Thursday, 29 July 2010

Gaby Uljee

Gaby as a Racing Diva

Born in the Netherlands in 1976, Gaby started racing at eighteen. The first championship she entered was the Dutch Citroen AX GTI Cup in 1994. She raced Citroen hot hatches for four years, working through the make's driver development scheme and winning races on the way. Her best finish was second overall in the Saxo Cup in 1998.

It was time to move on to bigger things in 1999, so Gaby raised some funds and competed in the Alfa Romeo 156 Challenge one-make series. After a learning year in the popular championship, she became a real contender in 2000, ending the season in fourth place overall.

People had started taking notice of the Dutchwoman now, and 2001 saw her taking another step up the racing ladder. Returning to French power, she drove in the Dutch Touring Car Championship in a Renault Clio. She usually managed to finish the races but was unable to make much of a mark on the top ten until the last meeting of the season, when she finished fifth and eighth. The second race was an excellent recovery drive after being involved in an incident with her boyfriend Tim Coronel's car.

She returned to the DTCC a much improved driver the following year. Still in the Clio, she was fifth in the points at the end of the year, after some excellent finishes. She was third twice at Zandvoort, and generally finished in the top five throughout the season, apart from the Nürburgring race, where she could only manage tenth. The opposition was of a high calibre: Tim Coronel, his F1 tester brother Tom and sportscar star Jeroen Bleekmoelen, to name a few.

Sponsorship for the DTCC was not forthcoming for Gaby in 2003, so she stuck with Clios and raced in the Clio Cup instead. She gained a few reasonable results, but the lower horsepower and crowded grids were obviously not to her liking.

She did not return to the DTCC the following season. However, there was no shortage of guest drives available in 2004. Gaby drove a new Mini at the Nürburgring round of the German Mini Challenge, but again the Ring was not kind to her and she failed to finish the second race, having come ninth in the first. Her other outings included a return to Alfas in the Alfa Romeo 147 Challenge race at the Marlboro Masters F3 meeting at Zandvoort. She also tried her hand in some rounds of the Benelux Racing League, a championship for Ford Mondeo touring cars and Benelux-based racers.

2005 saw a return to a full racing programme for Gaby. She registered for the Light division of the Benelux Racing League again and showed herself to be one of the best, coming second in the final standings after a string of impressive wins, including both legs of a double-header at Zandvoort.

Sticking with the Benelux countries, she also crossed the border to Belgium, to join the Daikin team for two major Belcar races. At the popular Zolder 24 Hour race, she helped bring the Daikin Mini home 22nd overall, third in class TB, assisted by a crack all-female squad of Vanina Ickx, Alexandra van de Velde and Caroline Grifnée. For the Belcar Masters later in the year, Gaby and Alexandra started from pole in class TB and were third again, 25th overall. A guest drive in the SEAT Cupra Endurance championship netted her a win at Assen.

In the 2006 season, Gaby returned to the BRL, hoping to repeat her 2005 triumphs. However, she only competed in four races in her Ford Focus, and was a lowly 18th overall. Later in the season, she drove in the Belcar 24 Hours again for Daikin. The team’s BMW 120d, driven by Gaby, Alexandra van de Velde, Caroline Grifnée and Stephanie Halm, went out of the race during the twelfth hour.

At the beginning of 2007, she took on a totally different challenge, in the form of the Paris-Dakar Rally. Her first attempt at the desert classic gave her 46th place, and second rookie team. The car was a Bowler Wildcat and she was navigating for Tim Coronel.

The main season was once again focused on the BRL. Gaby took part in fourteen races, winning two of them and placing in the top three on five occasions. She was runner-up again at the end of the year. In addition to this, she returned to the SEAT Cupra Cup for two guest races, teaming up with the TV presenter Rob Kamphues.

For 2008, it was time for a slight change of scenery. Gaby left the BRL behind and took up a place in the well-subscribed Toerwagen Diesel Cup. She drove alongside Paulien Zwart in the Coronel Girlz Racing team, run by their partners’ family. The car was a BMW 120d, similar to the one Gaby had raced previously in Belgium. The pair were third in the final standings after finishing in the top three on four occasions.

Gaby had intended to enter the Dakar again after its cancellation in 2008, and she managed to secure a drive as navigator to Michel de Groot, a former motorcycle competitor. Their car was a McRae enduro special and they ran as the Dutch Vicking team. They were 39th and winners of the T3 class.

Gaby and Michel also competed together in the Netherlands shortly afterwards, sharing a car for an early round of the VW Endurance Cup.

Gaby and Paulien continued with diesel power in 2009, but drove for separate teams this time. Gaby moved to the Orbit team with Liesette Braams. Despite some technical hitches, they were regulars in the top ten, with one podium finish to their name. They were seventeenth overall.

She continued in the Diesel Cup in 2010, driving for Equipe Verschuur this time. Her team-mates were Liesette and Luc Braams and their car was an updated BMW 123d. They were much more competitive than in 2009, winning one race and finishing in the top three in two others. Gaby was seventh in the drivers' standings.

As well as circuit racing, she tried out a bioethanol-fuelled Nissan 350Z for the Exotic Green Rally, a rallysprint. This was her first attempt at a stage rally, although by now, she had entered two Dakar Rallies.

After a year on the sidelines in 2011, Gaby returned to the circuits in 2012. She was part of the Dutch Racingdivas team for the early-season Dubai 24 Hours, and finished 39th in a Renault Clio Cup. Her co-drivers were regular cohorts Liesette Braams and Sheila Verschuur, plus Paulien Zwart and a returning Sandra van der Sloot. Going by her Twitter feed, it looked as if Gaby was preparing to compete in touring cars in the Netherlands also, and she obliged with three races in the Burando Production Open, in a BMW 123d. Her three Easter appearances, sharing a car with Liesette Braams, gave her a fifth, a fourth and a win.

The Divas planned to race together again in 2013, beginning with the Dubai 24 Hours. Driving a Schubert BMW 320D, they were 26th overall, with a class win. The Divas also appeared at the Rotterdam City Races, a sprint event on a street circuit. Unfortunately, these seem to be the only appearances the Divas did make.

Gaby was still involved with Racing Divas in 2014, who had secured some innovative sponsors, partly through "selling" the pink hearts which will form part of their livery. They planned to race again, but once more, their participation was restricted to the Dubai 24 Hours. Driving a BMW 320D prepared by Schubert Motorsport, Gaby was part of a Diva team that won Class A3T. The other drivers were Paulien Zwart, Sandra van der Sloot, Shirley van der Lof and Natasja Smit Sø. They were 31st overall.

In 2015, Gaby, as part of Racingdivas, contested the Dubai 24 Hours, in a BMW prepared by Bonk Motorsport. She was 23rd overall, with a class win. 

The Divas did not enter the Dubai 24 Hours in 2016, partly due to key team member, Liesette's ongoing battle with cancer. Gaby drove for the Allied Racing Team in the Competition102 GT4 European series, in a BMW M3. She did a part-season, and had a best finish of fifth at Zandvoort.

Gaby returned to the European GT4 championship in 2019, driving a McLaren 570 for Equipe Verschuur. She scored three podium places in the Am class, at Brands Hatch, Misano and Zandvoort, which was enough for fifth in the class championship. 

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