The original team: (l-r) Dominique Guichard, Anne-Marie Desvignes, Francoise Conconi, Annick Girard, Marie-Odile Desvignes, Claudine Trautmann.
The distinctive red and pink livery of the rally cars of Team Aseptogyl is familiar to anyone acquainted with the European rally scene in the 1970s. Almost certainly unique, the team employed female drivers exclusively, and launched the careers of several international rallyists.
The team was the brainchild of Bob Neyret, a French dentist and former rally competitor. Its first season of operation was 1971, and the cars were Alpine-Renault A110s, sponsored by Aseptogyl, a brand of toothpaste created by Neyret’s company. The Alpine factory supported the idea of an all-female team, and sold three Group 4-spec Alpine-Renault A110s to Neyret, plus a further car for himself. The engineering and preparation side of the team was handled by Autogyl, another of Neyret’s businesses. As well as the Aseptogyl branding, the team secured sponsorship from Esso.
Bob Neyret had been scouting around for potential drivers for a year. The first team consisted of Claudine Trautmann, a multiple French champion, twins Marie-Odile and Anne-Marie Desvignes, Annick Girard and Marie-Dominique Guichard. They were quickly joined by Françoise Conconi and “Biche” (Michele Petit), who made up the numbers as co-drivers, and Marie-Pierre Palayer. Some of the recruits, like Claudine Trautmann, Marie-Pierre Palayer and Biche, were very experienced rally drivers and co-drivers. Others, like Marie-Odile Desvignes, were novices who liked driving fast, and had decent car handling skills. Neyret always had an eye on the promotional value of his team, and he made little secret of favouring pretty drivers. There was some doubt as to whether all of his Aseptogyl girls were really chosen for their driving talent, but many of them were very accomplished. Accompanying the driving squad was Christine “Kiki” Caron, a former swimming champion who acted as a figurehead for the team. She co-drove occasionally.
The earliest outings for the team were the early-season Alpine events in France, including the Neige et Glace rally. These rallies gave the team some challenging competition, as well as promotional opportunities, posing in matching outfits in the snow. Claudine Trautmann was the stand-out driver that year; she and Marie-Odile Desvignes won their class in the Lyon-Charbonnières-Stuttgart-Solitude rally, closely followed by Marie-Pierre Palayer and Biche. Although the Alpines were the team’s preferred car, Neyret had also acquired a Renault 16 for the rougher North African rallies. Claudine and Marie-Odile were third in the Bandama Rally, which was won by Neyret himself. Marie-Pierre Palayer was another of the team’s strongest drivers, and was fifth in the Geneva Rally, with Christine Rouff.
1972 saw more drivers joining the Aseptogyl roster, including Pat Moss-Carlsson, who was tenth in the Monte Carlo Rally in an Aseptogyl Alpine. Christine Dacremont, the French ladies’ champion was another new recruit, who drove in the Tour de France for the team, among other events, alongside another experienced driver, Marianne Hoepfner. Anny-Charlotte Verney also joined, and Marie-Odile Desvignes did some driving duties, as well as navigation. Marianne Hoepfner impressed in the Spanish RACE Rally, finishing seventh.
Pat Moss-Carlsson made some more appearances in 1973, although she did not finish the Monte or the RAC Rally. Marianne Hoepfner was one the star drivers this season, leading a large Aseptogyl contingent in the Paris-St. Raphaël, in first place. Marie-Pierre Palayer was third. Anny-Charlotte Verney and Christine Beckers were among the other entries for the team. Their distinctive pink, red and white Alpines were a common sight on the European stages. In addition to the stable of rally cars, the team also ran a pink-and-red Alpine single-seater, which was used by Marianne Hoepfner for hillclimbs.
The team diversified somewhat further in 1974, despite the limits imposed on motorsport by that year’s fuel crisis. The A110 Alpines were still in evidence, and one was driven by Christine Dacremont in the Tour de France, but some new Alpine-Renault A310s were in use in the same event. Marianne Hoepfner and Marie Laurent were thirteenth in theirs. For the longer, tougher rallies, the Peugeot 504 was the car of choice. None of the three-car team entered for the Bandama Rally made the finish, but Christine Dacremont was second in the World Cup Rally, which ran from London, across sub-Saharan Africa, through to southern Europe and then to Munich. Claudine Trautmann was fourth, and Bob Neyret himself, third. Away from rallying, Aseptogyl sponsored Marie Laurent’s Chrysler Hemicuda for French hillclimbs.
1975 continued in a similar vein. The A310s were still in service, with a two-car team contesting the Tour de France. Marianne Hoepfner and Christine Dacremont were still the team’s strongest drivers, although new recruits joined all the time. The Peugeots were once again in action for the tougher events, and Marianne Hoepfner and Claudine Trautmann were seventh and eighth in the Morocco Rally. Their team-mates, Christine Dacremont and Yveline Vanoni, did not finish. This was Claudine’s last rally for the team, and she retired to manage the Autogyl side of things at the end of the season.
The team in 1976: (l-r) Christine Dacremont, Corinne Tarnaud, Jacqueline Perrin, "Biche", Delphine Denard, Marie-Odile Desvignes, Marianne Hoepfner, Marie-Dominique Cousin, Antoinette Straumann?, Joelle Chardin.
1976 was a year with some new innovations. The team’s rally car of choice became the little Autobianchi A112 Abarth. These new Aseptogyl cars were launched at that year’s Monte. Christine Dacremont and new girl, Delphine Denard, were the best finishers, in 23rd. Marie-Odile Desvignes, driving with Jacqueline Perrin, and new driver, Corinne Tarnaud, did not finish. Slightly later in the season, the team took delivery of a Lancia Stratos, which was used by Christine Dacremont for European rallies. Her best overall finish was third in the Criterium Alpin, but she won the Rallye de la Chataigne on scratch, in an A310.
The team’s most exciting venture that year was its Le Mans entry. Another Stratos was prepared for endurance racing, and Christine Dacremont was chosen to partner the great Lella Lombardi for the race itself. They were 20th overall, and second in class, from 41st on the grid.
The Aseptogyl Stratos made another appearance in the 1977 Le Mans race, driven by Christine Dacremont again, with Marianne Hoepfner. They did not finish after the engine blew on the 37th lap.
In rallying, Christine used the Stratos to good effect, finishing sixth on the Monte. The A310 was still in use, and Finnish Aseptogyl girl, Marketta Oksala, finished in 17th place, with Yvonne Mehta. In November, a pair of Aseptogyl Toyota Celicas tackled the Tour de France, but neither Marianne Hoepfner nor Christine Beckers finished.
The other big event of the year was the World Cup Rally, from London to Sydney. Christine Dacremont drove a diesel Fiat 131 Abarth, but did not finish. Bob Neyret, with Marianne Hoepfner as co-driver, was fifteenth. Unusually, an all-male crew joined them; Giancarlo Baghetti was 23rd.
After the London-Sydney experiment with diesel, and the good performances of diesel Citroens in that event, Bob Neyret acquired three Citroen 2500 CX diesels, for Marianne Hoepfner/Marie-Madeleine Fouquet, Christine Dacremont/”Ganaëlle” and Marketta Oksala/Pirjo Pinnä. Two of the three finished, but none was particularly competitive. The CXs were quietly retired, only reappearing for the Tour de France.
Later in the season, the team launched a new car, at the Tour de Corse. Six pink Aseptogyl Fiat 127s made the start, driven by Christine Dacremont/Isabelle Perrier, Marianne Hoepfner/ Marie-Madeleine Fouquet, Joëlle Chardin/Antoinette Straumann and three Italian crews: Antonella Mandelli/Cristina Bertone, Anna Cambiaghi/Enrica Marenghi and Maurizia Baresi/Iva Boggio. Unfortunately, all six retired, four with electrical problems. Aseptogyl were keen to showcase Italian drivers this season, alongside their Italian cars, and Maurizia Baresi and Anna Camiaghi did several regional events in France and Italy. Drivers Caterina Baldoni, an ex-model, and Margherita Corio increased the size of the Italian contingent.
The Aseptogyl Italian drivers in 1978: (l-r) Cristina Bertone, Caterina Baldoni, Iva Boggio, Maurizia Baresi, Anna Gatti, Margherita Corio.
Team Aseptogyl disappeared as a regular entity at the end of the 1970s, although Bob Neyret continued to enter a series of lady drivers into major rallies into the early 1980s. One of the higher-profile Aseptogyl outings was the 1979 Nice-Abidjan Rally, the fore-runner of the Dakar. A three-truck team of six drivers competed in an Iveco HGV. The following year, Anna Cambiaghi and Oda Dencker-Andersen won the Truck class of the Trans-Africa Rally, finishing 30th overall. The same year, Marianne Hoepfner was second overall in the Himalayan Rally, driving a Toyota Corolla with Oda Dencker-Andersen.
The last hurrah for Team Aspetogyl came in 1983, when an eight-strong squad of Alfa Romeo Alfasuds were entered into the Monte Carlo Rally. They were nominally competing as national teams, from the UK (Louise Aitken-Walker and Ruth Hillier), Germany (Margot Henn and Waltraud Wünsch), Italy (Maurizia Baresi and Isabella Bignardi) and Belgium (Marie-Francoise Placq and Nicole Sol). The enterprise was not a great success, with only four of the cars actually making the start. Louise Aitken-Walker was the best of them, finishing 49th.
Several members of Team Aseptogyl are still active in motorsport in one way or another, and Marie-Odile Desvignes is still driving an Aseptogyl-liveried Alpine-Renault in historic rallies.
Below are short profiles of some of the other drivers who rallied for Aseptogyl over the years.
Caterina Baldoni – part of one of the later incarnations of Team Aseptogyl in the late 1970s, when it was associated with Fiat, and with Italian drivers. In 1978, she is recorded as having taken part in the Quattro Regioni Rally in Italy, in a Fiat 128. Her navigator was usually Cristina Bertone, and they continued to compete as a team in 1979, although Luisa Zumelli partnered Caterina for that year’s Citta di Modena Rally. Prior to her Aseptogyl adventures, she raced an Alpine R5 on the circuits, with limited success. Before and during her time as a rally driver, she worked as a model, which gained her considerable media attention.
Isabella Bignardi - rallied a Lancia Stratos in Italy in the 1970s and 1980s. She also drove for Alfa Romeo in the 1983 Monte Carlo Rally. She was 66th on the 1982 Targa Florio and drove her Stratos in the 1981 Rally della Valle d’Aosta and Colline de Romagna.
Joelle Chardin - a member of Team Aseptogyl during its Fiat-powered period in the late 1970s. She took part in national and international rallies around France, including the 1978 Tour de Corse and the Lorraine Rallye in 1979. Details of her other outings have proved hard to track down.
Margherita Corio – Italian driver who rallied for Team Aseptogyl in the mid-to-late 1970s. She and Cristina Bertone entered the Rallye du Var in 1975, driving a Fiat-Abarth 124. Pictures show Margherita with an Aspetogyl Fiat 128 in 1978, but actual results are proving elusive. She definitely participated in the Ronde Cevenole, but was driving a Lancia. In 1976 and 1977, she did the same event in a Fiat 124. She may have also rallied a Lancia Stratos in 1979, and this ran without Aspetogyl livery. Margherita was married to another rally driver, Angelo, and they often competed together, with Margherita as co-driver, between 1967 and 1978.
Marie-Odile Desvignes – one of the original Team Aseptogyl members, and one of its longest-serving. She began her rally career with the team in 1971, alongside her twin sister, Anne-Marie, as a complete novice. For major rallies, she usually acted as a co-driver for Claudine Trautmann, until she retired in 1975, but she was also a decent driver. She was part of the Autobianchi A112 Aseptogyl team in 1976, with Jacqueline Perrin on the maps, although they did not finish the Monte Carlo Rally. In French rallies, she was often partnered by Francoise Conconi. They drove an Alpine-Reanult A110 in the 1971 Criterium des Cevennes. She ended that year as the French ladies’ rally champion. Christine Rouff and Brigitte Carrier also sat beside Marie-Odile in 1971 and 1972, in the Chataigne, Bayonne and Rallye de l’Ouest events, plus more on the French calendar. After 1975, she seems to take a step back from motorsport. One of her latest events seems to have been the 1975 Rallye Côte-Côte, driving a Peugeot 504 with Yveline Vanoni.
Margot Henn - German driver who rallied an Alfa Romeo Alfasud TI on the 1983 Monte Carlo event, driving for the ladies' Alfa Romeo team. She did not finish and did not compete in any further major rallies.
Ruth Hillier - British driver who was 62nd in the 1983 Monte Carlo Rally, her first attempt, driving an Alfa Romeo Alfasud TI. Her navigator that year was Mary Fullerton. She was part of Bob Neyret’s ladies’ team entry that year.
Antonella Mandelli - 1981 European Ladies’ Champion who was part of the Aseptogyl team early in her career. She drove a Lancia 037 Rallye for Jolly Club in the 1983 European Championship, with some success, coming third in the Madeira Rally and fifth in the Catalunya Rally. The Rally Vinho de Madeira was her best event and she was third again in 1984, but her best finish was second, in 1981, driving a Fiat 131 Abarth.
Marie-Pierre Palayer - multi-talented French driver who raced between 1968 and 1973. She first appears in hillclimbs in 1968, driving a BMW 1600Ti. This led to a BMW works drive in France in 1969, which included the Ronde Cévenole, Tour de France and the AGACI 300 at Montlhéry, in a 2002 Ti. She was sixth, with a class win, at Montlhéry. In 1970, she switched to a Porsche 911 S, and was 15th in the Tour de France, with Ginette Derolland. She also performed very well in rallies, finishing tenth in the Rallye de Lorraine and seventh in the Geneva Rally, in the Porsche, as well as an eighth place in the Lyon-Charbonnières-Stuttgart-Solitude Rally in the BMW. After 1971, rallying became her main focus, as she joined Team Aseptogyl. She mostly drove an Alpine-Renault A110. A highlight of her time with the team was a fifth place in the Geneva Rally, with Christine Rouff. She was also third in the Paris-St. Raphaël Rally in 1973. She retired from driving herself after the 1973 season, and her last event was a rally raid, the Nice-Abidjan-Nice. She drove an Iveco truck. However, she continued as a navigator until 1975, partnering Claudine Trautmann and Christine Dacremont.
Marie-Francoise Placq - Belgian driver, entered the 1983 Monte Carlo Rally as part of the Alfa Romeo ladies' team. She had previously competed in the 1980 Paris-Dakar Rally as a navigator, to Corinne Koppenhague. Their vehicle was a Jeep Hotchkiss. Between 1979 and 1983, she was very active in the Belgian championship, first in a Fiat 127, then in an MG Metro. In 1980, she scored two class wins in Belgian rallies, in the Fiat.
Bernadette Sacy – competed in both stage rallies and rally raids in the 1970s and 1980s, as well as racing on the circuits in the Gordini Cup and Leyland Trophy. She was part of the Leyland Trophy in 1978, but was not one of the race-winners. In rallying, she was part of Team Aspetogyl in 1979, driving a Fiat 127. She rallied in France and Europe quite extensively in the early 1980s, driving for the Citroen team after the Aseptogyl stable wound down. In 1984, she was one of the finalists for the Citroen Trophée Féminin, for the Lille region, and was eighth overall. In between, she had taken up cross-country rallying, in which she would compete until the late 1990s. Her first Dakar was in 1981, when she co-drove Monique Delannoy to 25th place in a Mercedes 240. In 1982, she drove a Range Rover, with Christine “Kiki” Caron as navigator, finishing 35th. The same driver pairing in the same car tackled the 1983 Dakar, but did not finish. She has taken part in the Pharaons, Atlas and Optic 2000 rallies. As late as 1999, she was navigating for Estelle Hallyday in the Optic 2000 Rally in Tunisia. After retiring from active competition, she moved into the administration and organisation side of rally raids.
Yveline Vanoni – best known as a co-driver, who regularly sat alongside Marianne Hoepfner early in her career, and then Christine Dacremont. She was one of the second wave of Team Aseptogyl drivers, and drove herself in French rallies as part of Aseptogyl squads. Her international experience as a driver was quite limited; as an Aseptogyl driver, she entered the 1975 Morocco Rally in a Peugeot 504, but did not finish. She may also have driven in the Paris-St. Raphaël Rally. After 1975, she seems to take a break from rallying, but she reappeared in 1979 as one of the six-woman Aseptogyl team who tackled the Nice-Abidjan-Nice Rally, driving an Iveco HGV.
(Images from Aseptogyl promotional material, taken from www.forum-auto.com)