Tuesday, 4 January 2022

Jenny Birrell (Nadin)


Jennifer Birrell raced sports and saloon cars in the 1960s and 1970s, competing in the fore-runner of the BTCC and the Sebring 12 Hours.

As Jenny Nadin, she started motorsport through rally navigation, chiefly for Pat Moss. She sat beside Pat for a season with Ford, driving a Cortina GT, in 1963. Their best results together were a seventh place in the RAC Rally and sixth in the Acropolis. She and Pat had met in showjumping competitions, both of them having an equestrian background.

Not long after, she took the wheel in rallies herself, encouraged by Pat’s husband, Erik Carlsson. She started out with a Mini in the British championship, then branched out. Her international outings included a run in the RAC Rally in 1966, driving a Hillman Imp, and a trip to the 1967 Monte in a Ford. 

Rallying brought her into contact with racer, journalist and event organiser Nick Brittan, who became her manager. In 1967, he persuaded her to enter the British Formula Vee championship, which was making its UK debut that year. She surprised everyone by putting her car on pole and then winning at Silverstone. Nick Brittan had overtaken her on the line and led for most of the race, but a late spin put her ahead. 

There were accusations at the time that the Volkswagen team had orchestrated Jenny’s win for publicity. Formula Vee had launched a week after Formula Ford and a first win for a woman was a valuable talking point. Some claimed that Nick had planned to pull over and let Jenny through. Others claimed that both of the official Volkswagen cars had illegally-tuned engines. Jenny herself claims that she knew nothing at the time, but does describe herself as “naive” and accepts that some manipulation occurred.

Still, she was second in the 1967 Formula Vee Championship in her first season of racing, weathering a crash at Silverstone and scoring more podium finishes. She continued to race in the series in 1968, but she did not do as well and had two rather serious crashes, at Mallory and Thruxton.

By 1970, she had married Scottish driver Graham Birrell and was racing a Ford Escort as Jenny Birrell. She won at least one race at a club meeting at Croft and made her British Saloon Car Championship (the precursor to the BTCC) debut. Her first race was in the wet at Silverstone in 1971 and she finished tenth, despite a puncture at the start.

Later, she drove in America for the first time. She was part of the all-female Ring Free Oil Team for the 1971 Sebring 12 Hours, with Rosemary Smith and Janet Guthrie, driving a Chevron B16. Jenny practiced in the car but did not actually race. Rosemary and Janet did not finish. 

For 1973, she was competing in the Castrol Production Saloon championship, driving a Simca Rallye. It was in this car that she made her next BSCC appearance in 1974, finishing eighth at Mallory. Later in the season, she did several more races in a Chrysler Avenger, earning a ninth place at Ingliston.

In 1975, she joined another all-female team and finished the Spa 24 Hours in a Triumph Dolomite, with Christine Beckers and Marianne Hoepfner. They were 24th, eighth in class. The car was sponsored by “Butch Tailor”, a Belgian menswear fashion brand. Back in the UK, she was team-mate to Bernard Unett for the BSCC, driving an Avenger. The pair often battled for class honours. Jenny’s best overall finish was fifth, at Oulton Park. The Halesfield Motors team also ran Jenny in that year’s Avon Tour of Britain, with another Avenger.

Rallies then became the focus of her career. She had been competing in British and Irish events on and off alongside her circuit-based activities, but she rallied more intensively later.

She was still entered British rallies between 1973 and 1974, using a Simca. In 1977, she was sponsored by Century Oils and drove a Triumph TR7 in the British championship. Her best finish was a 28th place in the Burmah Rally.

After a lengthy break from the stages, she reappeared for the 1983 Ulster Rally in a Talbot Sunbeam, co-driven by Gabriel Konig. She was 47th. Another Talbot, a Samba, was her preferred car for a season in Ireland in 1984, taking in events in both Eire and Northern Ireland, as well as the Manx Rally. Later, she switched to a Peugeot 205 and scored her best result of the season, a thirteenth place in the Killarney Rally of the Lakes.

The 205 took her through another season in the UK in 1985, and also her first trip to Turkey. She was third in the Rothmans Bravo Rally. This in turn led to a part-season in the 1986 Turkish championship, which yielded a fifth place in that year’s Bravo event.

For the next two seasons, she took part in the Maestro Challenge in the UK, driving an MG Maestro. After that, her career begins to wind down; she drove a 205 on the 1990 Ardennes Rally and then had a final run in the Manx Rally in 1992, driving a Lancia Delta Integrale.

The later part of her competition career coincided with a successful period in motorsport administration, working for the British Touring Car Championship and the National Formula Ford series, among others.

(Image from racingteamvee.com)

Wednesday, 15 December 2021

Doriane Pin


Doriane Pin is a French driver who races sportscars in Europe. She was one of the finalists in the FIA’s official Girls on Track - Rising Stars programme.

She began her senior career in 2020, racing in the Clio Cup in France. Her best finish in the Clio was a ninth place at Paul Ricard and she was fourteenth overall, but second in the Junior standings. This was combined with her Rising Stars assessments, in which the leading young female drivers competed for membership of the Ferrari Academy. Doriane finished second to Maya Weug.

She had intended to compete in French F4 in 2021 and was also one of the finalists for the Elf Winfield Scholarship. As a prize for being the best of the girls there, she tested an F4 car, but the Iron Dames all-female GT team signed her up and her focus became sportscars. She had already tested the team’s Ferrari as part of her Girls on Track assessments; the Iron Dames team works closely with Girls on Track.

Before this new phase of her career could get under way, she tried ice racing at the Andros Trophy, finishing fifth in an invitation race at Andorra. She was driving an Enedis electric prototype.

Back with petrol power, her first race as an Iron Dame was meant to be in April, but she sat out the first round of the Le Mans Cup. She made her debut in the team’s Ferrari 488 in July, at Paul Ricard, finishing third in the GT3 class. Her co-drivers for the season were Sarah Bovy and Manuela Gostner. This was one of six podium finishes for the team, who finished second at Monza and third at both Le Mans and Spa. Doriane was fifth in the GT3 drivers’ standings.

She also joined Iron Dame Sarah Bovy in a Ferrari for two rounds of the Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup. They were sixth at Catalunya and Paul Ricard.

Late in the season, she joined another Iron Dames driver, champion Michelle Gatting, in the Ferrari Challenge. Doriane scored two sixth places at Mugello.

Before her Ferrari guest drive, she tested an FIA Formula 3 car at Magny-Cours, alongside Maya Weug. Her 2021 plans are unclear.

(Image copyright Girls on Track)

Wednesday, 1 December 2021

Kaori Okamoto


Kaori Okamoto is a Japanese driver and former actress who raced touring cars both in Japan and internationally in the 1980s and 1990s. 

She was strongly associated with Toyota cars, and often drove for the TOMS team from the very beginning of her career.

Her first season was in 1986, she drove a Toyota Corolla in the All-Japan Touring Car Championship. She was 23 years old and still acting at this point. Her car was sponsored by Wacoal, a Japanese bra manufacturer, and she initially shared with different European drivers. Eje Elgh and Beppe Gabbiani. Teaming up with Elgh again later in the season, she had her best finish alongside him, a twelfth place at Sugo. Her early experiences led to a decision to concentrate on motorsport and work only on Japanese TV projects.

By 1987, she was competing in the World Touring Car Championship for TOMS, in a Corolla, with Hideshi Matsuda. They did not finish the Spa 24 Hours, but were 30th in the Fuji 500km. For the Japanese championship, she was sponsored by Leyton House. Her co-driver was Hideshi Matsuda and they were eighth in their first race together at Sugo. This was their best finish in a disappointing season plagued by DNFs.

In 1988, she raced  a similar car in some European and Asia-Pacific championship events. A second attempt at the Spa 24 Hours led to another DNF, as did most of her entries in the All-Japan Championship, usually with Morio Nitta as her team-mate. 1989 was another indifferent year, with her best result an 18th place at Tsukuba.

The Spa 24 Hours became one of her favourite events and she was entered seven times between 1988 and 1994. For the first few editions, she drove a Corolla, and it was in this car that she scored her highest finish: twelfth in 1989. An MR2 in 1992 and 1993 was not quite as successful and only got her as high as 24th in 1992. Her final attempt was in a Carina and she did not finish. Her most frequent co-drivers were Keiichi Suzuki and Morio Nitta. 

Other than that, she mainly concentrated on the Japanese touring car championship, completing most of the season in 1990 and 1991, driving a Corolla for the TOMS/Fujitsu Ten team, and later the FET team. By this time, the Corolla was not the most competitive and could not get anywhere near the dominant Nissan Skylines. Her best result during this period was a fourteenth place in the 1991 Suzuka 500km. 1991 was her last season in the championship.

In 1991, she also entered the Dakar Rally, in a Toyota. She became the first Japanese woman to finish the event when she crossed the line in 49th place. A return to the dunes in 1992, in another Toyota Landcruiser, gave her a 71st spot.

A cancer scare caused her to turn away from motorsport in 1994. This was the second in a few years and she did require treatment this time.

For more information on Kaori: https://japanesenostalgiccar.com/motorsport-kaori-okamoto-actor-businesswoman-race-car-driver/

(Image copyright TOMS)

Saturday, 27 November 2021

Olga Thibault

Olga Thibault was one of France’s most successful female rally drivers in the 1930s.

She was the winner of the 1935 Paris-St. Raphael Rally, driving a Peugeot. This was one of two events she won outright that year. The other was the Rallye de Berck-Plage, three months later. 

The Paris-St. Raphael was not her first win, either. She was the victor in the Circuit d’Endurance de Haute-Normandie, held in 1934. Eleven drivers finished the event without penalties.

Her career began in 1932, with that year’s Paris-St. Raphael as her first rally. Only a couple of months later, she was fourth overall in the Circuit d’Orleans, winning the 1100cc class. Her car was a Peugeot 301, whose marque she would stick with throughout her five-year career. From her first year in rallying, she was a popular figure in the newspapers, who were keen to promote her victories.

Among her favourite events was the Dieppe Rally, which she contested four times. Her best finish was eleventh in 1935. This was her best year all-round in motorsport: as well as her two wins, she was second in the Rallye du Touquet-Paris Plage and third in the rally held as part of the Fetes de Paris. This was won by Rene Le Begue.

The Berck-Plage event was another favourite, which she entered three times: in 1933, 1935 and 1936. It was her last major rally and she won its Coupe des Dames in 1936.

Olga competed almost exclusively in France, but she did cross the border into Belgium for the finish of the 1934 Liege-Rome-Liege Rally. She and her co-driver Rouxel were eleventh.

(Image copyright Marianne)

Sunday, 21 November 2021

Marion Lowe


Marion Lowe raced on both the East and West coast of the USA in the 1950s. She was one of several women drivers who got their start in the ladies’ races that were common at the time, but moved into mixed competition.

Her first car was an MG TD, bought for her as a birthday present by her British husband, Jim. The couple often raced together, with Marion, who was younger than Jim, often being the faster driver. Unlike many other couples, they preferred to compete against one another, rather than share cars. They lived in California where they ran a timber firm, but their considerable wealth allowed them to travel extensively in order to compete.

She was second in her first race, a ladies’ event at Torrey Pines in California, in 1952. Josie von Neumann was the winner. Marion was one of the older novices on the scene at 44; Josie was 18 at the time.

She continued to race the MG the following year, entering her first open event, the SCCA Nationals held at March airfield in Riverside. Competing against the likes of Masten Gregory and Briggs Cunningham, she was 17th overall and third in her class. Jim had paid for significant upgrades to the MG in the off-season.

The MG was exchanged for another British car for the start of the 1954 season. Her first race win came at her first meeting of the year, driving a Frazer Nash Le Mans Replica. She beat ten other women and five male drivers competing in a different class at Bakersfield. Later in the year, she was seventh in an SCCA National race held at Seattle Seafair.

Marion and Jim owned both the Le Mans Replica and a Targa Florio Frazer Nash, taking turns to drive both. The Seafair race was her first major event in the Targa Florio and she continued to use it throughout 1955. In it, she won ladies’ races at Stockton and Santa Rosa. In mixed competition, she was eighth in a National preliminary race at Seafair and ninth in another race at the Sacramento Nationals. At the end of the year, she made her first trip to compete abroad, travelling to the Bahamas for Speed Week with the Targa Florio. She entered the Governor’s Trophy, racing against such luminaries as Phil Hill, Stirling Moss and Alfonso de Portago, and was 31st, from 42 finishers.

Lou Brero, who had raced against her at Nassau in 1955, offered her a drive in his D-Type Jaguar for the ladies’ races of the 1956 Nassau Speed Week. She was ninth in the first heat but won the second. For the open events, she drove the Targa Florio, finishing 29th in the Nassau Trophy and 31st again in the Governor’s Trophy. On the mainland, she won ladies’ races at Santa Barbara and Palm Springs, this time in the Le Mans Replica.

She did not go to Nassau in 1957, although she did debut a new car at the inaugural Hawaii Sports Car Week in April. She was fourth in a preliminary race in an Alfa Romeo Giulietta, then sixth in the corresponding main race. Her next event was the Luther Burbank Rose Festival Sports Car Road Races, held at the Cotati airfield course. She was disqualified from her heat for receiving a push start in the Alfa, but she got to start the main six-hour race alongside Al Coppel in his Renault Spyder Le Mans. They did not finish due to a broken valve.

The Alfa was her preferred car for the 1958 sportscar season and earned her podium finishes in ladies’ races at Laguna Seca and Vaca Valley. She and Jim had also bought themselves his and hers Lotus Elevens, and Marion used hers to good effect. She was fourth in an SCCA Regional race at Laguna Seca, just behind Jim in his Eleven.

The Lotus starred in Marion’s return to Nassau. She won both heats of the ladies’ race, ahead of Evelyn Mull’s Eleven. Teaming up with Denise McCluggage in the car, she was ninth in the Nassau Trophy. The team won their class, with Jim’s Lotus second and 17th overall.

Her final year in sportscar racing began with a win in a ladies’ race at Laguna Seca, followed by another at Riverside a week later. In mixed competition, she was fourth in a November race at Hourglass Field. What would be her final Nassau appearance began with a DNF in the Governor’s Trophy, having finished 17th in the preliminary race. She was second in the ladies’ event, winning one of the heats and finishing second to fellow Eleven driver Prudence Baxter in the other. Both she and Jim failed to finish the Governor’s Trophy.

She was still competing in 1960 and even moved into single-seater racing in the form of Formula Junior. Her car was a BMC Mk1, built by Joe Huffaker from British BMC A-series parts. This year’s calendar included the Stockton Road Races, in which she was sixth. 

Jim’s health began to fail in 1961 and both retired from motorsport that year. Their relationship broke down in the following years and they divorced in 1965.

(Image copyright Santa Cruz Sentinel)

Monday, 15 November 2021

Belen Garcia


Belen Garcia is a Spanish single-seater driver who has raced in both F3 and F4 machinery.

She became the first Spanish woman to win a single-seater race when she claimed the second round of the 2019 Spanish Formula 4 championship at Navarra. A large number of her competitors were excluded from the race for not responding quickly enough to a red flag, gifting Belen the win. She was 15th in the first race. 

2019 was her first full season in cars, after some rounds of the 2018 Toyota Aygo Kobe Cup and karting. She was part of Team Spain for the inaugural FIA Motorsport Games, racing in the F4 Cup and finishing sixth and twelfth in her two races. 

In Spanish F4 that year, her win was something of a one-off. Navarra was her best circuit and she scored her second-best finish there, a seventh place. This was repeated at Algarve. She was fourteenth in the championship with ten top-tens from 21 races. 

After testing a car, she was due to compete in the 2020 W Series but the championship was cancelled due to coronavirus. A planned part-season in the Formula Renault Eurocup was also shelved.

She raced in W Series in 2021, alongside some rounds of the Formula Regional European Championship, which uses the same chassis.

Her year in W Series started well with a fourth place at the Red Bull Ring, but she was unable to keep up the momentum and dipped in and out of the top ten for the rest of the season. As tenth-placed championship finisher, she was not invited back automatically for 2022.

FREC was an even tougher challenge. Driving for the Swiss team G4 Racing, she did ten races from the 20-round calendar. She managed to finish all of them but her best finish was only 22nd place, achieved at Imola. She did out-score her team-mate Axel Gnos on a couple of occasions.

Single-seaters have been her focus so far, but in 2020 she did some GT racing at Aragon, entering the last round of the Spanish GT Championship with her father Jose Luis. Their car was a Ginetta G55 and they won their class in their first race. 

As well as motor racing, she competes in athletics, specialising in the pole vault.

(Image copyright Belen Garcia)

Tuesday, 9 November 2021

The Paris-Rome Rally


The Duchess d'Uzes waves off the starters

The Paris-Rome Rallye Feminin was held in 1932. It was organised by the French Automobile Club Feminin and was one of the last events in which the club’s founder, the Duchesse d’Uzes, was involved. The 83-year-old duchess signalled the start of the rally alongside Viscount Rohan-Chabot, the editor of the club’s magazine.

The drivers came from both France and Italy, with separate prizes for each nationality. Compared to some of the other events of the time, entrants had a distinctly upper-class slant, as opposed to the actresses and other performers who were often asked to take part. Among the Paris-Rome contestants was Laura Rospigliosi, an American socialite who had married into the Italian aristocracy, and Constance de Lubersac, a French-American heiress.

Frenchwoman Jeanne Terouanne was the winner, driving a Bugatti. She was a noted equestrian of her time. She and some of the other competitors also took part in the “rallye-ballon” events of the time, where cars followed a hot air balloon.

Despite the heavy presence of socialites on the entry list, the rally itself was quite a demanding journey, with a 1700km route. There were four stages: Paris to Lyon, Lyon to Nice, Nice to Pisa and Pisa to Rome. A half-kilometre speed trial and tests for steering and car control were held, with awards for each.


  1. Madame Jeanne Terouanne (Bugatti)

  2. Baronessa Fiorenza Aliotti (Alfa Romeo)

  3. Principessa Laura Rospigliosi (Lancia)

  4. Madame Felix Goudard (Mathis)

  5. Madame Calbet (Citroen)

  6. Madame Mennesson (Talbot)

  7. Comtesse Constance de Lubersac (Citroen)

  8. Baronessa Marincola (Alfa Romeo)

  9. Madame Frascani (Lancia)

  10. Madame Carraro (Citroen)

  11. Madame Spina (Citroen)

  12. Madame Blandin (Renault)

Entered, did not finish:

Mademoiselle Gouvion (Citroen)

Madame Henriet (Citroen)

Madame Sainte-Marie (Talbot)

500m speed test: Principessa Laura Rospigliosi, 26.2s

Steering lock test: Baronessa Fiorenza Aliotti 

Braking and reversing test: Comtesse Constance de Lubersac

Acceleration and deceleration test: Madame Mennesson

When the rally arrived in Rome, club members were granted audiences with the Pope, the Italian royal family and other dignitaries. The party then carried on to Florence, where some of the drivers joined a mixed speed trial held by the Auto Club of Rome. This ran over two laps of a street circuit, totalling 8km. Jeanne Terouanne was fifth quickest, but the two fastest women were Suzanne Deutsch de la Meurthe, better known as a pilot, and rally driver Magdeleine de Ganay, who both drove Hispano Suizas. They were second and fourth respectively. Although not part of the rally itself, they had driven the route from Paris together in 33 hours.

Auto Club of Rome Speed Trial

  1. Baron Edgardo Lazzaroni (Hispano Suiza)

  2. Suzanne Deutsch de la Meurthe (Hispano Suiza)

  3. Caragnani (Bugatti)

  4. Magdeleine de Ganay (Hispano Suiza)

  5. Jeanne Terouanne (Bugatti)

  6. Prince de Schoenburg (Bugatti)

  7. Marquis Lelio Pellegrini (Lancia)

  8. Mademoiselle Steinbrugge (Bugatti)

  9. M Frascani (Lancia)

  10. Commendantore Lezzi (OM)

  11. Madame Frascani (Lancia)

This was held over two laps of a circuit at Littorio, totalling 8km.

Image copyright Excelsior newspaper