third place when a rear axle failure ended their racing day after lap 54. Zellers was understandably disappointed, but she remained undeterred. “That’s racing,” she says. “You just get ready for the next one.” (The “next one” for Zellers and Guzman is the FARA Sunset 300, which will take place in Homestead April 13-14.)

Racing in Homestead isn’t where Zellers’ dream started—and it’s certainly not where it will end. Everyone seems to agree that her talent is worthy of the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA), the premier racing body for North American sports car competition. She’s been there once already: In 2018, she pulled out a top 10 finish as the circuit’s first and only female driver. But staying in IMSA was another story.

“Hanna is the most adaptable driver I’ve ever seen. She’s smooth. She’s fast. And she’s consistent.”

—Jeronimo Guzman

One might think that Zellers’ talent and experience would equal the kind of motorsports magic IMSA team owners clamor for. It’s true that drivers must have those traits in spades, but they also need to bring either personal wealth or major sponsorship money to the table—and Zellers does not. After all, racing is a business. “It’s basically 90-percent hustle, 10-percent driving,” she says.

Zellers moved to Florida in 2019 for the year-round racing opportunities that warm weather allows, and she’s now based in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea. Her hustle and talent quickly got the attention of David Tuaty, team owner of TLM USA Racing. When Tuaty broke his collarbone in a skiing accident, he hired Zellers to pair up with Guzman.

Dress, Balenciaga, Saks Fifth Avenue, Boca Raton; diamond drop earrings, diamond swirl statement ring in 18-karat white and rose gold, pavé diamond ring in 18-karat white gold, classic diamond circle necklace in 18-karat white gold, available at Provident Jewelry, Jupiter.

Although Guzman, 44, is a top surgeon at South Florida Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery in Palm Beach County, on the weekends he pursues his lifelong passion for racing. This year he went all in as a car owner, purchasing the Porsche 997 GT3-R cup car that he and Zellers now co-drive. “She’s the most adaptable driver I’ve ever seen,” Guzman says. “She’s smooth. She’s fast. And she’s consistent.”

Guzman adds that there’s no doubt about Zellers’ future as a professional race car driver. “The talent is there. The opportunity is there; teams are willing to take her onboard. She’s known by everybody. We’re just working on the budget.”

Using his local connections, Guzman has helped Zellers secure sponsorships with Provident Jewelry and Corum Watches. The money Zellers earns showcasing their products on social media to her more than 68,000 Instagram followers and nearly 44,000 Facebook friends (both counts current as of press time) buys her time to seek more racing opportunities and try to land the kind of major sponsor that will get the attention of an IMSA team.

“I just have to keep reminding myself that there are a lot of different pieces I need to put together to make it to the top,” she says. The piece she’s focusing on now? “Being patient and working my butt off.”

Watching Zellers leave the garage after her team’s tough break in the Miami 500, you can glimpse that same 7-year-old who first fell in love with the sport. She’s down, but far from out. When asked if the Indy 500 is still the goal, she shakes her head no, clears her throat, and takes a pause. In that instant, you can almost hear her telling herself: Stay in the moment, don’t get too far ahead of yourself.

“Indy would be cool someday,” she admits. “But right now, I’ve got to be focused on getting back to IMSA.” She corrects herself: “To the top of IMSA.”

Either way, she’s not out to be the next Danica Patrick. “Definitely not,” she says. “I just want to be the next Hanna Zellers.” «

 

Shot on location by FLI at the MASS District, Fort Lauderdale

Makeup by Deborah Koepper, Deborah Koepper Beauty, Palm Beach

Wardrobe by Saks Fifth Avenue, Town Center at Boca Raton

Jewelry by Provident Jewelry

Hair by Justair Fort Lauderdale

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