Monday 6 September 2010

The Shellsport Escort Ladies' Championship

Divina Galica, winner at Snetterton in 1977

This series was organised and promoted by John and Angela Webb of Shellsport, who were running Brands Hatch at the time. It was mainly a PR exercise, but ran at major race meetings, and attracted decent fields. It started in 1974, as a series of three one-off races for invited female drivers, in identically-prepared Ford Escort Mexicos. Two of the races were won by Lella Lombardi, and the last was won by Jenny Dell. The rest of the grid was made up of members of the British Women Racing Drivers' Club, who were also involved in the series.

In 1975, the number of races was extended to four, and the series became a registered championship. It was still by invitation only, and organised through the BWRDC. The championship was won by Susan Tucker-Peake, despite the fact that she did not manage to win a race. Divina Galica, Maggie Anderson and Wendy Markey shared that honour.

1975 Championship:
1. Susan Tucker-Peake
2. Divina Galica
3. Wendy Markey
4. Lorina Boughton
5. Georgie Shaw
6. Alison Davis

Divina Galica was the winner of the 1976 championship, after a clean sweep of all four races. The series remained popular, and there was a waiting list of potential drivers.

1976 Championship:
1. Divina Galica
2=Susan Tucker-Peake
2=Alison Davis
4. Maggie Anderson
5. Juliette Slaughter
6. Wendy Markey

In 1977, the championship was extended to five rounds. Maggie Anderson was the eventual victor from Alison Davis and Divina Galica, but the championship itself suffered from low turnout, partly due to erstwhile regulars being on duty in bigger events.

1977 Championship:
1. Maggie Anderson
2. Alison Davis
3. Divina Galica
4. Susan Tucker-Peake
5. Glenys Atkins
6. Gill Rindlisbacher

1977 was the last full year of the Ladies’ Escort Series. It was relegated to two standalone events in 1978, composed of BWRDC members and a few celebrities. The races were won by Alison Davis and Julie Chimes. After that, it was quietly retired.

The Shellsport championship was distinctive, in that it encouraged entries from experienced and successful racers, which perhaps explains its relative longevity.

Full results for all five seasons are recorded in the BWRDC book, Mary’s Girls: 40 Years of the British Women Racing Drivers’ Club.

Below are profiles of some of the major players.

Fiona Butterfield - competed in both circuit racing and rallying in the 1970s and 1980s. She began in 1977, taking part in some Formula Ford races in a hired car at Brands Hatch. She was apparently sixth and seventh in her first two races. This led to some drives in the Shellsport Escort series; she led one race until contact with another car took her out. She raced in Formula Ford until at least 1980, when she is described as owning a Crossle. In 1979, she tried rallying and was part of the Faberge Fiesta Challenge with co-driver Marilyn Tricker. She may also have raced in the 1980 Debenhams Fiesta Challenge and Formula Talbot on-track. Photos show her with shot putter Geoff Capes as part of a sports celebrity race at about that time.

Rachel Goate - raced in the 1970s and was a member of the BWRDC. She took part in the Shellsport Escort Ladies Championship in its later editions, although she was not among the frontrunners. She also raced historics in the 1970s and was a member of the Aston Martin Owners’ Club. Later, in 1978, she attempted to win a place in the Faberge Fiesta Challenge, although she had never done any rallying before. She did not reach the finals.

Angela Kearns – got into motor racing through John Webb’s Shellsport “charm school”, based at Brands Hatch. She took part in some of the Shellsport Ladies’ Escort races in the mid- to late 1970s. In 1973, she was part of the winning team in the Brands Hatch Relay Triathlon, taking the driving leg of the event. She was partnering runner Dave Bedford and cyclist Morris Burton. Other details of Angela’s career are proving hard to find.

Georgie Shaw - raced saloons in the UK in the 1970s. She began in a Mini, in club races, but moved on to a Triumph TR7 and a Mazda RX-3. This last car was often shared with Wendy Markey in the National 1275 GT Championship, as well as one entry into the 1976 6 Hours of Silverstone. She was an active member of the BWRDC and participated in the 1974 and 1975 Shellsport Ladies’ Escort series. She retired in 1979 and became a motorsport journalist, as well as continuing her involvement with the British Women Racing Drivers' Club.

Theodora (Theo) Sibley - raced in British club and National events in the late 1960s and 1970s. She was noted at the time for being the oldest female racing driver competing, when she entered the British Formula Ford Championship in 1968 and 1969. In the 1970s, she was an enthusiastic member of the BWRDC and drove in the Ladies’ Shellsport Escort series in 1974 and 1975.

Mary Wheeler - raced a Triumph TR2 and a TVR in club and National races in the south of England between 1959 and 1973. She won a race at Goodwood in her debut season, and went on to win several more there over the years. Among her last competitive outings were the first Shellsport Ladies' Escort races. She also competed in hillclimbs. She is chiefly remembered for setting up the British Women Racing Drivers’ Club, and running it for many years. She died in 2003, aged 93.

(Image copyright Maurice Bennington)

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