Monday, 17 March 2014

Jill Robinson


Jill in the Alpine-Renault, in the 1972 RAC Rally

Jill was one of Britain's leading lady drivers in the 1970s. She was a regular entrant in the major British rallies, and also competed quite extensively abroad, particularly in Finland. Although she never achieved the stellar results of Pat Moss or Rosemary Smith, whose careers overlapped with hers, she was capable of holding her own on a special stage, and was able to draw upon considerable resources and contacts to support her motorsport activities.

Born Jill (Margaret) Simpson, she was part of the Simpson family who were the “Simpson” in “Clarke & Simpson”, an upmarket Ford dealership in London. Her sister, Judy, was also a rally driver, although she took it up some years after Jill. Jill herself seems to have started competing some time after her first marriage, and the birth of at least one child, a daughter.

On the international stage, she competed in the RAC Rally seven times. Her first RAC Rally was in 1969, and she drove a BMW 2002 TI with Audrey Scott. They were 58th overall and won the Ladies’ Cup. In 1970, she entered again, this time in a Ford Escort RS 1600. She would continue to drive Escorts of various kinds throughout her career. In this particular one, she is not recorded as a finisher. Her navigator was Frances Cobb. They renewed their partnership in 1971’s RAC Rally, in a similar car, but again, did not finish. The duo also did the Ypres Rally together, in an Escort RS1600 run by Clarke & Simpson. They also drove in the Dukeries Rally, finishing 49th in the Escort. That year, Jill, with local co-driver Leila Loukimo alongside, entered her first 1000 Lakes Rally, in a Twin Cam Escort. They were 42nd overall, and second female crew, behind the experienced and local Eeva Heinonen.

In 1972, Jill started her season back in Finland, for the Arctic Rally. She and Kirsti Pätiälä retired in their Twin Cam Escort. For a change, Jill drove an Alpine-Renault A110 in the Daily Mirror RAC Rally, alongside Dilys Rodgers. They do not appear to have finished.

Jill’s most famous rallying exploit came in 1973, during the Daily Mirror RAC Rally. In a Ford Escort Mexico, she was roped into driving alongside the now-disgraced DJ Jimmy Savile, which did not end well. They dropped out very early on, after performing quite poorly. That year, she also teamed up with Frances Cobb again for the Avon Tour of Britain, a Tour de France style combination of rally sections and circuit races. They drove a Ford Cortina and do not appear to have finished.

The following year, she returned to the RAC Rally with a more skilled navigator, Dilys Rodgers. They drove a Ford Escort RS1600, and were 52nd overall. Later in the year, Jill moved away from Ford power temporarily, and drove an Alfa Romeo 2000 GTV in the 1000 Lakes Rally. Her navigator was Kirsti Airikkala, a British-based Finn who was married to Pentti Airikkala, another entrant into the rally. Pentti was sponsored by Clarke & Simpson, and both Jill and Kirsti would drive under Castrol sponsorship. Jill and Kirsti were 80th overall, but third in the one-litre class. They was also third in the ladies’ standings, behind her regular rival, Eeva Heinonen, and Trine Jensen.

Another attempt at the RAC Rally in 1975, assisted by Dilys Rodgers and in a Ford Escort RS1800 this time, ended in retirement again. She was part of an Avon Tyres-backed team with Russell Close. The following year, she had her best RAC Rally result of her career: 28th, and winner of the Coupe des Dames. She was driving an RS1800 with Pauline Gullick. During the summer, she made another trip to Finland, for the Hankiralli this time, driving an RS2000. She did not finish.
Her programme was similar in 1977. This time, she finished the Hankirally in 39th place, driving an RS2000 with Ian Parry. She was 47th in that year’s RAC Rally, in another Escort, with Dorothy Selby-Boothroyd. This year, she was also active in British rallies, and was part of Team Castrol in the British championship, driving an RS1600 with Dilys Rodgers.
By 1978, her career was winding down, and she only appears to have driven in one major rally this year. She was 40th in the Safari Rally in an Escort RS2000, co-driven by another experienced local, Yvonne Pratt.
In 1979, she did her last big international events. One was her debut visit to the Rally of Madeira, which she does not appear to have finished. Another was the Sunriser Forest Rally in the USA. Jill drove an ex-Rod Millen Datsun 510, with Pauline Gullick. They did not finish. This deal was partly arranged by Jill’s partner, David Sutton, a rally driver and preparation expert. Some time after this, the couple married. Jill and David sometimes competed together, and David, a former sales manager at Clarke & Simpson, was instrumental in brokering some of Jill’s drives. He took over Clarke & Simpson in 1975, which became David Sutton Cars.
In 1979, Jill’s daughter, whose name is not forthcoming, attempted to start her own rally career in the Fabergé Fiesta Challenge. She was eliminated in the preliminary rounds.Jill and David are still together, and live in Northamptonshire.

 (Photo by, and copyright of, Tony Gardiner) 

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