Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Marie-Léonie ("Albertine") Derancourt

Mme Derancourt, centre, 1929

Marie-Léonie Derancourt, who used the name “Albertine”, was a popular but not particularly successful French racer of the late 1920s and early 1930s.

In 1927, she entered the Grand Prix de la Marne in a Salmson, but did not finish. Earlier, she had also entered the Formula Libre race at the Grand Prix de l’ACF, and was fourth, and last classified finisher. This was her first entry in a Grand Prix, and although it was not a headline event, she was up against the likes of George Eyston and Louis Chiron. That summer, she was quite a busy racer. Her best confirmed result was a third place, from eight finishers, in a ladies’ handicap at Montlhéry, in August. She was driving the Salmson, and was only beaten by Elisabeth Junek and Charlotte Versigny.

Away from the Grand Prix scene, she had more success in the ladies’ races that became popular in Paris in the late 1920s. Driving her Salmson, she was one of the participants in the original Journée Féminine de l’Automobile in 1927. A little later, she won her class in the Paris-La Baule women’s rally, picking up the prize for 1100cc racing cars.

She later owned one of Elisabeth Junek's old Bugattis. In this car, she was eighth in a heat for the 1928 Bugatti Grand Prix. It was a Bugatti that she drove in the Paris-La Baule event, but it is unclear whether it was the same one. She was twelfth overall, and won the class for 2000cc sportscars.

In 1929, she drove a Bugatti T35, almost certainly the same car, in the Grand Prix de la Marne. She was fifth in the 2000cc class. Early in the season, she drove the Bugatti in the same class of the Circuit de l’Aisne, and the Bourgogne Grand Prix. These were all mixed events. In June, she is listed as a finisher in the Lyon Grand Prix, held at Quincieux, and was third in the 2000cc supercharged class. 

The latest motorsport activity that can be found for Madame Derancourt is in 1930. She drove her two-litre Bugatti in the Moroccan Automobile Club’s Grand Prix, held in French-ruled Morocco, in April. Among her rivals was Hellé-Nice.

She is sometimes referred to as “Albertine”, probably after her son, Albert, who drove a Salmson and a Bugatti as a daredevil act when he was a child. He was only five years old when he started, and he was billed as the youngest driver in the world. He was awarded an official driving license a year later, in 1921, and set a speed record at Montlhéry in 1922. His own driving career overlapped with his mother’s considerably. They may have contested the Paris-La Baule Rally together at some point; many sources claim that Albert won this event when he was eight, although it was not run until 1925, and was a women’s rally. At the Marne Grand Prix in 1927, in which Marie-Léonie raced, Albert did a demonstration run.

Marie-Léonie disappears from the public eye after 1930. Her son remained in the limelight for a while longer. It is unclear what she did for the rest of her life, or when she died.

(Image from http://pastouch.fr/category/circuit-de-gueux/cdg-autrement/)

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Paula Elstrek

Paula Elstrek is an Australian driver who is known for racing touring cars, as well as breaking records on four wheels.

Paula began racing cars in 1994, after a long international karting career, which lasted from 1978 to 1986. She moved into cars after a sabbatical from karting, during which she qualified as an electrician.

For the first couple of seasons, she stuck to sprints and hillclimbs, in a Formula Libre single-seater, a Pirahana. She was instantly competitive, winning the Victorian Sprint Championship, the GCC Hillclimb Championship and the Asphalt Championship. In 1994, she also tackled her first circuit race: the Winton 24 Hours, in which she drove a Ford Escort.

The following year, she won the Formula Libre class of the Australian hillclimb championship, and won her class at the Bathurst climb, finishing fifth overall.

Her first attempt at a circuit championship was the Mazda 121 Challenge, for female drivers, in 1996. She was among the leading drivers, winning three races, and finishing second in three more. She was an early leader in the championship, but was overhauled by Tania Gulson. 1996 was a busy year for Paula, in which she continued to excel at speed events. She won another Victorian Hillclimb title, but the biggest achievement of the year was probably her outright FTD and course record at the Rob Roy hillclimb. This year also saw her first overseas event, the Gurston Down hillclimb in the UK, in which she was second in class, and eighth overall.

After another year of testing and speed eventing, she raced in the Australian GT Production Car Championship, in a Ford Falcon run by Ross Palmer Motorsport. She was tenth in class C. As well as this, she was fourth in the OAMPS Insurance Classic enduro at Sandown, in a Ferrari F355. She shared the car with Perry Spiridis. Another highlight was a drive in a Mondeo in the Bathurst 1000, although she did not finish. This time, her co-drivers were Heidi O’Neil and Damien Digby.

1998 was characterised by variety for Paula: away from modern machinery, she was second in a Historic race, driving an Austin 7. Away from Australia, she drove a Proton in a 300km endurance race in Malaysia.
In 1999, she returned to production GT racing, in a Mazda RX-7. She was third in class B, after three class wins, at Winton and Oran Park. In addition to this, she drove a Maserati in the Bathurst 3 Hour Showroom Showdown. The car was a Ghibli Cup, shared with Matthew Coleman, but she did not finish, despite having qualified fourth. This was her first outing in Class A of the championship, and she found the Maserati harder to handle than the Mazda.

Later, she became quite famous for her involvement in land-speed record attempts. In 2000, she set a new Australian women’s record of 575 km/h, driving the jet-propelled Aussie Invader 3. The attempt took place at Gairdner Lake saltflats in South Australia. The aim had been to take Kitty O’Neill’s outright women’s record, but the weather intervened, and Paula only got one run in the car. In 2011, she was linked to the Bullet Project, another land speed record car, but it is unclear how far the project actually progressed. She competed on and off in drag racing until at least 2014.

(Image copyright News Corp Australia)

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Fabrizia Pons

Fabrizia Pons is Italian, and is best known as Michele Mouton’s navigator during the most successful part of her career, sitting beside her for all four of her rally wins. She is also a driver in her own right.

Even before she started rallying, she competed in motocross between 1971 and 1975, in Italy, starting off in the junior categories. She combined a motocross racing schedule with studying to be an architect. It was only a major accident that made her re-evaluate where she wanted to be in motorsport, and switch to rallying n 1976.

Her first rally car was a Group 1 Autobianchi A112, which she used in Italian events, including the Rally Ciocco, in which she was 19th. Her navigator was Gabriella Zappia. The pair also drove an Alfasud in the Sanremo Rally, finishing 29th overall. Among her rivals for the Coupe des Dames was Michele Mouton, in an Alpine-Renault, who went out with a broken radiator.

Fabrizia and Gabriella won the Italian ladies’ championship that year, which was no mean feat for a crew in their first year of competition.

For 1977, she changed to driving an Opel Kadett, still in Group 1. She and Anna Gatti took part in that year’s Sanremo Rally, but did not finish. They were more successful in Italian rallies, and defended her ladies’ title.

1978 was her best year in that car; her third attempt at Sanremo gave her a ninth place, making her one of two people to have scored world championship points in the same event as both driver and co-driver.
The Kadett was run by Conrero Squadra Corse, and Fabrizia earned herself another strong finish on the Targa Florio Rally, finishing fourteenth overall. They were behind sixth-placed Anna Cambiaghi, in a Lancia Stratos, but had accrued enough points for Fabrizia to take a third Italian ladies’ title.

This was her final full year as a driver. At the start of the 1979 season, she swapped seats and launched her career as a co-driver. She had done two Monte Carlo Rallies as a navigator, but she was now in the role full-time. By the end of the year, her navigation and organisational skills had helped Lucky Battistolli to two outright wins, in Austria and Germany.

When Michele Mouton was signed by Audi for the 1981 season, she was on the lookout for a new co-driver, having parted ways with Françoise Conconi, who had been her regular navigator for some years, and not quite clicking with Annie Arrii, her replacement. Fabrizia joined her for the Rally of Portugal, and began a five-year partnership that included four WRC wins, the FIA Ladies’ Trophy and the 1982 Halda Trophy for the best navigator.

After a disappointing season in the 1985 British championship, Fabrizia retired from full-time competition to have a family. Before her sabbatical, she had one more go at the steering wheel herself, driving an Audi Quattro in the Lady Rally dei Castelli Malatestiani, held on the island of Rimini in 1985. She was the winner, from Paola de Martini in a Ferrari.

Her career got going again in 1995, when she teamed up with Ari Vatanen at Ford, and she was back to winning ways in 1997, assisting Subaru driver Piero Liatti to victories in Monte Carlo and Portugal.

In 2008, she and Michele did the Rally of Otago together in a Ford Escort, finishing 35th. Prior to that, she was Jutta Kleinschmidt’s regular rally-raid navigator at Volkswagen, having done the same for Ari Vatanen.
In recent years, she has paired up again with Lucky Battistolli in the Italian Historic Championship, normally in a Lancia.

She is a member of the FIA’s committee on women in motorsport, and is also sought after by representatives from other sports for her organisational expertise. Teams and events she has supported include the New Zealand Olympic squad, and the European Rhythmic Gymnastics Championships. She now runs her own school for rally co-drivers.

(Image copyright Victor Patterson)

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Suzane Carvalho

Suzane Carvalho is a former winner of the South American Formula Three Championship (B class), in 1992.

She got quite a late start in motorsport, only taking it up in 1989 when she was 26. Previously, she had been an actress and model, starting out as a child model, and had achieved some fame and notoriety in her home country of Brazil.

Despite its unorthodox timescale, her racing career progressed in the normal way, beginning with karting, then junior single-seaters in the form of Formula 1600 in 1990. She did some of her race training in Canada, and also competed in Formula 2000 there.

She took her first steps in Formula 3 in 1991, with a part-season in the SudAm championship. In 1992, she contested the full SudAm F3 series for the first time, and won the B class on her first attempt.
As a result, she was invited to test a Larrousse Formula One car, but she did not have the funding to do so. This would have made her one of a very small and select group of women who have driven current F1 machinery.

She carried on in F3, although results are proving hard to find. Photos exist of her and Maria Cristina Rosito posing next to a Formula Chevrolet car in 1993, which suggests that they raced each other at some point that year. She did at least some of the SudAm championship in 1994, and one or more races in 1997. Throughout her single-seater career, she was usually short of money and 1992 was the only full F3 season she completed.

As well as F3, she took advantage of any opportunity to race. Between 1993 and 1997, she did four Mil Milhas races at Interlagos, with a best finish of third in 1993. She was driving a Stock Car-spec Opala. Her second attempt, in 1994, she was ninth, driving a Japamovel with a Brazilian-Japanese team. She sat the race out in 1995, but returned in 1996, driving an Aldee TTE prototype as part of an all-female team, with Delfina Frers and Marisa Panagopulo. They did not finish. In 1997, she drove the Aldee to eighth place, with Delfina Frers.

In 1995, she began racing touring cars seriously. She raced in the Copa de Damas women’s championship in Argentina, winning three times. However, her achievements were not fully recognised as she was not eligible for the championship, for some reason.

The following season, she tackled mixed competition, in the Carioca Touring Car Championship. Her first year in the series consisted of four races, three of which she won. Her first full season, in 1997, was not such an immediate success. She earned one pole position and was often near the front, but she had to contend with some very “physical” driving from her male rivals, and incurred some DNFs. Her car for this part of her career was usually a Nissan Sentra.

In 1998, she came to the UK to take part in Formula Palmer Audi and the Vauxhall Vectra Challenge. Her FPA season consisted of four races, and she managed to pick up a few points. She was 25th in the championship. That year’s winner was Justin Wilson.

Suzane’s own career highlight happened in 1999. She was invited to the USA to race in the Indy Lights Panamericana series, and was able to put together a budget for five races, mostly in Mexico. For the next year, she picked up sponsorship from UOL, and had a best finish of second.

Sadly, she did not get her big break in American oval racing, and returned to Brazil for the 2001 season. That year, she was a racewinner in the Campeonato Brasileiro Ford Fiesta Femenino, a women-only one-make series for the Ford Fiesta. She battled with Maria Cristina Rosito throughout the season, but Maria emerged as the victor.

Her last major competitive activity was four rounds of the Brazilian Clio Cup in 2002, although she did come out of retirement for a guest appearance in one round of the 2011 Sud-Am F3 championship. She did two races at Jacaperaguá, earning a class win and third, and a seventh and sixth place overall.

Since then, Suzane has worked on establishing her own driving school, for both driving and motorcycle riding. She also works as an automotive journalist and broadcaster, often testing new cars, on screen and in print.

(Image source unknown)

Monday, 5 December 2016

Christine Cole (Gibson)

Christine Cole, who also raced as Christine Gibson, was an Australian touring car veteran, whose career spanned three decades.

She took part in nine Bathurst 500/1000 races between 1968 and 1984. Her team-mates included Glenn Seton, Sandra Bennett and Marie-Claude Beaumont. She drove a variety of cars, including a Nissan Pulsar, Ford Falcon, Mini and Holden Monaro. Her first try at the event was in 1968, in a Mini. She was part of an all-girl team with Midge Whiteman, whose second time at Bathurst it was. This happened in only her second year of racing: she began in 1967, with a Mini.

Christine was from a family of racers, and it was not surprising that she got into the sport. An early boyfriend raced Minis, and lent her a car. Her first season was spent in a women’s championship based at Oran Park. She won every round of the championship apart from the first one, in which she was third.

Her second Hardie-Ferodo 500 was at the wheel of a Fiat 125, in another ladies’ team with Lynne Keefe. They did not finish. Christine later described how the small, light Fiat was pulled across the track in the wake of the bigger cars.

In 1970, she used one of the bigger cars herself, a Holden Torana. She and Sandra Bennett were a more accomplished thirteenth overall, driving for the Holden Dealer Team. The same driver pairing tackled the Sandown Three Hour 250, but it is not clear whether or not they finished.

She took a break in 1971; this year, she married fellow racer, Fred Gibson, returning as Christine Gibson.

A second ride in the 500 in a Torana in 1972, this time with Pat Peck as a team-mate, led to a DNF. The following year, she switched allegiance to Alfa Romeo, driving a GTV 2000 in the big endurance races. Christine and Sue Ransom did not finish the Hardie-Ferodo 500 or the Phillip Island 500.

She was then absent from Bathurst for a couple of seasons, partly due to a sabbatical from motorsport, and, for 1975 at least, to concentrate on the Australian Touring Car Championship. She was still “in” with the Alfa Romeo team, and drove the GTV to fifth overall in the series, with four class wins. This was her best result in the ATCC.

Away from Bathurst, she competed on and off in Australian Touring Cars, later, often for her husband Fred Gibson’s team. Her best season for this was 1975, when she was fifth overall after winning the 2000cc class four times and remaining a regular feature in the overall top ten. Her car was an Alfa Romeo GTV 2000. 

During her absence from the Hardie-Ferodo 500, the French driver, Marie-Claude Beaumont, had stolen her place as the premier female Bathurst racer. In 1975, she was sixth in the 500, driving an Alfa Romeo GTV 2000 with John Leffler. On Christine’s return to the 500 the following year, they teamed up, in an Alfa Romeo Alfetta GTAm, but sadly did not finish.

Christine retired from active competition for the rest of the 1970s, only to return in 1981. That year, she drove a King George Tavern Ford Falcon in endurance races, with Joe Moore. In spite of her lack of current seat time, she took her “top lady” honours back from Marie-Claude Beaumont, with a sixth place. The same driver pairing was tenth in the Hang Ten 400.

In 1983 and 1984, Christine was a works Nissan driver, alongside her husband, Fred. As part of the Australian Endurance Championship, she drove a Pulsar with Bob Muir in the 1983 500, but did not finish, due to a mainshaft failure. She did not finish the Sandown round of the AEC either,

The same year, she took part in some races in the AMSCAR championship, driving a Bluebird.

She used the Pulsar for both series in 1984, and managed eleventh overall in AMSCAR. She drove in the 500 again with the experienced Glenn Seton, did not finish, due to a broken half-shaft.

1984 was her last season of competition. She has remained active in Australian motorsport, as an administrator and organiser, and is still remembered as the First Lady of Bathurst.

(Image copyright News Corp Australia)

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Mary Handley-Page

Mary in a Sunbeam Rapier

Mary Handley-Page was one of a group of British female drivers who were part of works teams for British manufacturers in the 1950s and 1960s.

Her family was involved in engineering; her father, Frederick Handley-Page, gave his name to a series of aircraft, and his company built the famous Halifax Bomber. Mary was his youngest daughter, born in 1923 and originally christened Patricia.

As a girl and young woman, she rode horses and hunted to hounds. Equestrianism has proved to be a surprisingly good training for rally drivers, the best example being Pat Moss. When Mary was just eight, she was awarded a prize in the Stanmore Gymkhana for "Trotting". The cup was awarded by Amy Johnson, the pilot. She was at the height of her fame and also a rally driver herself.

Her first major appearance seems to have been the 1956 RAC Rally, driving a Rover. Her co-driver was Jo Ashfield. They were second in the Ladies’ standings. The pair rallied together again on the Tulip Rally, sitting in the opposite seats. The car was a Standard, and they were 169th overall.

She was involved with the social and organisational side of motorsport, too. The 1957 Monte Carlo Rally Ball, a charity event, was put on by a committee including Mary and Stirling Moss. The ball's President was Sheila van Damm. Mary and Sheila were friends who sometimes drove together.

Mary returned to the Tulip Rally in 1957, at the wheel of a Sunbeam Mark III. She was back in the driver’s seat, with Francoise Wilton Clarke on the maps. They finished, in 134th place. 

She was part of the works Sunbeam team from 1958 to 1960, driving one for their ladies’ team, with other female drivers. For the 1958 Monte Carlo Rally, she was the leader of a three-woman Sunbeam team, with Lola Grounds and Doreen Reece. Mary and Lola were a good team. As a duo, they were 21st in the 1958 Tulip Rally, in a Rapier. Mary was then sixteenth in the Alpine Rally in the summer.

Lola had moved to the Ford team for 1959, and Mary had a new co-driver in Daphne Freeman, who had got into motorsport through her work as Stirling Moss’s secretary. The new pairing entered the Monte, with Joyce Howard as a third driver, but had an accident and could not finish. As a two-woman team, Mary and Daphne were 39th in the Tulip Rally, again in a Sunbeam Rapier.

Away from rallying proper, Mary was part of a team of female Rootes Group drivers sent to prove to the Belgian motorsport authorities that a Hillman Minx was able to manage 15,000 miles of bad Belgian pavé. Averaging 40mph, the team covered the distance in three weeks during the Rallye des Routes Pavées. The team included Nancy Mitchell, Sheila van Damm, Patricia Ozanne and Francoise Clarke. They were said to be responsible for a sharp spike in continental Hillman Minx sales.

At the beginning of 1960, Mary went back to the co-driver’s seat for the Monte, assisting Jimmy Ray to eleventh place. It was quite unusual for her to be part of a mixed team. With a new co-driver again, Nesta Gilmour, she finished 105th in the Tulip Rally, in a Rapier. The Alpine Rally was another of her favoured events, and she was 27th in 1960, co-driven by Patricia Ozanne.

She continued to drive private Sunbeams in 1961, including a Rapier on the Monte Carlo Rally, with Pauline Mayman and Daphne Freeman. They had been running well, but a puncture prevented them from claiming a penalty-free run. An unusual part of their rally plan was the delivery of smoked salmon to Prince Rainier and Princess Grace. The fish had come from a manufacturer in their start city of Stockholm. It is unclear whether the delicacy reached its intended recipient. Mary and Pauline drove the same car on that year’s Tulip Rally, and were 43rd overall.

For the 1962 Monte, she co-drove for Patricia Ozanne, in a Mini, which Patricia had bought from the works BMC team the previous year. They started from Warsaw, but do not appear to have finished. This was Mary’s last major rally.

She died in 1992.

(Image copyright alamy.com)

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Cora Schumacher

Cora in 2005

Cora Schumacher has raced in a number of one-make series in Germany. At one point, she was the highest-paid female racing driver in the world.

Cora came into motorsport quite late. She married Ralf Schumacher, then a Formula One driver, in 2001. Her own racing career began in 2004, at the wheel of a BMW Mini.

For her debut, she was part of the celebrity team in the Mini Challenge in Germany, with four other drivers who were all TV presenters. She qualified in 22nd place out of 24 for her first race, at Lausitz, and finished in 18th. Her part-season that year gave her a 27th place. Many had been rather disparaging about her going racing, given her “F1 WAG” status and former work as a model, but she kept out of trouble and surprised a few people. One of her most vocal critics was former DTM racer, Ellen Lohr, who made remarks about Cora’s breast implants adding weight to the car.

She surprised even more onlookers in 2005, when she returned to the Mini Challenge and scored her first top ten, and eighth place. Unfortunately, her season was curtailed by a nasty accident, which caused her to sit out much of it. She was 34th in the championship.

After that, she signed up for the 2006 SEAT Leon Supercopa alongside Christina Surer, in a deal that was said to make her the highest-paid woman driver in the world, and the fourth highest-paid German driver, according to the German press. This was billed as the first step on the way to a drive in the DTM. Cora and Christina shared the car, and Cora ended up only racing in two of the rounds.

After her short run in the Supercopa, she took a break from motorsport. In 2010, she returned to the MINI Challenge, with Lechner Racing, for the second half of the season. Her best finish was thirteenth, at Hockenheim, and she was 19th overall.

Her finishing positions improved a little in 2011, and she was more consistent. She just missed the top ten on three occasions, all at Hockenheim, finishing eleventh each time. She was 14th overall.

In 2012, she drove in the Dubai 24 Hours in a MINI, winning class A2. She and her four team-mates were 25th overall. She also spent some time testing a Chevrolet Camaro GT3 car. For most of the season, she raced in the MINI Trophy, scoring six top-ten finishes, the best being an eighth at the Red Bull Ring. This was good for 15th in the championship.

Another break from motorsport followed, during which time she did more modelling, appeared on the German version of Strictly Come Dancing (in 2015) and split up with Ralf Schumacher. They were divorced in 2015.

In 2016, she made a comeback, and signed up for the DTC (Deutsche Tourenwagen Cup), racing a Mini in the 1600 Production class. She joined the championship for the second half of the season, and scored two class seconds in her first races, at the Red Bull Ring. She was also third at the Nürburgring, and was sixth overall in class.

Cora’s racing plans included the 2017 Dubai 24 Hours, in an Audi TT, but she pulled out of the race with an injury. She recovered in time for the third round of the GT4 European Cup, in which she drove a Reiter KTM X-Bow. She was 13th in the Amateur class of the Northern series, with a debut podium position at Brands Hatch. She was third. Driving for the Besagroup team, she entered the Catalunya round of the Southern series in a Porsche Cayman, and was ninth. 

There was more action with Besagroup in 2018. Cora was part of a five-driver team for the Dubai 24 Hours, driving a Mercedes AMG GT. They were 33rd overall and fourth in the GT4 class.

Later in the year, she was part of the team again for the GT4 Central European Cup rounds at the Red Bull Ring and the Nurburgring. She and Franjo Kovacs picked up two fifths, a sixth and a seventh place.

(Image from motorsport.com)

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Joan La Costa

Joan LaCosta was a flamboyant French driver (apparently), mostly noted as a daredevil and speed triallist in the USA in the 1920s. Her usual car seems to have been a Miller special.

Joan’s origins are obscure. She appears in the mid-1920s, and by 1925, was proclaimed as the “women’s international champion”, as reported in the Santa Cruz Evening News. The Danville Bee, a Virginia newspaper, elaborated on this, claiming that she won her title in a women’s championship meeting at Indianapolis that year. No details of such a meeting are forthcoming, and Indianapolis was not a welcoming venue to women drivers. The event must have been held somewhere else. Reports from this time suggest that she was most active in Florida. Later, she would claim to have been racing on dirt tracks since about 1923, but this is proving hard to confirm.

There is more concrete evidence of one of the most dramatic incidents of her short career, from 1926. Whilst practicing for a speed record run on Daytona Beach in April, her car caught fire, travelling at about 130mph. The cause of the fire was a broken fuel line. A photographer was on hand to capture Joan leaping from the car, as she steered it into the sea in an attempt to douse the flames. She was not seriously hurt. Only a few days later, she made the record run in a different car, and set a series of new female records, driving at 138mph. The dramatic photos were reprinted in newspapers all across the United States.

Later in the year, she made another record run at Jacksonville beach, also in Florida. This time, she got up to 145mph, smashing her own record. The car was a Miller Special, although not much detail about it is available.

Her talents did not stop with record-breaking. In 1926, Joan entered a match race on a half-mile dirt track, as part of an IMCA (International Motor Competition Association) event in Toronto, Canada. IMCA was the only sanctioning body that allowed women to race at all. She won, beating Louis Disbrow. The two had considerable history, having raced against each other twice, in Canada and Mississippi. The same year as their Toronto battle, Disbrow apparently led a protest against Joan’s inclusion in a Lakewood starting grid. His objection was overturned, partly because her speed-trial times proved that she was faster than several of the male entrants.

IMCA’s leading promoter of the time was J. Alex Sloan, who believed in motor racing as spectacle, and used several woman drivers to add controversy and a touch of glamour to IMCA meetings. At the same time as he was promoting Joan, he was also using Elfrieda Mais, usually as a stunt performer, although she did race occasionally. The row with Disbrow must have had him rubbing his hands together with glee. Disbrow’s position on female drivers was also rather puzzling; his own career had been launched in the 1900s, as a riding mechanic to Joan Newton Cuneo, the first notable American female racer.

Her activities in 1927 are unclear. Her name does not appear on any published start lists for IMCA meetings, but she may well have continued to race at fairgrounds and horse-racing tracks.

In 1928, Joan won a women’s race in Milwaukee, but this was one of her last triumphs. At the end of the year, she announced her intention to retire and take up flying.

This did not happen, although she continued to appear in the news due to a conviction for robbery in 1929. She attempted to steal jewellery from another woman, using a replica gun in a hold-up situation. In defence, she claimed that she had lost “all of her money” at a horse race, and was unemployed. During her court appearance, she fainted and burst into tears of remorse.

By 1931, she had married a meat salesman called Joseph Maurer. At the time, she worked in the offices of a stationery firm, and pronounced herself “through” with both motor racing and aviation.

Joan LaCosta was almost certainly not her birth name. Marriage records show that Joseph Maurer married a woman named Marion Martins in 1931. There was a racing driver named Marion Martin or Martins active in Canada in the summer of 1925, just before Joan LaCosta appeared. She raced against Elfrieda Mais three times, winning once, over a mile, at Regina. Her car was a Frontenac-Ford. She also took part in open races at Edmonton, and set a speed record at Toronto. At the Canadian National exhibition at Toronto the following year, Joan LaCosta makes her confirmed debut. On her arrest for robbery, she was named as Marion Carver. Reports of her trial mention parents living in Memphis, and a former husband named Waldo Martins.

Her original nationality is not clear; she was probably not French, but American or perhaps Canadian. Given the showmanly nature of IMCA’s promoted events, it is not completely surprising that some drivers hid behind noms de course, or exaggerated their origins to make themselves stand out. There was perhaps an element of hiding from a disapproving family or a grudging husband.

She and Maurer had children at some point. Her life after her marriage was spent as a private individual.

(Image source unknown)

Sunday, 6 November 2016

The Women's Automobile and Sports Association

A WASA car badge, belonging to motorcyclist Marjorie Cottle

The Women’s Automobile and Sports Association was one of the foremost women’s motor clubs in Britain between the world wars, and the one with the greatest emphasis on competition.

It was founded in 1927 by a group of female motor enthusiasts, encouraged by their experiences in the Wood Green & District MC women-only trial, held in January of that year. The first committee was elected in 1929: the Marchioness of Carisbrooke, Irene Mountbatten, was the first President, assisted by vice-presidents, Lady Ermine Elibank, Lady Iris Capell, and Gabrielle Borthwick. Iris Capell was a rally and trial driver of some skill, and Gabrielle Borthwick had run her own women-only motor garage. The club had its own garage, and offered a suite of hotel rooms for members' use. Among the other early members was Katherine Martin, Aston Martin and Riley racer and wife of Lionel Martin. She joined in 1928. Amy Johnson, the aircraft pilot, was another, along with Mary Bruce. Mary was brought in as "chief motor advisor".

The club’s first event was in 1929. It was a night running of the Exeter Trial, an established trial route usually run by the MCC. The route was 300 miles long, and included three “observed sections”: two hillclimbs and a starting and stopping test. Mary Bruce acted as Clerk of the Course. Thirty-eight cars took the start, with seventeen of those being driven by all-female crews. The drivers included Paddie Naismith in a Ballot, Patricia McOstrich in an Alvis, Victoria Worsley and Mrs Dobson in their MG Midgets, Lady Iris Capell in an Alvis and future RAC Rally winner, Kitty Brunell, in a Talbot.

The club's other project in 1929 was led by Mary Bruce. She had recruited a small team of women to act as motorcycle road scouts, in the style of the AA's own scouts and the RAC's guides. At least two women were recruited, and wore uniforms designed by Mary. This idea was fairly short-lived, despite extensive publicity. Much of this media coverage was disapproving.

In 1930, the club held its own Land’s End Trial, another classic MCC route. Twenty-five drivers took part. Among them were Brooklands stalwarts like Elsie Wisdom, in a Frazer Nash, and Irene Schwedler in her MG Midget. Kitty Brunell was another entrant, as was Florence Scudamore in a Triumph, and founder member Lilian Roper in her AC. It is not recorded who won the event, but Miss Roper only just managed to finish, due to engine trouble. Lilian was one of the senior members of the club, who had been active in motorsport since before WWI and had previously been the Treasurer of another Ladies’ Motor Club.

Members elected to the Club's executive committee came from the worlds of rallying and motor racing, but also motorcycling, powerboat racing, aviation and sports writing. It organised gala evenings for both Amy Johnson and Mary Bruce, in celebration of their flying achievements. Zoe Livesey was one of the representatives of motor boating. Betty and Nancy Debenham stood for both motorcycling and sports journalism.

As well as trials and other motoring events, WASA held at least two golf championships, in 1931 and 1932. They attracted female professionals as well as club members.

WASA members would go on to distinguish themselves in other trials. Florence Scudamore won the Ladies’ Prize in the 1931 London-Gloucester Trial, in her Triumph, and Joan Weekes succeeded her as the ladies’ champion in 1932, driving a Ford. After 1932, Florence Scudamore usually drove a Singer, supported by the works team.

Margaret Allan, who was a race-winner at Brooklands and drove at Le Mans, began her career in WASA trials, using her parents’ big Lagonda. She had watched one of the events as a spectator, and was initially unimpressed with the standard of driving. This spurred her on to have a go herself, as she believed she could win.

Lord Wakefield presented WASA with a trophy in 1930. This was awarded between 1932 and 1938, for the club member judged to have performed the best over the year. The trophy was awarded for penalty-free runs in the Monte Carlo Rally (Mrs Montague-Johnstone in 1932) or for Brooklands heroics (Mrs Wood, 1938), or for the highest scores in the club’s own trials. Mrs Wood kept hold of the trophy during the war, and it was she that gave it to the British Women Racing Drivers’ Club in 1973. It is now awarded for the most meritorious performance for a woman in motorsport during the year, if warranted.

By 1932, WASA was accepted as a bona fide motor club, and was invited to take part in the Inter-Club Meeting at Brooklands. Grace Hedges and Irene Schwedler upheld the honour of the club by taking first and third place in the Sports Long Handicap.

The same year, WASA ran a one-lap handicap race at Brooklands, as part of the Guy's Gala, a benefit for Guy's Hospital. Thirteen women took part. Joan Chetwynd was the winner in an MG, followed by Florence Scudamore in a Triumph, and Miss E Wheler in a Delage. Several WASA members took part in the Duchess of York's ladies' race at the same meeting, and in the Hazard Handicap. Iris Capell and Morna Vaughan sat on the Gala's Ladies' Committee.

The club carried on organising its own trials, as well as social events. A Cotswold Trial was held at least twice, in 1933 and 1937, as well as a WASA “Day in the Hills” in 1934, which ran in the Chilterns. Margaret Allan, Doreen Evans, Florence Scudamore and Morna Vaughan were among the winners of First Class Awards in the trial, which was also open to male drivers.

As well as trials for established drivers, WASA organised at least one "have a go" event aimed at encouraging more women to take part. A "Test Run for Good Drivers" was run in 1936, consisting of driving tests and a hillclimb at Hustwood Hill. It was won by Mrs. A Wynne in an Austin 10.

The year before, in 1935, the club sponsored an endurance record run by one of its members, who drove to Cape Town in South Africa. Phil Paddon, from Devon, drove across the Atlas Mountains in the course of her journey. Her progress was followed by the newspapers. This run was an advance survey for a planned event called the "Algiers-Rand Trail", which offered ten thousand pounds to the first finisher. 

The 1937 Cotswold Trial was a mixed affair. Frazer Nash cars predominated, with five of the awards given to Frazer Nash drivers. Two of these were for Midge Wilby and Miss E.V. Watson in the team trophy, and Miss Watson also won the Iris Capell Trophy, donated by the founding Lady member. Midge Wilby earned a First Class Award in the trial.

Motorsport ceased for the duration of WWII. After the war ended in 1945, WASA did not regroup. Some of its members, including Morna Vaughan and Irene Schwedler (now known as Charlotte Sadler), continued to race and rally for some time. At least one other all-female motor club was formed, but it did not last. The closest parallel to WASA today is the British Women Racing Drivers’ Club, founded in the 1960s, which keeps a link to WASA through the Wakefield Trophy.

(Image from http://www.hvauctions.com/)

Monday, 31 October 2016

Jacquie Bond-Smith

Jacquie in the Marcos in 1967

Jacquie Bond-Smith started in club motorsport in her father's car, a “Wavendon Wombat” special, in 1960. She was then known as Jacquie Cook. The Wombat was an 1172cc clubman’s car built by her father, Arthur Cook. Results for Jacquie in this car are proving tough to track down. Both she and her sister, Joey, raced it on occasion.

Some time in the early 1960s, she married John Bond-Smith, a racer and businessman. At the same time, she seems to have made her way up through the club racing ranks, and was awarded the Chris Bristow Trophy by the BRDC in 1964, in recognition of “the most promising performance at Silverstone.” This may well have been in a Ford Cortina, or possibly a Lotus single-seater.

She definitely did race a Cortina in 1965, a Lotus model. She drove it in some rounds of the BSCC, and secured a best finish of tenth at Snetterton, followed by seventeenth place in the St Marys Trophy at Goodwood. For the next round, she drove a Ford Galaxie, at Silverstone, but did not finish. It was her only BSCC outing of the year in that car, although she did race it in the European Touring Car Championship. In August, she was thirteenth in the Snetterton 500km, winning her class.

In club races, she used a Lotus Elan. In this car, she was third in a GT race at Silverstone in October, winning her class.

In 1966, she returned to sportscar racing, campaigning a Lotus 23 in British club races. She was twelfth in one race at Silverstone, just behind sister Joey in the Wombat.

Jacquie’s big project for 1967 was the FLIRT all-girl racing team. FLIRT stood for “First Ladies International Racing Team”, and it was made up of Jacquie and Joey, plus Jacqui Smith, another young driver who had had some success in British club events in a Hillman Imp. Their car was a Mini Marcos, supplied by the Marcos factory. The team picked up quite a lot of publicity, with a Pathé film being made of the three of them testing at Castle Combe.

FLIRT made three appearances in the World Manufacturers’ Championship in Europe. Jacquie and Joey were the chosen drivers. They did not finish the Nürburgring 1000km due to engine problems, but they got to the end of the Mugello Grand Prix, in 37th place. Later in the season, Jacquie drove the Nürburgring 500km solo, and was 21st overall, fourth in class. Joey drove a sister car, but did not finish. The FLIRT team may well have done some more British races, but the results are proving elusive.

As well as her FLIRT activities, Jacquie raced in the British Sportscar Championship. She was seventeenth in the Silverstone round, in a Porsche 904, and may also have raced a Ferrari 250LM belonging to her husband.

She disappears from the entry lists at the end of 1967. Not long after, her marriage broke up. After her racing career ended, she adopted horseriding as her sport of choice.

 (Image from www.minimarcos.org.uk)

Friday, 28 October 2016

Renee Gracie

Renee in 2016

Renee Gracie currently races in V8 Supercars in Australia.

She was quite sporty from an early age. In common with many other speedqueens, she was initially drawn towards horses. She only got interested in motorsport after trying karting on holiday, in 2008.

She began her senior career in 2012, aged 17, in Aussie Racing Cars, after three years of karting. She drove a Yamaha-engined Commodore in four rounds.

In 2013, she entered the Australian Porsche Carerra Cup, a first for a female driver. She was supported by the “Cool Driver” youth development programme run by Fujitsu, who sponsored her, and had been supporting her for the last two years. In her first season, she held her own in a large field (the winner was Craig Baird), and was 19th overall.

In 2014, she had a second season in the Porsche Cup. She got into the top ten five times, and had a best finish of sixth, at Phillip Island. She was 15th overall. In addition to this, she was one of only two drivers to have a 100% finishing record, the other being Craig Baird.

In 2015, she moved into V8 Supercars, driving a Ford Falcon for Paul Morris’s team, in the Dunlop development series. Her best finish was twelfth, at Townsville. Towards the end of the season, she did improve: her best meeting overall was the last one, at Sydney Motorsport Park, where she was thirteenth and fourteenth.

She also gained a lot of attention for her entry into the Bathurst 1000 with Simona de Silvestro, the first all-female team for many years. The team was run by Prodrive Australia, and they were 21st in their "Supergirls" Ford Falcon, after an accident by Renee lost them a lot of time.   

A second season in the Dunlop series followed in 2016, still with Paul Morris Motorsport and driving the Falcon. She repeated her twelfth place best-finish at Adelaide and Sandown. It was another challenging season, but she was a steady finisher, and was 21st in the championship, just behind the other female driver in the series, Chelsea Angelo in her Dragon Racing Holden Commodore. Her car was outclassed by the newer models on the grid and it was hard to keep on the pace. Before the end of the season, Renee made the decision to leave Paul Morris Motorsport, in order to find a new deal and concentrate on her wildcard entry into the Bathurst 1000.

Renee teamed up once more with Simona de Silvestro for the Bathurst 1000. This time, they were driving a Nissan Altima for the Australian Nissan team. They raced as the “Harvey Norman Supergirls”, and were fourteenth overall.  Their race was free of major incident in a race of high attrition.

Renee’s long-term aim is to compete full-time as a professional driver. In 2017, she raced in the Super2 category of the Supercar Dunlop Series, for the Dragon Motor Racing team. She found it rather hard-going and was 23rd overall, with a best finish of fourteenth at Adelaide. Her car was a Holden VF Commodore.

(Image from http://www.speedcafe.com/)

Monday, 24 October 2016

Ivy Cummings

Ivy and friend at Gaillon, 1921

Ivy Cummings is most famous for being the youngest person ever to lap Brooklands, aged twelve, in 1913. She became a successful racing driver as an adult, and particularly excelled at hillclimbing.

According to the story, Ivy and her father had driven down to Brooklands in her father’s SCAR touring car. While his back was turned, watching the flying from the airfield, the pre-teen Ivy drove off in the car, and got onto the track. She was driving surprisingly quickly, and resisted being caught. She was only apprehended when the car developed a puncture, and she hurt her hand trying to jack it up.

There may have been some exaggeration going on with this story, which has become something of a Brooklands legend, but it certainly started somewhere. No date is ever given for when it happened, but it has remained remarkably consistent over the years. Ivy’s age is often quoted as being eleven at the time, but she was born in 1900, so she was twelve or thirteen.

Just a few years later, during the First World War, Ivy was driving around in her own car, a Peugeot. She helped out at a convalescent home for injured soldiers, and kept their spirits up by taking them out for drives, as well as taking her mother and grandmother on errands.

She started her legitimate racing career after World War I, possibly as early as 1919. In 1921, she raced a Coupe de l’Auto Sunbeam 12/16 in France. It is said that she won a race, possibly on sand, but further details are rather hazy. Pictures from that year show her posing in the car at Gaillon, which ties in with contemporary reports of her entering the hillclimb there, driving a 130hp car.

She won the 1922 Duke of York Long Distance Handicap in the Coupe de l'Auto Sunbeam. Shortly after, she drove well in the Sunbeam in the Car Speed Championship, finishing third in the Essex Senior Short Handicap, and second in the Essex Junior Long Handicap. 

In June 1923, she won a Bexhill speed trial in a Bugatti. Further details about this car are not forthcoming. In September, a second speed trial was held at Bexhill, over a mile. Ivy won this event, too. Her car on this occasion was the famous 5000cc 1913 Bugatti, “Black Bess”, as named by Ivy. In March, she had driven “Bess” in the Kop Hill climb, in Essex.

In 1925, she won her class in the Skegness Speed Trials in this car. Ivy was not the only female driver; Cecil Christie was there with her Vauxhall, and the two seem to become friends. Reports in Motor Sport suggested that this would be Ivy’s last event before marrying, but this does not seem to have transpired just yet.

In between, Ivy also raced the GN “Akela”, normally in hillclimbs. She won her class in the South Harting climb, organised by the Surbiton Motor Club. In the Arundell Speed Trial, which, like the South Harting event, was run over a half-mile course, she also won the 1500cc class, finishing just four-tenths of a second behind the winner, Woolf Barnato in a Hispano-Suiza. The GN appeared at the Spread Eagle Hill climb, the Brighton Speed Trials and the Herne Bay Speed Trails that year. Akela was sold on at the end of the season. For the Aston Clinton hillclimb, she drove the Bugatti instead.

In 1926, she raced the Bugatti in France. She entered the Grand Prix de Boulogne, run on sand, and led for the first three laps, but rolled her car into a ditch and did not finish. After this mishap, she is reported to have telephoned her father, to tell him that she was all right. Motor racing was very much a family thing for Ivy, who sometimes had her mother in the car with her, as her riding mechanic. She had also taken a Frazer Nash along, which she used in the speed trial.

Back in England, she raced again on the sand at Southport, in a Frazer Nash, with Cecil Christie. In June, she was back at Brooklands for the JCC High Speed Trial.

After 1926, she competed much less frequently. She drove a Riley in the JCC Half Day Trial, which seems to have been her last event.

Ivy married a radiologist and this put an end to her racing career. She died in 1971.

(Image from http://gallica.bnf.fr/)

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Sophia Flörsch

Sophia Flörsch is a German driver who began racing in the UK in 2015. She is one of the most talked-about and highly-rated female drivers of the past few years.

Her senior debut followed a six-year karting career, which included two championship wins: the ADAC Kart Bundeslauf Bambini B title in 2009, and the 2010 60cc Easykart European Grand Finals. She was picked up by the Red Bull talent scouts, and although she is not an official Red Bull junior team member, she is still associated with them.

She took part in the Ginetta Junior championship in 2015, and was one of the younger drivers in the series, aged fourteen. Despite her age and inexperience, she was one of the fastest drivers in the series, winning twice at Thruxton. She was the youngest driver to win a Ginetta Junior race. After Thruxton, she was second at Croft. Her season had built slowly, from a fifth at Brands Hatch. Observers from the media and teams sat up and took note.

 In a somewhat controversial decision, she left the championship after five rounds, in order to conserve money and to train for a season in Formula 4 in 2016. Single-seaters had always been her ultimate goal, but she was unable to start racing them until she was fifteen.

She returned to Germany, and duly entered the ADAC Formula 4 series, with the Motopark team. She was only just fifteen.

It was a tough year. The season started well enough, with a ninth place at Oschersleben, rising to fifth in the third race. After the first break of the season, Sophia’s lack of testing time started to show, and her results slipped. Other, older drivers working with better-funded teams were able to devote time to testing; Sophia had to take her final school exams instead. The team also had problems with strategy, often involving tyres, which were linked to the lack of testing time, and therefore experience of new tyres. She battled into the top ten on three more occasions, at Oschersleben, Red Bull Ring and the Nürburgring, but too many other races were marred by emergency pit stops, small accidents, poor starts and race plans that did not pay off.

Towards the end of the year, she adjusted her expectations to finishing the season, and learning as much as she could. F4 had been intended as a one-year springboard to Formula 3, but another season was needed for Sophia to prove what she was really capable of. She was 19th in the championship.

She got her second season in 2017, driving for Mucke Motorsport. It was a double attack on both the German and Italian F4 championships. In the Italian series, she only did a part-season, but became a solid top-ten finisher quite early. In May, she earned her best result: a fifth at Adria.

The ADAC championship was a different story. Sophia continued to find it hard going in the early part of the season. By the Lausitz rounds in May, she was sneaking into the top ten, but she could not find consistency. It took until the end of the season for her to click with the car, when she managed third spots at Sachsenring and Hockenheim. She had two fastest laps at Hockenheim and would have had another podium had she not been disqualified. This was not her first brush with the Clerk of the Course either; she was fined 20,000 Euros for sharing unauthorised footage earlier in the year of her almost collided with an errant course car that suddenly appeared on track.

She was 13th in the championship.

In 2018, she moved up to the FIA European Formula 3 Championship with Van Amersfoot Racing. It was a late deal so she had no time for testing. Towards the end of the year, she was clearly learning the ropes; she picked up her first top-ten finish at the Red Bull Ring in September.

In November, she went to Macau with VAR and impressed onlookers with her qualifying pace. However, her race proper was ended by a serious accident. Her car collided with a slower car and took off over its wheels, coming to rest in a photography bunker. Sophia suffered a broken vertebra and needed surgery. A small number of photographers and marshals was also injured.

She intends to progress up the single-seater career ladder, with the ultimate aim of a Formula One race seat. VAR ran her for another season in F3 in 2019; the team intended to contest the Formula European Masters series, but switched to the F3 Regional European Championship after the FEM was cancelled. This left Sophia and VAR on the back foot, although she had a solid if unspectacular year. Her best finishes were two fourth places at the Hungaroring and Imola and she was sometimes caught up in accidents that were not of her causing. She was seventh in the championship.

Later in the year, she tested an FIA F3 car with HWA Racelab. The team ran her on her return to Macau in November, but she did not finish.

(Image copyright Alexander Trienitz)

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Female Single-Seater Drivers Around the World: Canada

Ashley Taws

Female drivers have been a feature of the Canadian single-seater scene since the 1970s. Formula Ford has been particularly popular. Louise Roberge now has her own post.

Amy Castell – began racing Formula Ford 1600 in Canada in 2012, at the age of sixteen. She was the youngest driver on the grid, and she was instantly competitive, despite driving a 40-year-old Zink Z10 car. Her best finish of the season was third, at Calabogie Motorsports Park. Later that season, she had a big accident and had to take some time off, but she came back in 2013, about half-way through the season. Since then, she has raced a 1990 Reynard SF90. In 2014, she won her first race, at Honda Indy, and was third in the Toyo Tires FF1600 championship. In 2015, she competed in the B Class of the Canadian F1600 Championship Series. She managed four podium finishes – one second and three third – and was third in the championship. 

Molly Elliott – Canadian driver who raced single-seaters in her home country in 1986. She competed in both Formula Ford and Formula Vee. Formula Ford 2000 was her most successful series, and she was ninth in the Canadian championship. Molly’s later activities are not well-documented, but she was still racing in Formula Ford in Canada in 1991. She was 20th in the championship, with a best finish of eighth, at Mosport. 

Megan Gilkes - a leading name in Canadian Formula 1200 since 2017. She has picked up wins in both of her seasons in the championship and was runner-up in 2018. Her experiences in larger-capacity cars have not been quite as successful, but she has raced both Formula 2000 in Canada and Formula Vee in Brazil. In 2019, she was announced as one of the 18 drivers selected for the women-only W Series and shortly after that, began competing in the F3 Americas championship. She was one of the weaker drivers in the W Series and was substituted for one race, in an unpopular move by W management. Her only real highlight was her win in the Assen reverse-grid race, which was not part of the championship. She ran better in US F3, picking up one ninth place at Pittsburgh. She also started the Viriginia round but crashed in the first race. Back in a Van Diemen F2000, she did a couple of races in the US championship, finishing seventh at Road Atlanta.

Caitlin Johnston – races in Formula Ford 1600 in Canada. Her first season was in 2007, after she won a senior karting championship.Her best year has probably been 2010, when she was third outright in the Formula Ford Ontario Championship, with two runner-up spots at Mosport as her best finishes. That year, she also competed in three rounds of the NASCAR Canadian Tyre Series. Periodically, she has raced in the US as well as Canada, and has tried 2000cc Formula Ford as well as 1600. After a couple of quieter years, she was fourth in the 2014 F1600 championship, earning one podium position and a start from pole. She has been much less active since then. 

Patricia Smith – raced in Formula B in Canada for a part-season in 1973. Her car was a Ford-engined March. She was a rival of Linda Wilson. That year, she was 23rd in the championship. She scored at least one finish, a seventeenth place at the Sanair circuit in Quebec. Patricia was from Montreal herself, and was sponsored by PS Transport, which looks to have been a family firm.

Carol Soucy - Canadian driver from Quebec, who raced in Toyota Formula Atlantic in 1997. She was 33rd overall in the championship, having entered three races. Her best finish was thirteenth, at Trois-Rivieres. She did not finish the other two races. In 2002, she did at least a part-season in Formula Ford in Canada. Prior to her Atlantic exploits, she had also raced in Formula Ford in 1996.

Ashley Taws - successful young Canadian Formula Ford driver between 2000 and 2002, recognisable for her pink, "Barbie"-sponsored car. She was a race-winner at 1200cc level and scored seconds and thirds in her one season of 1600cc competition. In only her first season, she won two races, and she was second in the championship in 2001. She moved up to the more competitive 1600cc class in 2002. Her career was almost ended by a serious road traffic accident at the end of 2002. She only returned to motorsport full-time in 2007, in a BMW, and later, a CASCAR stock car. Although she showed promise, finishing second in only her third CASCAR race, she did not take to oval racing and quit in 2009. She is now pursuing a business career.

Linda Wilson – Canadian driver who raced in single-seaters in the 1970s. She took part in Formula B in 1972 and 1973, driving for the Fergusson-Wilson team. Her car was a Chevron B20. She scored at least one fifteenth place at the Sanair circuit in 1973, one of six races in Formula B that she did that year. She was seventeenth in the championship.

(Image from http://www.motorsport.com/)

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Monique Proulx

Monique with the BMW 2002

Monique Proulx was a Québécois driver who raced mostly in Canada in the 1970s.

She was born in 1947, and had a rather shaky start in life, contracting polio at the age of three, which meant that she had difficulty walking until she was a teenager. Initially, she worked as a teacher. This came to a temporary halt at the end of 1965, when she found herself with a baby son, Stéphane. As a single mother, she continued to work, but now as a model and actress. In 1971, she appeared in several Canadian TV adverts, including one for tights. She also owned a local chain of beauty salons.

She began racing in 1971, after becoming romantically involved with Jacques Fortin, who raced at club level. They shared a BMW 2002, and Monique also raced a Datsun 240Z. She started out in novice races, and often made the podium. She finished as runner-up in a Canadian Production endurance championship in the Datsun. Her start in motorsport apparently followed a court battle with the Canadian Auto Sports Club, which had vetoed her international license being awarded. Early in her career, she had a female rival, Louise Roberge. The press were keen to publicise their apparent dislike of one another.

In 1972, she bought her first single-seater, a second-hand 1600cc Formula Ford. This car was far more expensive to run than the BMW, so she continued to share her boyfriend’s car, making only a few appearances. In the BMW, she was eighth in the Sanair Trans-Am race.

Another run in the Sanair Trans-Am race in 1973, in the same car, led to a fourteenth place. She was the top Canadian finisher.

After some Formula Ford and Formula Vee races, she raised her single-seater game in 1974, and took the step up to Formula Atlantic. In her first season, she became the first woman to qualify for a race at the US Grand Prix at Watkins Glen, although it was a support race, rather than Formula One. This year, she raced Alan Karlberg’s car, with sponsorship from Kimberly-Clark.

Back in a saloon, she was the first, and still the only, woman to win a mixed race at Catamount Speedway. She was racing in Ministocks.

She competed in Formula Atlantic between 1974 and 1979, once scoring a pole position in 1976. Due to sponsorship pressures, she did not complete as full season during this time. In 1975, she was sponsored by New Freedom, a new brand of sanitary towels, which was somewhat shocking in the male-dominated world of motor racing. Driver and commentator David Hobbs is meant to have joked, “I’m only worried it will rain and the damn car will swell and not get between the guardrails!” 

Monique was quite successful in getting innovative sponsorship deals, albeit short-term ones. She was apparently the first female driver to be sponsored by a tobacco company, although the details of this are proving hard to find. This was probably due to her TV work, which included acting, stunts and being a “traffic girl” in a helicopter. In 1976, she appeared on the Canadian version of “Superstars”, but was not among the leading sportswomen.

Later, she also raced a Chevrolet Camaro. In 1979, she did at least one race in Trans-Am, at Trois-Rivières, finishing eighteenth.

Her son, Stéphane, was also a racing driver. She retired from the circuits in 1980, in order to support him in his own racing activities. He was a contemporary of Jacques Villeneuve and was tipped as one to watch. He died in 1993, from head injuries complicated by advanced HIV.

Monique died in 2012, aged 65.

(Image from http://www.catamountstadium.com/mini_stock_competitors.htm)

Friday, 7 October 2016

Roxie Lott

Roxie with Rick Mears and Al Unser in 1986

Roxie Lott was an American driver who was probably most famous for her efforts in the British Formula 3 Championship in 1984.

She was born in Indianapolis in 1961. She attended her first Indy 500 at the age of three, and announced to her mother that she was building a racing car engine when she was six, as soapbox carts were not fast enough for her.

When she was twelve, she began racing in junior Quarter Midget events, in a car her mother bought on hire purchase. While still at school, she spent a lot of time at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, sometimes missing classes to do so. She apparently became friends with both Mario Andretti and Al Unser. When she was there, she helped various teams out, polishing and cleaning cars and doing odd jobs.

She achieved some success as a midget racer. Between 1976 and 1978, she won fifteen races, and went to Grand National meetings twice. After spending some time learning about full-size midget cars, she became more interested in road racing, and enrolled at the Skip Barber driving school. In 1979, she got to race a Formula Ford at Mid-Ohio as part of her training. Her Formula Ford programme took her across the States and as she had to drive herself to the circuits, she soon became burnt out. In 1980, she caught glandular fever and had to take some time out.

At around that time in 1980 or 1981, she travelled to England for the first time, working for Teddy Yip and Theodore Racing. She helped to run the Theodore cars in the Aurora F1 series in the UK, assisting Theodore driver Kevin Cogan. She got a run out in a Formula Ford at Snetterton, run by the team, and finished third.

In 1982, she went on record saying that her biggest ambition was to race in the Indy 500, in an interview with the Indianapolis Star. However, despite her friends in high places and enterprising nature, she struggled for sponsorship. She raced Formula Super Vee again with some assistance from Cam 2 Oils, although the car was not that reliable and her season was also disrupted by a big testing crash. She did more Formula Ford in 1983 with Cam 2, earning a few top-ten finishes.

1984 was meant to be a breakthrough year for Roxie. She returned to England to race in Formula 3, with RD Motorsport. Speaking afterwards to the Indianapolis News, she said that this should have been a good experience, but it was not. She had taken out a loan to pay for her $5,000 drive, only to find that the "team" had seven drivers and two cars, until one driver disappeared with one of the cars and most of the spares, including an engine. She described the car as having "rusted brakes, corroded cables and a work crew off the street."

After a test at Donington, she only got to start one race, the Marlboro International Trophy at Silverstone, in April. This race ended after four laps, when she was unable to continue after a spin. Her pink Ralt RT3 gained some media attention, but by and large, it was not a positive experience for its driver. She was offered further drives by Murray Taylor's team, but she could not raise the necessary cash.

After her British disappointment, it seems to have been increasingly difficult for Roxie to gain sponsorship, and she only raced sporadically. As she was never in a championship long enough to learn the car and understand her opponents, she struggled for pace. In 1986, she managed to score a point in the Formula Super Vee championship in the States, driving for Arciero Racing.

In 1988, after another couple of guest appearances in support races, Roxie called time on her racing career. She was twenty-eight years old. Some sources claim that she tried to take the Indy rookie test, but nothing official says that she did. Her ambition to race in the Indy 500 was put on hold indefinitely.

After turning her back on motorsport, she proved herself in another high-speed arena: flight. She worked as a commercial pilot for several years and racked up enough flight time to be promoted to Captain very quickly. In aviation, she was known as Roxie Lott Strish, having married Larry Strish. She retired after his death in 1995.

Later in life, she gave driving tours of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. She died of ovarian cancer in April 2007, and was mourned by the Indianapolis racing community.

(Image copyright Indianapolis News)