Thursday, 29 July 2010

Elisabeth Junek

This Czech lady is perhaps one of the most famous speedqueens, best known for her heroics on the legendary Targa Florio. Until the arrival of Tomas Enge onto the Formula One scene in 2001, she was also the only Czech to have driven in Grands Prix.

Elisabeth, also known as Eliška Junková, was married to a banker called Čeněk Junek. He was interested in motor racing and competed at national level. Initially, Eliška had little interest in cars, but she warmed to them, and by 1923 was acting as Čeněk’s riding mechanic. She began driving herself in 1924. Her first race was at Pilsen and she came away with a win in the touring car class. She continued to compete in a Bugatti Type 30 known as Babushka in 1925, and soon her achievements on the track began to eclipse her husband's. She won her first race at Zbraslav-Jiloviste that year.

Her first major win came in 1926, an international race held in Prague, with Babushka. Soon afterwards, Elisabeth visited the Bugatti factory and drove away a much newer Type 35. Although she never drove for the works Bugatti team, she was a good friend of Ettore Bugatti and especially his daughter, L'Ebé. Whenever she bought cars from them she always drove them away herself instead of having them delivered. It was in this car that she was runner-up in the 2000cc class of the Klausen hillclimb. She was eleventh overall, after driving through wet, changing conditions for the duration of the twenty-minute climb.

Elisabeth became more ambitious in 1927 and attempted the treacherous Targa Florio for the first time. An accident broke the steering of her Bugatti this time, but she would be back. More pleasing was her fourth place in the German Grand Prix. She won the touring car class and was the first Bugatti home after a fleet of Mercedes-Benzes. That year, she was also scheduled to enter two French races at Montlhèry, but pulled out. No reason is stated for her Grand Prix de l’A.N.C.F., but she decided to enter the Ladies’ event of the Coupe du Salon in October. The result seems to have been lost.

She had unfinished business to attend to in Sicily, so she entered the Targa Florio again in 1928. She caused a sensation by leading for most of the arduous race, until a broken water pump threatened to put her out towards the end. Elisabeth got the problem sorted and fought back to an excellent fifth place. Alberto Divo was the winner.

For a change, Čeněk decided to drive with his wife in the German Grand Prix that year. Unfortunately he was involved in an accident and was killed. Elisabeth retired from motorsport forthwith. It was not until much later that she was coaxed back into a car for some demonstration races. She remained active for most of her life and died, as old as the century, in 1994.

She is credited as being one of the first drivers to recognise the benefits of walking the course before a race, memorising the corners and noting any hazards. This habit served her well on the Targa Florio.

(Image from

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