Around the track🏎

Driving change: Leanne Junnila, founder of Women in Motorsport Canada

March 6, 2024

Since 2019, Women in Motorsport Canada has been fighting for equality and for the inclusion of women in all aspects of motorsport, from drivers to engineers to communication staff and beyond! 

Since then, WIMCanada has organized multiple activities such as career shadows for Girl Guides at the Toronto Indy, Lego car building activities that required the girls to think about the physics of wheelbases that ended in racing them down a ramp, and even helping to create the WIMSim, the first series of sim racing simulators designed specifically for women.


However, before there was WIMCanada, there was just Leanne Junnila —a young woman who had no idea that motorsport would completely change the course of her life. Her journey through life and through motorsport has been nothing short of inspiring, and we were honoured to sit down with her to learn about how motorsport has shaped her—and more importantly, how she is shaping motorsport. 

Knowing how to drive vs being a confident driver 

A lot of people in motorsport originally get into it because their parents or other family members were drivers themselves, or because their family members were fans of the sport. However, for Leanne, this was far from the case—her mother didn’t even have a driver’s license.  

“I literally just stumbled on it for myself,” she explained. “I grew up in a single parent family in an apartment and we walked everywhere. My mom had no driver’s license, so that was it. It was a very small world, but then my world opened up in a big way when I got my driver’s license at 18,” she said. 

However, even though she had her driver’s license in-hand – on her first attempt, at that—Leanne didn’t feel like the driver’s ed program really taught her how to drive.  

I’m sure everyone remembers parallel parking over and over again,” she laughed. “But I had no confidence actually driving. I ended up searching around online for opportunities to get more driving experience and I stumbled on the Calgary Sports Car Club, who had me come out to try an auto slalom event.” 

As the saying goes, the rest was history. In discovering auto slalom as a way of improving her driver’s skills, Leanne discovered a love for motorsport that she never imagined she would have! 

From parallel parking to slalom to marshalling all the way to championing the inclusion of women

After starting out in auto slalom, Leanne eventually moved to doing a bit of marshalling at the local racetrack near her home.  

With the racing community being as small as it is, eventually she met someone who asked her if she wanted to try rallying—and once again, she was hooked. 

“I tried co-driving at some rallies and it was such a fun, cool thing to do,” she explained. “And then fast forward a few years, after I got more experience as a co-driver and worked with a few different teams, I got picked up by Subaru Canada to be their official co-driver on their manufacturer’s team.” 

Leanne Junnila driving for Subaru

As she was going through the professional ranks, she was noticed by the Fédération International de L'Automobile—more commonly known as the FIA—and ended up being selected as Canada’s representative on their Women in Motorsport Commission 

While it seemed like a natural fit for Leanne, there was one moment prior to being nominated to the Commission where she realized that there was more work to do in Canada than she had originally thought. 

“Prior to joining the Commission, I had just stumbled across a news article that was discussing it,” she said. “I didn’t really know it existed at the time, but in that article, there was a list of all the members and Canada was not on it. I found this to be shocking—after all, we have an active motorsport season here and a F1 Grand Prix. Why shouldn’t Canada be on it?” 

Today, Leanne looks back on this moment as the moment WIMCanada came to be—it was at that moment that she knew she had to be the driving force behind the inclusion of women in all aspects in motorsport across the country.  

Fighting for the cause with a limited budget

With a new mission to promote the participation of women in motorsport all around the country, Leanne got to thinking of all the different ways she could work to accomplish WIMCanada’s goals. 

“It’s been a cool project to take on,” she said. “We get to take the vision of the FIA Commision and the framework they’ve started working on and bring it to Canada to see what works and what doesn’t. What works in one country won’t necessarily work in another, so it was a bit of trial and error at first,” she explained. 

Lately, they’ve been growing their brand and spreading their values by participating in live event activations at household motorsport events such as the Canadian Grand Prix and the Toronto Indy. At these events Leanne’s focus is always on education and training opportunities, making sure that every person who comes through WIMCanada’s booth leaves with more knowledge than they walked in with. 

Leanne has also recently been busy working on developing an eSports strategy with D-BOX and Advanced SimRacing, which would allow women to get involved in racing in a more affordable and more accessible way by creating 4 simulators—known as the WIMSims—to reduce training costs and make motorsport easier to try.


However, WIMCanada’s initiatives weren’t always as grand as they’ve been in the last year or so. 

“I didn’t really have much funding in the past other than some of the grant funding I got last year,” said Leanne. “I had to put a lot of the expenses through my racing company.” 

Despite the lack of funds, Leanne has grown to realize that even the little things can make a big difference. 

“I spent most of my time as a co-driver in rally, but I did drive a rally a couple of years ago and we finished one stage that was a turnaround, where you sort of drive past the finish and turn around to start back in the other direction,” she explained. “As I was driving past the lineup of cars, through the car window, I heard someone yell out ‘watch out, woman driver coming through!’. I’ve been in the sport long enough that I can just brush stuff like that off. Like, who cares? It’s seemingly like a harmless joke; they think it's funny. However, if I was new to the sport, even though it seems like such a small moment in time, it really sends the message that you’re not welcome here.” 

Though she knows that her time and budget is likely always going to be limited, she now knows the importance of focusing their efforts on the things they think will have the biggest impact. This can be as simple as having a social media presence, writing a blog and interacting with the motorsport community—for every person who sees their social media account or one of their blog posts might just become one less person who yells out sexist comments during a race. Not every activity has to be at a big racing event for it to be effective at making the world of motorsport a more inclusive place.  


Teamwork makes the dream work

Though Leanne has been the leader of every single one of WIMCanada’s initiatives, she’s surrounded by friends, family and volunteers who are passionate about her goals and who assist her in any way they can. 

One of the moments that Leanne looks back upon fondly is when she reached out to clubs in Canada to ask if they wanted sew-on patches with WIMCanada’s logo. The idea behind this was so when women in motorsport would cross paths at events, they would already have a shared sense of community by wearing the patch! The initiative actually ended up being so popular that Leanne found herself hosting a type of party that you don’t see every day. 

“I had an envelope stuffing party at my house,” she laughed. “We mailed out hundreds of these patches all over the country to create a sense of community across such a broad geographic area. Since then, I’ve had a ton of requests for additional patches, but I just haven’t had the budget to do another run of printing.” 

Along with the envelope stuffing party, she’s also had friends baking cookies for events they would be attending, had Carlin donate tickets for Girl Guides at the Toronto Indy, and countless other acts of generosity from those around her. 

“It’s a little overwhelming, but it’s so amazing to see the amount of effort that everyone is putting in to support this silly thing that I started,” she said with a laugh. “It makes me want to put more work in. It’s just been such a family effort.” 

Leanne Groupshot

From racing to... environmental design and architecture?

Despite pouring her heart and soul into WIMCanada’s mission, Leanne maintains a full-time job in a completely different field: architecture. 

“I actually have a master's degree in environmental design,” she laughed. 

That’s not all. After completing her first master's degree, she went back to university to get a master's in architecture.  

“While I was an architecture student doing my second master’s degree, I got an offer to go racing full time and I was like, ‘nobody gets this. Nobody gets a two-year, salaried contract in motorsport in North America. This is ridiculous,’” she explained. “So, I dropped out of architecture school and went racing for two years.” 

Leanne working on car

Today, she’s gone back to architecture and works full-time at the University of Calgary in their campus architecture office.  

“That keeps me busy,” she said. “I sort of stunted my architecture career, unfortunately, because of motorsport, but I still work in the industry, and I truly love my current role at the University. Like I say—it's all a big balancing act.” 

Advice for the future generation of women in motorsport 

As the woman working to make motorsport more inclusive for women in the future, Leanne had some advice for those who may want to find a place for themselves in the industry. 

“Anything new can be scary,” she said. “It just takes practice to get comfortable in environments that you’re not used to. If you’re interested in motorsport but it seems like it’s a little bit scary and out of your comfort zone, then I think that’s exactly why you should do it.” 

For Leanne, motorsport taught the young girl who was afraid to go speak to a cashier at her local 7/11 how to get out in the world and pursue things with reckless abandonment. It gave her the family that she needed to go out and experience amazing things, to learn how to problem solve and how to be a part of a team. 

“Even if it’s not motorsport, I think that the value of girls in sports is incredible,” she explained. “I’m so grateful that I've been able to see that firsthand.” 

Learn more about WIMCanada

Leanne working on tire


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