Keeping Me on My Toes – Exclusive Interview with Inside Pass Host Vanessa Guerra

© All photos, including featured cover, provided by Vanessa Guerra

In 2019, Red Bull launched a MotoGP Vlog on Youtube – Inside Pass. Vanessa Guerra is the Creative Producer and Host of the Vlog. Every race weekend, she takes fans behind the scenes to get a closer look at how the weekend is going for the riders and the teams. Before Inside Pass, Vanessa already had a long career in the MotoGP paddock, from team management to pit lane reporter. During this quarantine time, we had a chat with Vanessa, to hear about her amazing journey in the past 12 years.

It gives me a very unique background

For Vanessa, the career in the paddock started as a family business. This is where she learned all the basics of racing, understood the technical side deeply, and formed an emotional attachment to people in the paddock.

In 2007, Vanessa’s brother Yannick Guerra was competing in the European Superstock 600 Championship, and invited her to the Donington Park round as a guest. Even though Vanessa was only there to see the race as a family member, her language skills helped her and the family throughout the weekend. “I’ve seen him do motocross races before. He asked me whether I could go see him racing in Donington Park, because I’ve never seen him roadrace. While I was there that weekend, because I speak four languages, it came in quite handy to solve situations.”

From one race, it led to many more races. Later that year, Vanessa was asked by the family to join the team to help manage the team and coordinate. That was the real beginning of Vanessa’s adventure in a motorcycling paddock. “I had to spend a lot of time in the pitbox with mechanics and I learned a lot about the durability of the parts so I would be able to assess when we would need to place orders for parts. I had to learn a lot about racing quickly which I had never done before.

Vanessa with Holiday Gym Racing in 2009 World Supersport Championship

Getting to learn a sport is difficult enough already, Vanessa was also met with additional challenges as the team moved between championships every season. But when she started to have conversations with engineers and mechanics without asking questions all the time, she knew she had figured out how to do her job properly. “I was in Stock600 for one and a half of a season after I finished my degree, then I did one year of (World) Supersport, then we went into Moto2 in 2010, so it was constantly changing. Every class has a different set of rules and regulations, and I just kept learning and learning. It took me about a good two years before I felt comfortable to speak to everyone and not felt like I didn’t know what I was doing.

The time I spend in the pitbox with the mechanics was crucial because I got to understand the sport from a technical standpoint.

Vanessa with Yannick on the 2010 Japanese GP starting grid

End of 2010, Yannick retired from Moto2, but Vanessa kept on her journey in the MotoGP paddock. She ventured on from the family team to become a press officer for hire. Even though the period of working with her family was over, it gave her a unique perspective in her future career whether it was being on a team or being a member of the media. “All throughout my career I’ve had to interact with many riders and you get to understand the human side of things, what it takes, what the families have to sacrifice to allow their children to get to that level. I always have this tendency to protect the riders as younger brothers. I’ve seen them grow up. You basically share 9 months of the year travelling, being at the track, having the same lifestyle. You get to understand one another.”

I didn’t know they knew I existed

One of Vanessa’s big break in the MotoGP paddock before joining the media side was becoming the Press Officer of the Repsol Honda team, on the heel of Marc Marquez winning his first Premier Class World Champion as a rookie. Before all the pressure of being part of a factory team (if not the biggest factory team in the paddock), Vanessa was busy with taking an independent team into MotoGP. Factory or private, when working on a MotoGP team, that family feeling is never missing.

In 2012 and 2013 season, Vanessa was the Press Officer for Forward Racing. Forward started competing in MotoGP class in 2013 as part of the Open Class. At the same time, they are also fielding two riders in Moto2. Vanessa, without a big marketing and communication team, was responsible for handling the photographers and pictures, writing and translating the press releases, and managing the team website and social media. She was able to give a new, private team in MotoGP a very professional image, and that led to her opportunity at HRC. “They would read my press releases and they like the way I would write. They said they were very impressed with how I managed the image of the team and it looked very professional even though it’s a small, young, private team. I basically took Forward into the MotoGP class in terms of the communication.”

Vanessa with Forward Racing Team during 2012 British GP

People at HRC saw her dedication and skills, but it took Vanessa several formal meetings, including meeting the Japanese big bosses at Honda’s home GP in Motegi, to eventually land the job. “I didn’t know they knew I existed, to be honest. I was very surprised when they reached out to me. In Japan I met them for the last meeting, all of the Japanese bosses were there and it was very overwhelming. They had questions for me and I responded. One of them asked me “do you ride?” and I said “yes”. They were like “what do you ride?” and I was like “dirt bikes”. Then they were like “oh, which bike?” and I looked through my feet and was like “Yamaha bike” and everyone started laughing. Now it’s a funny moment when I tell the story, but back then I was so embarrassed that they thought it was very funny.”

During Valencia GP of the 2013 season, Vanessa signed the contract with Repsol Honda and started her time at the factory team. Being in a factory team means a bigger budget, higher visibility, and more pressure. “A factory team’s budget is completely different. You have a bigger team. You need to be more careful to whom you allow access. While in an independent team you basically need to chase the journalists, on a factory team you need to fend them off. You can pick and choose who you can talk to.”

During her time at Forward Racing and Repsol Honda, Vanessa was not working for her family anymore. But the team environment kept that family feel on. “From working for teams I have learned that the best thing about a team is that it felt like a family. I see more of my team than some of my closest family members. To be honest, racing is a lifestyle choice, it’s completely different from any other jobs.

We bring you closer to the sport

Where do you go after working for arguably the biggest team in the whole paddock? You go outside the pitbox. Leaving Repsol Honda, Vanessa went from being one of the players to being one of the observers, or at least representing the observers. Throughout her time on the team management side in the paddock, Vanessa never really planned for any of the career changes. That also goes for the change of moving to the media side in the paddock.

In 2015, Vanessa became the pit lane reporter for Eurosport, and stayed in the role for four seasons. Similar to when HRC reached out to her, the Eurosport job also came as a surprise, but Vanessa took the challenge head-on. “When I entered the world of racing, I didn’t have a career path in mind, like a set goal. The great thing about what I’ve done so far is that it has kept things interesting and kept me on my toes because I was never able to get used to something or enter like a proper routine. I surprised myself when I agreed to be a TV reporter because I had no previous television experience. It was a personal challenge, I’m a very shy person.”

I went with the flow. You learned to adapt to whatever life throws at you. You go with whatever comes. Every season has been different for me.

As the pit lane reporter for Eurosport on live TV, Vanessa was responsible for reporting the results of the race, getting the reaction from riders and teams. It was about explaining to the audience what happened on track from a neutral perspective, without predetermined opinions. “Being a pit lane reporter you need to remain neutral. A reporter is not there to provide an opinion, they are there to provide you with the facts. The riders are very professional, when there is a bad performance of the weekend, obviously they understand you need to ask the questions because you are trying to explain to the viewers at home what’s happening so they can better understand what they see on the screens. We just want to give the riders the feeling that they have the chance to give their side of the story through us. There is less chance of misunderstanding or misinterpreting what they are saying on live TV, because it comes from the horse’s mouth.”

Vanessa interviewing Danilo Petrucci during 2018 Spanish GP

As mentioned earlier, Vanessa’s experience on the teams gave her an advantage when reporting. She knows when to as what questions to whom, and it made her a better reporter in bringing out a more human side of the paddock. “Just from working inside the teams gives you the perspective which is unique. I have been able to use that experience on the media side of things because I know when is the right moment to go and ask the questions. Just by looking at the people who work there, I know what they are going through. That is something you learn only when you are part of a team. ”

At Red Bull, Inside Pass is less about the seriousness of each race weekend, but more about the fun side of racing. “We have more times with the riders without their leathers, without their helmets, and when they are more laid back. We get to interact with them in a different setting. We want to highlight more their personalities and characters and humanize them in a way.”

Besides shifting of the tone, Vanessa’s role also expanded from being just the reporter, to being a producer and host of the Vlog. She is involved from beginning to end in the production process. With support from three colleagues (a director, an editor, and an account manager), Vanessa brings to fans fun interactions with riders from the race weekend. “We have a script going in, we try to go in with a good plan of what we want, but we remain very flexible throughout the weekend and adapts to whatever circumstances that come along. We do have prearranged interviews set with teams and riders. We also have casual bump-ins, which is what I mean by remaining flexible and open.”

This season, as the whole world is experiencing the impact of COVID-19, every racing championship is also adapting their plan. When we actually get back on track, measures will be put in place to limit the risk of restarting the pandemic, including trimming down the size of staff allowed into the paddock. For Vanessa, this could mean that if she is allowed back to do the show at all, it will just be herself entering the paddock. Her team will be working remotely from the hotel rather than shadowing her in the paddock. Under these extreme circumstances, we do hope everyone can keep safe now and during the new season (when it actually gets underway), and Vanessa can keep bringing fans the fantastic Inside Pass every race weekend.

You need to really want it

As mentioned earlier, racing is a tough lifestyle. Being a freelancer in this tough lifestyle is extra difficult, especially in a trying year like this one. As a seasoned freelancer, Vanessa has some advice for new and aspiring freelancers who are trying to find a way into the paddock. “My advice is that you need to acquire credibility in the paddock, which means people need to get to know you, to see your job, and to trust you. Because without seeing that previous job, they won’t hire you. You spend so much time together, they need to know that you are someone reliable, someone who will adapt, someone who is not afraid of the working hours. You need to be able to adapt to this racing lifestyle and give up a lot of personal time with family. This is something for people who are considering to really think about. The factory teams and the top teams get to pick and choose. They are more likely to reach out to someone that’s established. If you are not yet within, you need to find a way to showcase your abilities.”

It’s not an easy world, but the passion you feel from everyone who takes part in it is immense. Everyone who comes to work is passionate. Everyone is willing to wake up early in the morning and stay up late in the paddock whether it’s re-building the bikes, writing press releases, or training. Everyone is 100% passionate about their jobs.

As a successful woman in the paddock, holding many different roles throughout her career, Vanessa also has some advice for young women interested in joining the sport. “There is a place for them in the industry. I’m the proof of it, and there are a lot of women who can prove it. You need to really want it. You need to know that you will need to prove yourself, not 100%, but to a 200% degree. You are going to be scrutinized, and you need to prove that you deserve your spot. For women who want to race, unfortunately it’s a cultural thing. We still live in a society in which girls wear pink and boys wear blue. Girls get dolls when they are little and boys get bikes and go-karts. I think the industry will open up, as long as the girls are there. The culture needs to change from the parents’ point of view. Maria Herrera is a perfect example. She has brothers, and she is the one racing, not her brothers. I find that fascinating. She’s a good friend and she’s very passionate. It hasn’t been easy, but she has the will, and her family supported her. I think that’s the key for women to excel as riders. You need to have a good support system.”

Vanessa hosting the Women in Motorsport Conference in 2019

As Vanessa said it herself, she has kept these years in the paddock interesting for herself, she’s worked on the team side, on the media side, and last year she even took on the live hosting gig for the FIM and FIA’s Women in Motorsport Conference. What are the future excitements Vanessa creates for herself? Let’s wait and see.

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