Saturday, 15 September 2018

Madeleine Pochon

Madeleine, her navigator and the 4CV in 1954

Madeleine Pochon was one of Europe’s top female drivers in the mid-1950s, winning the Coupe des Dames on the Monte Carlo Rally twice.

Frenchwoman Madeleine first appears on the major entry lists in 1951, as a co-driver to L. Pochon in the Tulip Rally, driving a Renault. The driver was presumably her husband. In September, she may have taken part in the Tour de France in a Peugeot 203, alongside a driver called “Madame Mazade”. This may have been Jeanine Mazade who acted as a co-driver later.

In 1952, Madeleine entered the Monte Carlo Rally and was second in the Coupe des Dames standings, driving a Simca Aronde. She was 104th overall. Not long after, she was third in the Paris-St. Raphael Rally, in a Renault. At this stage, she was still switching seats and she partnered Irene Terray for the brutal Liege-Rome-Liege marathon in a Peugeot, named as the navigator. They were 24th.

Her second Tour de France ended in a 17th place, from 57 finishers. She was part of a three-woman crew in a Renault 4CV 1063 with Mesdames Boucher and Trott, whose forenames are not given. Mme Boucher was a regular driver and co-driver throughout the 1950s and beyond.

Madeleine won her first Monte Carlo Coupe des Dames in 1953, driving a Renault 4CV to 49th place overall. Irene Terray took her turn as navigator this time.

As well as this, she competed on the Alpine Rally in a Renault, probably the 4CV. Her result has been lost, but she did not win an Alpine Cup. The fuel pump in her car gave up part-way through and she was penalised for being late to a time control.

That year, she entered a rare circuit race, taking on the 12 Hours of Hyères with Jane Bagarry. They were tenth overall in a Renault 4CV, fourth in class. This appears to have been her only major circuit race.

In 1954, she repeated her Monte Carlo achievement and finished seventh overall. Her co-driver was Lise Renaud.

She was a career-best 13th in the Tour de France in September, driving a 1900cc Alfa Romeo with Marie Honoré.

She switched to the Alfa Romeo for the 1955 rally season and entered the Monte once more, although she was not the top lady this time. Her great rival Sheila van Damm finished five places above her in eleventh, while she and Marie Honoré were 16th. This was still an achievement, as she had come off the road in the Alfa and gone over the time limit on at least one stage.

Sheila and Madeleine had been vying for the Monte Coupe des Dames for the past three years. In her autobiography, Sheila praised Madeleine’s ability.

That year, she is also listed as an entrant in the Mille Miglia, driving the same car.

1955 was to be her last season. In October that year, she died suddenly from a heart attack, aged 36.

Madeleine is much less well-known than her chief rival Sheila van Damm now, possibly due to the shortness of her career and the fact that she rarely competed outside France. Sheila van Damm noted that Madeleine did not speak English and looked “anything but strong”. She was apparently uninterested in the European Ladies’ Championship and only entered the rallies she liked. Had she been more interested in forging an international career, she would probably have gone much further and won many more awards.

(Image from

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

The Kyojo Cup

The Kyojo Cup is a one-make series for female drivers in Japan. It uses a small sports prototype built in Japan by West Racing Cars, called the VITA-01.

The series was launched in 2017 at Fuji Motor Speedway. It was contested over three rounds, all held at Fuji. The 2017 season was shortened to two rounds due to a typhoon disrupting the final one. For 2018, it has been extended to four rounds.

The name “Kyojo” translates as “competition girl”, and suggests grid girls rather than female drivers. It is also very similar to a word meaning “madwoman”.

The first Kyojo Cup featured only Japanese drivers and was won by Miki Koyama. She usually competes in the Japanese Formula 4 championship and has done so since 2015.

Beitske Visser became the first overseas driver to race in the Cup when she entered the first round of the 2018 series. She was second overall, behind Miki Koyama.

Drivers have tended to have some motorsport background; Rina Ito campaigns a Toyota Vitz in Japanese rallies, Miku Ikejima has competed against Miki Koyama in F4 and Yuri Hayashi entered the Japanese Porsche Supercup in 2016.

Yuri Hayashi, like several other Kyojo Cup entrants, has been involved in previous women’s motorsport initiatives in Japan. She was part of a Mazda female driver selection in 2015 and raced in the Super Taikyu Cup with the chosen team. Rina Ito has taken part in the Toyota Vios Lady Cup.

Several are from motorsport families and have more famous brothers and husbands who race. 2018 debutant Makiko Hirakawa is the younger sister of 2017 Super GT champion Ryo Hirakawa. Yuka Hosokawa, who deputised for Rina Ito in the second race of 2017, is married to Shinya Hosokawa, another driver.

The championship is unusual in that it offers a generous prize fund: 30,000 yen (about £1200) for race winners, plus smaller awards for podium finishers.

(Image from
(Thanks to Tobietta Rhyman for help with Japanese translation)

Thursday, 16 August 2018

Chelsea Herbert

Chelsea Herbert races V8 stock cars in New Zealand. She is the first woman to win a V8 Series race.

Chelsea is a former junior karter who took her first steps in senior competition in the 2014-2015 season, aged 15. She raced in the SsangYong Actyon Ute Racing Series, but was unable to complete the season due to receiving a concussion in round five. She admitted in an interview in the NZ Herald that the jump from karts to cars had been steeper than she expected and that she had often found herself “in the wrong place at the wrong time” on track. That said, she started the fifth round from pole position.

After a three-month recovery, she returned to kart racing, at least temporarily.

Later in 2015, she was part of a 20-woman strong celebration of women in all areas of motorsport at the CRC Speedshow.

She returned to Utes for the 2015-16 season and had an up and down year, although she was getting to grips with driving a much larger vehicle at speed. Her reward was two podium finishes, including a second place at Manfeild.

For the 2016-17 season, she began racing in BNT NZ Touring Cars, in a Ford Falcon. This is a V8 series in the vein of Supercars in Australia. She was fourth in the championship, with one second place at Manfeild and two thirds at Pukehohe and Hampton Downs.

In 2017, she was third in the BNT V8 Series Class 2 Championship, driving a Falcon. She scored two wins at Taupo and Ruapana and led the championship for much of the season. Her Taupo victory was the first for a female driver in this category. She kept up the momentum for most of the season, earning another win and eleven more podium finishes. A disappointing fifth and sixth place at Hampton Downs at the end of the season dropped her down the order a little; Brock Timperley had a late surge and finished fourteen points ahead of her.

Chelsea did her first sportscar races at the end of 2017. She joined former Ute rival Christina Orr in an Aston Martin Vantage GT4 run by Mike Racing for the last rounds of the South Island Endurance Championship. They raced at Ruapana and Timaru. The second time out for the team led to a seventh place overall.  

(Image copyright Simon Chapman)

Sunday, 12 August 2018

Judy Charlton (Witter)

Judy Charlton became the first woman to win a South African motor racing title when she won the Formula Vee championship in 1973.

At the time, Judy was racing as Judy Witter, using a a Witter Formula Vee which she had helped to build the year before with her father, Joseph. She was still in her teens.

She married Arnold Charlton, brother of single-seater racer Dave Charlton, and competed for a long while as Judy Charlton.

Judy was very fast from the start, but the combination of a very young female driver and a new chassis provoked suspicion among competitors and officials. The Witter’s engine was declared illegal. Even when Joseph changed it out for a different one, this was followed by everyone using that engine having their results suspended and their cars impounded. This was the top six in the championship. Only after much argument and justification was Judy recognised as champion. She was awarded her trophy in 1974, plus her prize of a Merlyn Mk25 Formula Ford, spares and a tow car.

The wrangles over her champion’s status do not seem to have affected her 1974 season in Formula Ford too much. Unfortunately, results are very hard to come by but photos show her competing at the main South African circuits, including at the SA Grand Prix support race.

In 1975, she raced in Formula Ford again, and was third in the South African championship.

Her achievements were rather overshadowed by those of Desiré Wilson, with whom she shared a Ford Escort in the 1975 Kyalami 1000km race. The result has been lost, although it is known that the pair drove a Ford Escort 1.6. Desiré won the SA Formula Ford series in 1976.

Later, she specialised in saloon racing, and was joint winner of the South African Group One championship in 1977, with Sarel van der Merwe. Her car was a Datsun 140Y.

Later, she drove a Datsun in touring car races, including a run in the Wynns 1000 at Kyalami with her husband Arnold, in a 280L. She used this car for at least two seasons, driving solo in the Kyalami Star production car event in 1980.

She continued to race, on and off, until 1994.

Her last major appearance was in Formula GTi in 1994, when she took over her son’s car due to his National Service duties. She has since raced her original Witter Formula Vee at a historic meeting, after it was restored.

(Image copyright Mike Wesson)

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Fiona James

Fiona James is a British sportscar drive who mostly races on the Continent. She also the founder and owner of Walero racewear, which manufactures body-temperature regulating fireproof underwear.

Her introduction to motorsport came when she was already an adult, in the form of a track day in 2006. Her sporting background was equestrian rather than automotive; she trained dressage horses for Team GB. “Walero” was the name of one of her notable ones.

She actually began racing in 2007, driving a Radical SR4 to some class wins in Britsports.

After that, she switched from a prototype to a GT car: a Ginetta G40. She competed for the next two seasons in both the British GT Cup and the Dutch Supercar Challenge, running part-time campaigns in each with In2Racing. Her best UK result in 2008 was a 13th place at Brands Hatch and she was 27th in the championship, having driven in four rounds. She and her team-mates also won their class at Spa.

She was thirteenth in the Supersport 2 category of Dutch Supercars in 2009, driving a Ginetta G50. Her results in the Britcar GT were improving and she scored her first top-ten at Snetterton, finishing eighth and winning her class. This was augmented by another class win at Silverstone.  

It was back to the UK in 2010, when she and the In2Racing team entered Britcar in the Ginetta. This included the season-ending Britcar 24 Hours, although they did not manage to finish. The team struggled to get on to the grid much that year, for reasons not clear.

he drove a Lamborghini Gallardo on her return to Britsports in 2011, first with Backdraft Motorsport. Her best result was an eighth at Donington. Later, she came back in the same car as part of the Panic team. She only managed to drive in the Spa round, when the car suffered a fire.

Later in the season, she drove the Gallardo in the Barcelona 24 Hours, and was 41st overall, second in class, with a four-person Backdraft Motorsport team.  

She moved back to the Netherlands for the Dutch Supercar series in 2012, still in the Gallardo, but had to cut her season short due to a skiing injury. She was ninth overall. Her team-mate Simon Atkinson was sixth.

She was meant to return in 2013, but does not appear to have raced.

In 2014, she took part in the world's longest race, the Maxi Endurance 32h, at Algarve. She was second in the Sport class, driving a BMW M3 with four other British drivers.

She did more 24-hour racing in 2015, taking part in the Barcelona 24 Hours in a BMW Z4, but she did not finish. The Backdraft Racing Lamborghini was also in evidence, at the Spa round of the Supercar Challenge. She was fourteenth in one race, and did not finish the other.

She raced a BMW for Intersport at the 2016 Silverstone 24 Hours, as part of a four-driver team. They were 25th overall, after a radiator problem and a broken propshaft.

For the first time since the start of her career, Fiona drove a prototype during 2017. She signed up with Blueberry Racing, a Dutch team, alongside Cor Euser and Dick van Elk, driving a Praga R1.

Her first race was the opening round of the Supercar Challenge at Assen, and she was eleventh and thirteenth. After the car’s debut, the team switched focus to the GT & Prototype Challenge for most of the season. Fiona  was second in class, with four wins, two seconds and a third. Her best overall finish was a fifth place at Assen, which coincided with one of her class wins.

In 2018, she took another step up in her racing career, sharing an Academy Motorsport Aston Martin Vantage in the GT4 European Series with Matt Nicoll-Jones. Part of her programme involved a run in the Aston Martin Race Festival that supported the Le Mans 24 Hours.   

(Image from

Friday, 3 August 2018

Eeva Heinonen

Eeva Heinonen was the Finnish Ladies’ Champion four times, between 1971 and 1974.

Born in 1946, she had quite an early start to her rally career, taking on her first major rallies as a driver in Finland in 1969. She had been navigating for longer, however, from at least 1965. In 1968, she sat beside Kirsti Airikkala in an Isuzu Sport.

She drove an Opel RK on the 1000 Lakes Rally in 1969, but did not finish.

The RK was a car she used for most of the early part of her career. She scored her first 1000 Lakes finish in it in 1970, when she was 25th.

At this stage of her career, she was still only competing within Finland. Her first Finnish ladies’ title was in 1971. With it came her first top-twenty finish, a 17th place in the Salpausselkä Rally.

Her first overseas event was the 1972 RAC Rally. She drove a Volvo 142 for the works team and had a British co-driver, Liz Crellin. She was 29th and beaten to the Ladies’ award by Marie-Claude Beaumont by less that two minutes. Opel driver Marie-Claude was Eeva’s regular rival for Coupes des Dames.

Marie-Claude never went near the 1000 Lakes, which was at that time dominated by local drivers, so Eeva faced less of a challenge for the Ladies’ Prize there. She was 20th overall, and this counted towards her second Finnish Ladies’ Trophy. That year, she also had her first top ten finish, coming tenth in the Arctic Tunturi Rally.

Her best international result was 18th, on the 1973 1000 Lakes Rally. She was driving a Volvo, as she usually did during the second half of her career.

She picked up another works drive for Volvo at the 1973 RAC Rally and went one-up on her French rival, Marie-Claude Beaumont. Although Eeva was only 32nd on the stages, Marie-Claude had to retire in her Opel Commodore. This international Coupe des Dames was in addition to a third Finnish ladies’ title that year.

Her 1974 season may have been curtailed by pregnancy; Ford’s Tony Mason offered her a Ford drive at the RAC Rally, which she was unable to take up. This could have been for 1974 or 1975. Tony Mason’s own writings suggest it was 1974, but it could have been either.

She was able to compete in the Arctic Rally at the end of January 1974, finishing 24th, but this was followed by a break until June. Her shortened season proved enough to retain her Ladies’ crown in Finland, but she did not get to square up to Marie-Claude Beaumont again. Domestically, her best results were two 18th places in the Kalakukko and Länsirannikon rallies, both of which had in the region of 50 finishers.

Eeva’s last season of rallying was 1975, and she finally got herself a Ford drive. She drove an Escort RS in three Finnish rallies. Her best finish was 15th in the Arctic Rally. Her season ended in March, so a pregnancy is a possible reason.

She later married Saab driver Pertti Lehtonen. In recent years she has appeared at classic motor shows in Finland. Like her countryman Ari Vatanen, she had a sojourn in politics, running for local office in the mid-1980s.

(Image from

Thursday, 26 July 2018

Women in Toyota Atlantics/Formula Atlantic

Katherine Legge in 2005

The Atlantic Championship is a one-make single-seater series in the US which has historically acted as a feeder for IndyCar and Champ Car. It evolved from Formula Atlantic, previously called Formula B, which was based on production engines but not strictly a one-make series. Formula Atlantic also existed in the UK.

Toyota came on board in 1989 and sponsored the championship as well as providing engines. Atlantics were part of the CART family in 2004 to 2005, then functioned as the Champ Car development series in 2006 and 2007, similar to Indy Lights. The Atlantic Championship is currently run by USAC after some time under the SCCA umbrella.

Relatively few women have taken part in Toyota Atlantics, although some have been very successful. Danica Patrick scored a number of podiums in her two seasons there and Katherine Legge won three races in 2005. Simona de Silvestro managed five wins over two seasons.

During the Toyota era, Atlantics were masterminded by Vicki O’Connor of the ProMotion agency. She co-ordinated the championship until it was bought out by CART.

Toyota Atlantic Championship
Carol Soucy (Scalzo Racing) - 33rd (3 races)

Danica Patrick (Team Rahal) - 6th (12 races)

Danica Patrick (Team Rahal) - 3rd (12 races)

Katherine Legge (Polestar Racing Group) - 3rd (12 races)

Champ Car Atlantic
Simona de Silvestro (Walker Racing) - 19th (12 races)

Atlantic Championship
Simona de Silvestro (Newman/Wachs Racing) - 8th (11 races)

Simona de Silvestro (Team Stargate Worlds) - 3rd (12 races)

Atlantic Championship Series (USAC)
Jenna Grillo (K-Hill Motorsports) - 13th (4 races)

(Image copyright Kurt Dahlstrom)