Natalia Balbo: a new start with (still) a driver's heart

Columns: Interview
Natalia Balbo has started the new season as CRG co-team manager, a new challenge that the Italian driver faces with the same spirit she has always shown on the track. (sc)

It must not have been easy for Natalia Balbo to start a new year "on the other side of the fence". Something you don't see every day, or rather, see given the recent tendency of factory teams to promote in perhaps the most important role figures and drivers who have distinguished themselves. A sort of real certificate of trust but also an entrance into the world of the 'big boys' of motorsport.
Those who, like us, know Natalia outside the track know very well that the 'suit and tie' role has never been for her. A particular and fiery temperament that of the Venetian driver who, as well as on the track (with overalls and helmet), is trying to bring her vision of motorsport also to the management side that, in a historic team like that of Giancarlo Tinini, has always made the difference. Natalia Balbo as well as her new colleague and always teammate, Brandon Nilsson opened this new course with the first two races of the year, a sort of training and preparation for what will be the big events of the 2024 season.

Natalia, how is this first period going and what have you had to learn quickly (if anything) in these first races/tests etc?
"I've definitely had to learn how the company works on a bureaucratic level because for me paperwork wasn't contemplated until before, so I'm gradually understanding a lot of the mechanisms, a lot of deadlines, and a bit of people management anyway. Among other things, novelty is above all the most corporate factor and that was what I was definitely missing!"

Is there a fear you have to date and is there a challenge you always want to overcome in this role?
"Well definitely one fear that there is is that of not fulfilling all the expectations that may be ours as a team manager or of the team in general. A challenge I want to win, and I think I speak also on behalf of Brandon, is to be able to maybe improve those little things that for us are improvable and to show that CRG is a team worth racing in, always and absolutely because, apart from being a winner, it is a big family working together. I would like to bring my imprint as a person and my experience as a driver and as a technician.
Driver, mechanic, driver coach and team manager: so many worlds united by the human relationship that is more fundamental than ever in modern motorsport.
You've been and still are a driver coach, how much is that approach helping you with the drivers you've followed or worked with?
"It's definitely helping me to be able to talk to and deal with drivers, parents, and still continue to have and have always had to deal with people. This role certainly now allows me to work better for sports management and then always have a clinical eye on what the drivers are doing on the track'.

Natalia, as mentioned, has no intention of leaving the track. For a few seasons now, she has been directed and well placed in the world of GT racing where she has already taken part in international competitions and, above all, continues the valuable coaching work that is more functional than ever.

How has your sporting career evolved, especially on the car side?
"So since I sort of hung up my helmet a bit, at the karting level a year ago for various reasons, I started pushing hard on what was my presence in the car world as an instructor under Ferrari. I would say that the next step is definitely to get more and more into that big-wheel world, with a view probably more as an instructor with a physical presence in the car rather than behind the scenes. So I say that but at the same time I still enjoy karting, driving and training on the track when I can.

You have always proved to be one of the strongest drivers in recent years and have been a regular presence in international finals, do you see anyone who can follow in your footsteps or do even better?
"I don't think I have to name names honestly. I see that the female breeding ground is increasing but a little bit due to the smoke in the eyes of some activities, let's say, that are present in the Motorsport world there is a tendency not to actually see the values or not of a general driver if man or woman, I think that there will absolutely be someone who will definitely do better than me as it has been in the past, at the moment unfortunately at least as far as KZ is concerned it is not seen as a propaedeutic class, many make the jump to go to the car or to stop racing in general. As of today I don't want to name names as to who might or might not replace me, in quotes, but there are certainly girls who are making great strides and I'm very curious to see how these new generations will go!"
At what age do you think KZ should be done? In this sense, does a team manager also have the time to do some kind of scouting?
"In my opinion KZ should be approached with a dual mentality in the sense that, if this driver already knows he can race in the car it is a category that should be approached when he is 15 or 16 years old, if instead a youngster does not have this fixed point or in any case has no pretensions, in my opinion it is a category that can also be done at 16 or 17 years old even later on. In general in karting I see a lot of immaturity in the sense that the categories are too competitive for youngsters who often move up a class. If we look closely there are often veterans at the top, maturity unfortunately or fortunately is a determining factor for KZ. I don't think there is any particular need for them to take it on right away if they don't need to do it to get into the car. At least that's my idea.

Photo: Vroom Archive // Sportinphoto

Created by: fmarangon2 - 07/02/24

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