Sunday, 29 May 2016

Charlotte Versigny

Charlotte (left) in a Bugatti T35, 1928

Charlotte Versigny competed in races and rallies in France, in the late 1920s. She often drove a Talbot or a Bugatti.

Her beginnings in motorsport are not very clear, like most of her private life and biography. She was involved in motoring generally, and ran a large driving school in Paris.

Her first major motorsport event seems to have been the Monte Carlo Rally in 1927. She drove a 1460cc Fiat, and was 26th overall, second in the Coupe des Dames rankings, behind Mildred Bruce. This was not her first event, however; she is listed in an article in L’Aérophile as having won the Ladies’ Automobile section of a “Rallye-Ballon”, combining motor races and a hot air balloon race. Her car was a 15hp Oakland. This American vehicle was her first competition car, which she initially entered into Concours, from 1926 onwards.

By 1927, she was racing her Talbot 70 in France. Her first big race was the Grand Prix de la Baule, in which she was fourteenth, just behind Lucy O’Reilly Schell in her Bugatti. She was sixth in class.

That August, she was one of twelve drivers, including the eventual winner Elisabeth Junek, who took part in a “Championnat Féminin” held at Montlhéry (not the Journée Féminine del’Automobile). The race was over 60km, and Charlotte was second. Another women-only event, the Paris-La Baule Rally, saw Charlotte and her Talbot in action again in September. In mixed competition, she was fifth in the Le Touquet-Paris-Plage, having started at Pau, the same start point she used for the Boulogne-Le Touquet Rally.

The Talbot came good at the start of 1928. Charlotte won the Coupe des Dames in the Monte Carlo Rally, and was third overall, one of the best-ever results for a female driver, to this day. This was followed by a run in the Paris-Nice Trial, in the 2000cc class. Her car was a Bugatti, and she won the Dauphinois Automobile Club trophy, plus another award for being the only woman driver to finish without penalties, and a fastest time in a speed trial at Grenoble.

The Bugatti was her chosen car for that year’s  Journée Féminine de l’Automobile. She qualified for the final race, and won the speed trial for open cars. This was her second entry into this particular event, although she had to pull out in 1927.

She had first driven the Bugatti towards the end of 1927, in hillclimbs. Another all-female event was held at Saint-Germain in July, as part of the Bol d’Or, and Charlotte was on hand for the Formula Libre race.
She also drove the car in the Coupe de Bourgogne that year, against Jannine Jennky.

The Oakland had not been forgotten this year, either. Charlotte drove it in Concours d’Elegance events, and in the hillclimb attached to the “Rallye-Ballon”.

Charlotte was an enthusiastic and skilled addition to the already-vibrant, Paris-based ladies’ motor racing scene. Some sources have her down as entering the Paris-St. Raphaël Rally, and while this is certainly possible, I have been unable to find any results. She disappears from the entry lists after 1928, and the Paris-St. Raphaël began in 1929.

She is credited as the one of the inspirations behind Hellé-Nice’s decision to become a professional racing driver.

(Image from

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Female Drivers in the "Marathon Rallies" of the 1960s and 1970s

Bronwyn Burrell, Katrina Kerridge and Tish Ozanne in 1970

The late 1960s saw the first of a series of cross-continental marathon rallies taking place. The first of these was organised by the Daily Express newspaper in 1968, to show off British engineering and bring some excitement to a rather unsettled Britain. Women drivers took part in all of them.

The Daily Express London-Sydney Marathon Rally, 1968
It was 10,000 miles long, and ran from London to France and Italy, then the former Yugoslavia and further south, before passing through Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. The cars were then transported by boat to Australia, for the final leg.

The entry list was limited to 100 cars. Four of these were driven by women, and two further crews had female co-drivers. As with the rest of the entry, the female contingent was a mix of seasoned professionals and enthusiastic adventuresses. Rosemary Smith had been tipped to win the Ladies’ award, but ran into trouble up the Khyber Pass and lost time, as well as losing a cylinder in her Lotus Cortina. The winner of the Coupe des Dames was a four-woman, Anglo-Australian crew in the unlikely choice of a Volvo estate. Elsie Gadd, an Australian property surveyor, assembled the team, drafting in British racers, Jenny Tudor-Owen and Sheila Kemp, and Anthea Castell, an Australian ranch-hand with experience of driving in adverse conditions.

In common with many other entries, some of the female teams were sponsored by other media outlets, including Nova fashion magazine (Jean Denton). The Morris 1100 of Eileen Westley was sponsored by the Sydney Telegraph, for which all three drivers worked. It was named “The Galloping Tortoise” in the Australian press, and was prepared by BMC.

The rally was won by Andrew Cowan in a Hillman Hunter. Fifty-six cars finished. Below is a list of all the female finishers.

Elsie Gadd/Anthea Castell/Sheila Kemp/Jenny Tudor-Owen (Volvo 145S Estate) – 41st
Jean Denton/Tom Boyce (MG B) – 42nd
Rosemary Smith/Lucette Pointet (Ford Lotus Cortina) – 48th
Eileen Westley/Minny Macdonald/Jenny Gates (Morris 1100) – 50th
Sylvia Kay (co-driver to John Cotton in a Peugeot 504) – 21st
Jenny Brittan (co-driver to Nick Brittan in a Ford Lotus Cortina) – DNF

L-R: Pat Wright, Liz Crellin, Jean Denton

The Daily Mirror London-Mexico World Cup Rally, 1970
The next big marathon rally was themed around that year’s World Cup, which was held in Mexico. It was even longer than its predecessor, at 16,000 miles, and ran through Europe to Spain and Portugal, before transferring to Brazil, and then across South and Central America to Mexico.

Again, the field was a mix of professionals, such as eventual winner, Hannu Mikkola, in a works Ford Escort, and amateurs, including some celebrities, such as footballer Jimmy Greaves. Five female drivers entered, and Rosemary Smith was the best of them. Her car was an Austin Maxi, continuing the trend for unlikely rally cars winning the Coupe des Dames.

Below are the results for the female crews.

Rosemary Smith/Alice Watson/Ginette Derolland (Austin Maxi) – 10th
Jean Denton/Pat Wright/Liz Crellin (Morris 1800) – 18th
Claudine Trautmann/Colette Perrier (Citroen DS 21) – 24th
Patricia Ozanne/Katrina Kerridge/Bronwyn Burrell (Austin Maxi) - DNF
Lavinia Roberts/David Jones/Arthur Hazelrigg (Ford Mustang) – DNF

London-Sahara-Munich World Cup Rally, 1974
The second World Cup Rally contained quite a lot of improvisation. The route between London and Munich was not long or dramatic enough, so the organisers added in a huge loop through Spain, North Africa, and as far south as Nigeria, before travelled back up through Turkey, the Balkans and Italy, to Germany. This caused untold problems, as the route itself was not well-plotted, and a large number of competitors got lost in the desert. Out of seventy starters, nineteen finished. Only five cars completed the full route; among them were the Team Aseptogyl Peugeots of Christine Dacremont and Claudine Trautmann. The rally was not as well-supported this year, due to the 1973 oil crisis and financial pressures on the works teams. It was not revived in 1978.

Christine Dacremont/Yveline Vannoni (Peugeot 504) – 2nd
Claudine Trautmann/Marie-Odile Desvignes (Peugeot 504) – 4th
Anne O’Connell (co-driver to Mike O’Connell in a Ford Escort Mexico) – DNF

Singapore Airlines London-Sydney Marathon Rally, 1977
A final big marathon rally was held in 1977, a new edition of the original London-Sydney event. Some of the manufacturers came back on board, including Mercedes, who dominated the rally, and Leyland. Very few women took part, apart from those in Team Aseptogyl diesel Fiats.

Christine Dacremont/Yveline Vannoni (Fiat 131 Diesel) – DNF
Marianne Hoepfner (co-driver to Bob Neyret in a Fiat 131 Diesel) – 15th

Further revivals of the Marathon took place from 1993 onwards, but these were classic events.

(Morris 1800 image copyright Woman Magazine)

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Circuit Racers from India

L-R: Mira Erda, Sneha Sharma, Neha Dabas, Ria Dabas

The Indian motorsport scene is growing rapidly. In the past two or three years, female drivers have been part of this, in both single-seaters and saloon racing.

Alisha Abdullah – best known for racing motorcycles (she is one of India’s only professional bike racers), but started on four wheels, and still competes in cars occasionally. Between 2010 and 2012, she raced in the Indian Volkswagen Polo Cup, with a best overall finish of eighth, in 2011 and 2012. In 2011, she scored her first podium. After a few years of racing bikes almost exclusively, she travelled to Thailand for a women’s race, part of the 2014 Toyota Vios Cup. She won the race outright. In 2016, she planned a return to four-wheeled competition, but this did not seem to happen. She spent a lot of time running and promoting her women's riding academy. 

Neha Dabas – the elder of the Dabas racing sisters. In 2015, she competed in the Volkswagen Vento Cup in India. This was her first season of racing. Her best overall result was eighth, in the second round at Coimbatore. In 2016, she was selected again by Volkswagen India as one of its twenty drivers for the Vento Cup, but she did not make the final grid. She was previously, as a teenager, a national-level basketball player for India.

Ria Dabas – the younger of the Dabas racing sisters. Her first season of racing was in 2015, when she was chosen as one of the drivers for the Volkswagen Vento Cup in India. Previously, she raced motorcycles, and was India’s youngest female superbike racer. Despite her track experience, she was not quite as fast as her sister, and had a best finish of thirteenth, at Buddh.

Megaa Ganga (KS) - raced in India as part of the all-female Team Ahura in 2018. Her first race was at Kari Motor Speedway. She was one of six women drivers chosen to represent the team in the JK Tyres LGB Formula 4 championship. Megaa was the fourth fastest of the six and was the leading Ahura driver in the first race. She was 19th overall in the championship, the second of the Ahura drivers. Her best finish was twelfth at the BIC circuit in Greater Nolda.

Uma Hataria - raced in India between 1986 and 1987, when she competed in stock cars. She is said to have won a championship in 1987, although details are scarce of her career. She now directs a racing team and is the inspiration behind her son Sarosh’s founding of the all-female Ahura Racing. In 2019, Uma tested an LGB Formula 4 car with the latest crop of Ahura drivers.

Sneha Sharma – races in Formula 4 in India, as part of the JK Tyres Racing Championship. She began in 2013, after several years of karting, which gave her several notable wins. The Indian Formula 4 championship is not sanctioned by the FIA, and finding its race results has proved impossible. Sneha has also raced in the VW Polo Cup and the Toyota Etios one-make championship, and got into the final twelve of a Mercedes driver development challenge, in India. In 2016, she continued in the JK Tyres series, and was tenth in the championship. In 2019, she attempted to qualify for the women-only W Series, but did not get past the first round. She spent the season moving between the Formula RGB India championship and Southeast Asian Formula 4. She was tenth in the F4 series for Meritus GP, with a best finish of fifth at Sepang. Despite only being 23 years old in 2016, she works as an airline pilot. 

(Image copyright M. Periasamy)

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Sylvie Seignobeaux

Sylvie (right) with Sylviane Sitarz in 1984

Sylvie Seignobeaux is a French rally driver, and was the winner of the Citroen Total Trophée Féminin in 1984.

Born in 1957, she enjoyed cars and driving from a very early age. In an interview with Rétro Course magazine, she talks about her earliest driving experiences, which involved crashing her aunt and uncle’s Citroen DS into a tree, when she was five years old. Later, as a teenager, she got further into cars through her boyfriend.

She got her start in motorsport in 1978, initially as a rally co-driver. In 1981, she took up driving herself, and was quite successful in hillclimbs. Her first car was an Autobianchi A112, in which she won her class in the 1981 Razal hillclimb. In 1982, she switched to a Citroen Visa for a regional Rallye Féminin, and was fifth in her first event, and second in another. During this time, she was far from being a professional driver; she worked for a ski school, and was a regular skier herself.

An early highlight of her career was a third place in the 1983 revival of the women-only Paris-St. Raphaël Rally. Her car was a Citroen Visa, and her co-driver was Brigitte Aymé.

Citroen would be the marque that had the most influence on her career. In 1984, she decided to enter a selection event for a women-only motorsport initiative organised by Citroen, devised to promote the Visa Mille Pistes rally homologation model. At the beginning of February, Sylvie was the best of 596 women who entered the Lyon heat. The selection challenges included slaloms and gymkhanas, economy runs and even driving around a disused quarry whilst blindfolded. Sylvie’s heat win put her in the final eleven-woman championship, ahead of the experienced Dominique Perrier. She paired up with Sylviane Sitarz as co-driver.

The first round of the Citroen Total Trophée Feminin was on gravel, the Terre de Provence Rallye. Sylvie won comfortably from Andrée Andrina. On asphalt at La Baule, she won by a smaller margin from Patricia Bertapelle. This early lead meant that her eighth place in the Mille Pistes Rally did not affect her chances too much, nor her seventh in the Boucles de Boulages. In the Tour de France, the biggest rally on the six-event calendar, she was a comfortable fourth, which she repeated on the Picardie Rally. Her relative consistency meant that she won the championship by four points from Christine Driano, representing Aquitaine-Charentes.

Sylvie’s prize was a contract with a Citroen works-supported team for the 1985 season, driving a Group B Visa Mille Pistes. Her first event as a works driver was the Critérium de Touraine. She did very well, finishing ninth overall, just behind her team-mate, Christine Driano. A little later, she was eleventh in the Rallye des Garrigues. An engine valve failure put her out of the Critérium Alpin, then a head gasket did the same during her first overseas rally. Both she and Christine Driano had travelled to Bulgaria for the Albena Rally. Back in France, she crashed out of the Touquet Rally, before getting back on track in the Rallye Aquitaine-Pays Basque with a seventh place. She was then twelfth in the Mont Blanc Rally, and a strong tenth in the Tour de France, as well as fourteenth in the Antibes Rally. Her second overseas rally was the Lois Algarve Rally, in Portugal, but she did not finish, due to another engine problem. During her works team year, she scored five Coupes des Dames, a class win and three top-tens.

After a promising debut year in the French championship, with some excellent results, she took a year out in 1986.

Her return to rallying in 1987 was quite low-key. She drove a Citroen Visa GTi in the Lyon-Charbonnières Rally for the Ecully team, and was fifth in class. As well as rallying, she tried some ice-racing at Flaine, in the same car, but professes not to remember much about it.

The Visa was exchanged for a Group A AX in 1988. It was prepared by Citroen Ecully and used for rallies and hillclimbs. This was a new car, and Sylvie’s season had its fair share of the technical problems that come with new models. She did not get to the finish of the Monts Dôme, Lozère or 1000km de la Réunion rallies. This last event was probably her most far-flung rally. (Réunion is a French dependency off the coast of Mauritius). When the car ran, it was quite competitive: she won her class in the Lyon-Charbonnières Rally, and was ninth in the Bricolles-Côteaux-Varois Rally. The car was more reliable in hillclimbs, and she had a best finish of fourth at Razal, with a class win. It was sold at the end of the season.

She did one more event in 1989 with the AX, this time in Group N form, and was ninth in the Ronde de Lans en Vercours. It was then replaced by a Peugeot 205 GTi, previously belonging to her partner, Claude, which she continued to rally for a while, with a best finish of eighth, in the Vins de Macon Rally, in 1989. That year, she also acted as a co-driver in the same car.

The first part of Sylvie’s career ends here. For some years, she was out of motorsport, and did other things, including flying aeroplanes. In recent years, she has returned to the stages in historic rallies in France, and has even revisited the Visa Mille Pistes. She acts as both driver and co-driver, and has even rallied with Sylviane Sitarz again.

As well as participating, Sylvie has discussed her experiences in quite a lot of detail on the forum. She remains in touch with some of the other “Troféminin” competitors.

This post was written with the help of Sylvie’s reminiscences and list of results.

(Image from

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Sylvia Österberg

Sylvia Österberg was Swedish driver active in the 1960s and 1970s, winner of the European Ladies’ Rally Championship in 1963.

Her earliest motorsport experiences were in rallycross, at club level. She only took up rallying after some strong encouragement from her husband, Ingemar. After seeing her drive in treasure hunt-type road rallies, he signed her up for the Swedish ladies’ championship in 1960, and the two competed together during that season. Their first stage rally together, an event for novices, led to a fifth place, with a class win.

Her performances in the Swedish championship caught the eye of the Volvo team management, and she was offered a contract as a works driver for 1962. Her car was to be a 122. Her first major rally in it was the 1000 Lakes Rally in Finland. With Inga-Lill Edenring as co-driver, she did not disgrace herself with a 21st place, narrowly missing out on the Coupe des Dames to her Swedish rival, Ewy Rosqvist. Later in the year, she was tenth in the RAC Rally, driving the same car. This was her first international top-ten finish, and she did particularly well on the forest stages, tying with Paddy Hopkirk for third on the Wark Forest stage.

Her performances in 1962 were enough to convince the Volvo team to keep her on in 1963, with an expanded programme of rallies across Europe. Once again, she teamed up with Inga-Lill Edenring, who would be her regular co-driver for much of her career. She started with a 20th place in the Monte Carlo Rally, losing the Coupe des Dames to Ewy Rosqvist, in a Mercedes. After the Tulip Rally, in which she was thirteenth, she drove in the Acropolis Rally for the first time, and scored another tenth place, ahead of Ewy Rosqvist this time. Her second top-ten of the season came in the Deutschland Rally, along with a Coupe des Dames. The best was still yet to come, however; she then broke into the top five in the Polish Rally, in fourth place. Before the end of the season, she had secured another fourth place, in the Geneva Rally. This was enough to secure her the European Ladies’ Championship.

For most of 1963, she drove the 122 again, although she did have at least one outing in the PV 544, the Midnight Sun Rally, which she does not seem to have finished.

1964 started with another run in the Monte in the 122, in which she was 33rd, a somewhat disappointing result, but not a bad performance in the ageing 122, and ahead of her rival, Ewy Rosqvist. The rest of the season was spent in a PV 544, which was faster, but not quite as sturdy as its predecessor. Sylvia could not finish her first Safari Rally, a brute of an event which almost three-quarters of the field failed to complete. She does not appear to have finished the Acropolis Rally, another car-breaker, or the Midnight Sun Rally, which, despite being her home event, was never her favourite. Later in the season, she was fifteenth in the 1000 Lakes Rally, and back in the top ten for the RAC Rally, in tenth. Her navigator this year was Siv Sabel, as Inga-Lill Edenring was taking some time out from rallying.

After 1964’s ups and downs, Sylvia went back to the 122 for 1965, trading some power for reliability. In February, she was rewarded with a sixth place in the Rallye dei Fiori, among Lancias and Renaults in the top ten. The KAK Rally in Sweden followed, and then the Tulip, which she finished over the time limit. She was in good company, and her Volvo team-mate, Tom Trana, also in a 122, was another on the OTL list. The Acropolis was another non-finish, and she followed it up with a 24th place in the 1000 Lakes, with a Coupe des Dames as a consolation prize. She ended the year with the RAC Rally, but does not seem to have been classified.

She and Siv Sabel stuck with the Volvo for one more rally in 1966, the Rallye dei Fiori, which had been a good event for them last year. They did not finish, and the 122 was promptly replaced with a Renault 8 Gordini, supported by the Swedish arm of Renault. Sylvia picked up another Coupe des Dames in the 1000 Lakes, and was 23rd overall, but did not finish the Alpine Rally. Reunited with Inga-Lill Edenring, she was tenth in the season-ending RAC Rally. On the first special stage, Bramshill, she was second, behind Roger Clark.

Her second season in the Gordini was shorter, but more fruitful. In January, she finally managed to pick up a Monte Carlo Coupe des Dames, finishing 25th overall, just behind her countryman and fellow Gordini driver, Harry Källstrom. A non-finish in the Swedish rally followed. She was then nineteenth in the 1000 Lakes Rally, before enjoying a good run in the French tarmac rallies. The Alpine Rally, usually a good event for her, led to a tenth place, and she was sixth in the Tour de Corse. Both times, she was the fastest lady. Her season was to have ended with the RAC Rally, but it was cancelled, due to an outbreak of foot and mouth disease.

After 1967, Sylvia’s career wound down somewhat. She began driving Opel cars, beginning with a Kadett in 1968. She and Ingemar teamed up once more and tackled the Swedish championship. They were thirteenth in class at the end of the year, with a best finish of tenth, in the Jämt Rally.

A couple more seasons in the Kadett followed, although it seems that Sylvia and Ingemar were part-time competitors at this point, rallying within Sweden and not regularly in major events. Another attempt at the Swedish Rally in 1971 led to another non-finish.

Despite her profile being lower than previously, the Opel works team took an interest in Sylvia. In mid-1972, she was part of a six-driver team that attempted a series of speed records in a diesel-powered Opel GT prototype. The tests took place at Dudenhofen in Germany. The other drivers were Marie-Claude Beaumont, Giorgio Pianta, Paul Frère, Henri Greder and Joachim Springer. As a team, they set a whole series of class records for speed, endurance and economy.

1972 saw a revival of Sylvia’s rally career, too. She was once again reunited with Inga-Lill Edenring, her most successful co-driver, and they drove a works Opel Ascona in Europe. The faster Ascona seemed to suit Sylvia’s driving style; after a slightly tentative 26th place on snow in the Swedish Rally, she was seventh in the Olympia Rally in Germany. Sadly, the RAC Rally, one of her favoured events, led to a retirement.

Sylvia’s last major international rally looks to have been the Monte in 1973. She drove an Ascona to 28th place. She carried on competing occasionally until 1975, then retired as a driver. This retirement was meant to be final, but she reappeared about ten years later, as a navigator in historic rallies. She assisted Tom Trana, her old Volvo team-mate, to two historic championships, and carried on in this role until the mid-1990s.

She died in 2012, at the age of 78.

Having been most active in an era where there were some extremely competitive female drivers – first Ewy Rosqvist, then rally winner, Pat Moss – Sylvia’s achievements are overshadowed somewhat. She was a very capable driver, particularly on forest stages and on asphalt, and perhaps would have scored an outright win, had she had a few more opportunities in big rallies and powerful cars.

(Image from