THE HIGH-OCTANE sport of powerboat racing will return to London’s Royal Victoria Dock next month for the first time in more than 30 years. The British leg of the Formula 1 powerboat world championship — known as the F1H2O championship — will feature lightweight boats that skim the surface at 140mph, with one driven by the only woman to win a top-flight race.
Marit Stromoy is a part-time singer who pulls on a racing helmet and fire suit at the weekends to compete in a400-horsepower 500kg boat.
“It’s crazy fast, like piloting a fighter jet,” says Stromoy, 41. “In London we will make hairpin turns at 90mph. The drivers have to make split-second decisions. It is dangerous but I feel as safe in my boat as I do in my car.”
She first competed in Formula 1 in 2007 and four years later became the first woman to earn a pole position. In 2015 she became the first woman to win a grand prix race.
Stromoy grew up in Sandefjord, 90 minutes south of Oslo. Her father, Leif, was also an inshore powerboat racer and first took her for a ride when she was seven years old. “The boats were made of flimsy plywood and very small. Dad removed some cockpit equipment and squeezed me in behind him. I was hooked. On one side of my bedroom wall I had posters of Madonna — on the other, famous speedboat racers.”
She passed her driving test at the first attempt two weeks after her 18th birthday (the legal driving age in Norway) and made an unlikely choice for her first car. The ancient Autobianchi A112 was loosely based on the Fiat 128.
“We fitted a towbar and painted it the same colours as my race boat,” Stromoy recalls. “It looked very retro and cool but that car was painfully slow. The brakes were also terrible — which made life interesting when I had a trailer-load of boat on the back.”
After that came an Opel Kadett (branded Vauxhall Astra for the UK market). Stromoy loved the extra speed and comfort, but her most vivid memory of the car is hitting an elk, which caused substantial damage.
“It’s crazy fast, like piloting a fighter jet”
She began her powerboating career in Formula 2 in 1999, racing a 200bhp boat. She was good enough to win a sponsorship deal with Nissan, which provided a new X-Trail SUV. “I really thought I had arrived.”
Stromoy followed that with a Mercedes SLK convertible, which she describes as “the coolest car I have ever owned”. She now drives a “super comfortable” Subaru XV.
Her father died in 2009, the year she met Andrea Colombo, an Italian race engineer and her future husband. “Dad was my absolute idol. Andrea and I now work together and he motivates me 100% every day.”
Her latest boat cost £130,000 and is built of composites. The strains put on the engine during a race mean the pistons and crankshaft have to be replaced after every two hours of use.
“Racing is expensive, so I need my sponsors and a second job as a singer. It’s an escape and gives me a chance to dress up and swap my racing gear for a pretty dress and a pair of high heels.”
Marit Stromoy: my life in cars
- 1994 Autobianchi A112
- 1996 Opel Kadett
- 2000 Nissan X-Trail
- 2005 Mercedes SLK
- 2014 Subaru Levorg
- 2017 Subaru XV
- My dream car Porsche Cayenne
The UIM F1H2O World Championship Grand Prix of London runs from June 15-17.