Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Paola della Chiesa

Marisa Zambrini and Paola della Chiesa, (first and second left), pose for photos with their team-mates in 1954

Paola della Chiesa mostly drove in rallies in Italy in the 1950s. She was associated most with the Lancia Aurelia, and was very successful in the women-only events of the time.

This Italian noblewoman, from Turin, competed both before and after World War II, often alongside her husband, Luigi. She began racing after her marriage, having been introduced to motorsport by her husband. Prior to this, she had not had much interest in cars.

They entered the 1938 Mille Miglia together, driving a Fiat 1100 Sport, but did not finish. Paola was acting as a navigator, with Luigi driving. Not long after this, motorsport in Europe ceased for World War II.

Once peace returned to Italy, it took a while for races and rallies to get going again. It was not long before Paola and Luigi were active once more. “Shortly after the War”, Luigi pushed Paola to enter a Concours d’Elegance. In 1949, the two entered the Coppa della Toscana, known as the “Little Mille Miglia”, together, and were thirteenth overall. The make of their car is not recorded, but it may have been a Cisitalia 202, which Paola is known to have driven. She and Maria Teresa de Filippis both entered this race, and earned much press attention, not all of it related to their driving. Some media sources have them as team-mates.

By 1951, she was driving solo. She entered the Coppa d’Oro delle Dolomiti, driving an Ermini Fiat 1100, but did not finish.

In 1952, she began racing a Lancia Aurelia, which would become a favoured car for her for the next few years. In May, she won the first edition of the Rallye Femminile Perla di Sanremo, a women-only event. Her car was a 2500cc Aurelia B20. It was not just all-female rallies she entered this year; she also drove in the Alpine Rally, in the Aurelia, but had to retire with brake failure, a rare disappointing experience with the car. Luigi was her navigator that year, and was apparently so shaken by his experiences that he did not volunteer again.

1953’s motorsport season began with another win, in the Paris-St. Raphaël women’s rally. This was the first win for an Italian driver in the event’s history. Once more, she was driving the Lancia Aurelia, which proved more reliable this time. That year, she registered for a second attempt at the Mille Miglia, sharing a Fiat 1100 with Yvonne Simon, but they did not make the start, for undisclosed reasons.

Later, in 1954, she drove a Lancia Aurelia again, in Italy. That year, she was second in class in the Aosta-Gran San Bernardo hillclimb. Paola claimed that hillclimbs were her best events. In the same car, she won the Santa Margherita-San Lorenzo climb, a women-only event. This made up for the slight disappointment of second places in both the Paris-St. Raphaël and Perla di Sanremo rallies. For the Sanremo rally, she was driving an Alfa Romeo 1900, for a change. Her navigator this year was Marisa Zambrini.

In the Aosta-Gran San Bernardo hillclimb in 1955, she was fifth in the over 2500cc class, in the Aurelia. She was also second in the Alghero-Scala Piccada women’s hillclimb, behind Gilberte Thirion in a Mercedes. In a 1991 interview, she rated Gilberte as one of her most accomplished rivals. Her last big event seems to have been the Perla di Sanremo rally, which she won for a third time, driving her faithful Aurelia.

After that, Paola stopped driving competitively, although she still retained her interest in motorsport. Luigi died in the mid-1950s, and it must have been hard for her to carry on without him, and his support. She also said that she did not particularly like the increasing professionalism of European motorsport; she had thoroughly enjoyed the vibrant social scene that surrounded the rallies of the time. Unlike some female drivers, she liked the special attention that winners of Coupes des Dames received. In 1992, she claimed to have won over a hundred of these trophies, and the assorted prizes of jewellery and other items that went with them.

(This post draws on a 1991 interview with Paola, conducted by Donatella Biffignandi of the National Motor Museum in Turin. The original Italian text can be found here.)

(Image from http://lanciamarino.it)

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