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Sareena Paterson: The Rise of a Female Off-Road Racer

Off-road racing in NZ has a rich history, from modified Bug Inns to modern UTVs, captivating audiences with thrilling action. 

Tracing the sport's history, we uncover pivotal figures such as Ian Foster, who laid the groundwork for today's off-road enthusiasts. Foster embarked on his journey in the 1970s, first with a customised Studebaker before founding ORANZ in 1984 and establishing the NZ Off-Road Racing Championship Series.

The incorporation of UTVs in 2016 marked a groundbreaking shift in off-road racing, enhancing its accessibility and appeal to newcomers.

Through the diligent work of ORANZ, off-road racing continues to flourish, extending a warm embrace to individuals from diverse backgrounds eager to immerse themselves in the high-octane realm of off-road competition.

Sareena Paterson: Breaking Barriers as a Female Off-Road Racer

Sareena with her C70 Challenger
Sareena with her C70 Challenger

Amidst the male-dominated realm of off-road racing, Sareena Paterson turns heads with her remarkable talent and relentless drive. Overcoming obstacles, Paterson's story is one of perseverance and grit. 

We caught up with Sareena and chatted about her background, experiences in the off-road racing scene, and ambitious dreams for the future in this exhilarating sport.

Background in Racing

Sareena's love for off-roading was sparked during her early years, as she observed her father and uncle competing in races from the late 80s to early 90s. "As a child, I remember a few occasions when we would go and witness the Woodhill 100," she reminisces. 

Her introduction to the activity during her formative years sowed the groundwork for her later involvement in off-road racing. 

Fast forward to 2021, Sareena rekindled her childhood interest and participated in several club events before acquiring her inaugural Challenger in June 2022.

Overcoming Challenges

Like all racers, Sareena has encountered her share of obstacles on her journey to success.

One significant challenge arose when her car was involved in a crash during the 2022 National Finals, requiring a complete reconstruction. She reflected, "My first race was at the 2022 Peter Howell Memorial Race. Shortly after, I participated in the 2022 National final, where I unfortunately crashed, resulting in the need for a complete rebuild." 

Despite this setback, Paterson remained resilient. She acquired a single-seat challenger formerly belonging to the Shores NZ Racing Team Class 7, which she transformed into a Challenger. She continued to compete across the North Island with unwavering determination and perseverance.

C70 Challenger
C70 Challenger

Inspirations in Racing

When asked about the drivers who inspire her, Paterson modestly admires all her peers behind the wheel. She finds inspiration in the skills and confidence displayed by her fellow drivers while racing. Witnessing their prowess and self-assurance driving off-road ignites her motivation and respect for the varied talents present in the racing community. 

Paterson humbly acknowledges her racing colleagues' impact on her, emphasising the valuable lessons she learns from observing their driving techniques and fearless demeanour on the tracks. 

This camaraderie and mutual respect among drivers fuels her passion for the sport and drives her to enhance her abilities on the racetrack continually.

Preparation for a Race Weekend

In anticipation of the upcoming race weekend, Sareena and her dedicated team devote several days to meticulously preparing the car to ensure it is functioning at its peak performance. They thoroughly inspect every detail, pack necessary equipment and spare parts, and mentally prepare themselves for the challenges. "Ahead of a race weekend, we invest significant time in fine-tuning the car, organising essential gear, and readying ourselves mentally for what lies ahead," says Sareena. 

This thorough preparation plays a pivotal role in their track success, equipping Paterson with the readiness and resilience needed to conquer any obstacles that may arise during the competition.

C70 crossing the finish line
Photo Credit: Justin William Photography - C70 crossing the finish line

The Crash Experience

Sareena faced her first crash at the 2022 National Finals at Makarau, a moment of sheer terror that resulted in injuries including a sprained AC joint, belt burns on her neck, and persistent back pain. Despite the physical trauma, Sareena exhibited remarkable resilience and unwavering focus on returning to the driver's seat promptly. 

The crash occurred during the second race when she lost control in the dusty conditions, veering off course, crashing through tyres, careening down a hill, and ultimately colliding with trees. The presence of her father as a passenger heightened the fear of potential harm, but thankfully, he emerged unscathed. 

The aftermath of the crash left Paterson grappling with pain and discomfort, requiring assistance from marshals to reach the ambulance for evaluation. 

Luckily, the extent of her injuries was limited to the conditions mentioned earlier, emphasising the importance of safety measures in high-stakes racing events.

Highlights of the Racing Journey

In her exciting racing adventure, Sareena has marked numerous significant milestones, such as triumphantly reaching the finish line at Woodhill and attaining remarkable success at the prestigious 2024 Short Course Championship. These exhilarating achievements serve as a source of inspiration for her passion for off-road racing, propelling her to strive for more outstanding accomplishments and establish fresh objectives. 

C70 at Woodhill
Photo Credit: LugLife Photography - C70 at Woodhill

Recalling the pivotal milestones of her racing journey fills her heart with joy and gratitude. She holds dear the triumphant memory of crossing the checkered flag at Woodhill, a moment in her mind forever. 

Similarly, the exhilarating announcement of her remarkable achievements at the 2024 Short Course Champs still sends shivers down her spine. These cherished experiences serve as a constant reminder of her unwavering passion for racing and her continued pursuit of greatness. They fuel her determination, pushing her to strive for excellence and embrace the thrill of the track with unwavering dedication.

Future Goals and Aspirations

Dreaming of advancing into a higher class, Sareena sets her sights on finding the perfect car to propel her racing career to new heights. "I am currently keeping an eye out for the right car, which I hope will be a class 1 soon," she shares eagerly. Her pursuit of finding the ideal vehicle reflects her determination to transition to Class 1 and elevate her performance to the next level. 

Sareena's dedication and unyielding passion for racing inspire aspiring female drivers in the off-road community. She sees a future where more women participate in the sport, advocating for increased representation to enrich the racing landscape. 

As she envisions her future in off-roading, Sareena remains focused on ascending to a higher class, cherishing the exhilaration of racing and striving for continuous enhancement.

Image Credit: Create by Philip Hagan of C70
Image Credit: Created by Philip Hagan of C70

Our Final Thoughts

The evolution of off-road racing in New Zealand from the days of modified Bug Inns to the modern UTVs marks a remarkable journey that embodies the spirit of progress and passion within the off-road community. 

Icons like Ian Foster have paved the way for the current generation, while trailblazers like Sareena Paterson continue to challenge stereotypes and inspire with their determination and resilience. 

Sareena's story is a testament to the unwavering perseverance that defines the off-road racing world, showcasing the power of ambition and dedication in facing challenges. 

As we cheer on Sareena in her pursuit of new heights, she stands as a shining example for aspiring racers, particularly women, seeking to leave their mark in this high-octane realm of competition. 

We wish Sareena all the best in her racing endeavours as she continues to motivate and uplift the off-road racing community with her exceptional drive and ambition.

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