Ada Pace was an Italian rally driver and touring car ace of the 1950s and 1960s. She went by the nom de course of “Sayonara”.
Ada was from Turin, which would be her home base throughout her career, and her life. She enjoyed sports growing up, and her earliest memories are of riding on her father’s motorcycle and sidecar. All of her early racing experiences were on two wheels, not four; Ada raced scooters in Italy from quite a young age. In 1947, she started racing her Vespa, in both circuit events and long-distance trials. It was in trials that she really excelled. After 1948, she rode for the works Piaggio team. She would continue in scootering on and off until 1953; she won two Ladies’ 125cc titles in 1952 and 1953.
The date and nature of her first steps into four-wheeled competition is not entirely clear. Some sources claim that her first race was in 1950, when she was 26. Little additional detail is offered, although Ada was said to be disappointed with her own performance, as well as the car’s. The race may have been at the Circuit Piazza d’Armi in Turin, where Ada did drive a Moretti early in her career, although some sources have her first car as a Fiat 1500. Speaking in 1990, she describes the Turin event as her first race, held in heavy rain, although she says it happened in 1953. She did own and race a 600cc Moretti in 1953, which adds credence to her own recollections (or the reporting thereof).
In 1951, she is said to have earned her first win. This is said to have come in a “Torino-San Remo race”. Her car was a Fiat 1500 6C. The nature of this event is unclear; it could have been a time trial rather than a mass- or group-start race, or even a regularity rally. I have been unable to find any official records of this event.
She definitely did race a Moretti in 1953, and was fourth in class in the Sassi-Superga hillclimb.
The following year, Ada may have entered her first Giro Di Sicilia, driving a Fiat 1100. She is down as a starter, but her finishing position, if any, is not recorded. This is not certain, as another driver called Pace was active in Sicily at this time. Ada certainly did drive an 1100 at some point, but her car in 1954 was the little Moretti. She mainly raced locally, entering the Sassi-Superga climb again and a Coppa Michelin at Torino. She also became involved in the growing women’s motorsport scene in Italy, and entered both the Perla di Sanremo Rally and the Como-Lieto-Colle Coppa delle Dame, a hillclimb. She was second in class in Sanremo.
In 1955, she was fourth overall in the Coppa delle Dame, driving an Alfa Romeo Giulietta. Variations of this model would become her signature car. She also raced a Fiat 1100 in hillclimbs at Sassari and Corallo.
Her next major race was also her first overseas event: the 1956 Nürbrugring 1000km. For this, she teamed up with Gilberte Thirion, in an Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint Veloce. Gilberte, an experienced international sportscar racer, was the entrant. They were sixteenth, and fourth in class.
The same year, Ada, driving solo and normally in the Giulietta, was becoming a regular figure in Italian hillclimbs and races. She was fifth in the Perla di Sanremo and third in the Coppa delle Dame, as well as scoring some highly respectable finishes in hillclimbs, and the Supercortemaggiore regularity trial. She even tried her hand at a conventional rally, the Rallye dei Rododendri, and was tenth overall.
1957 was the year that Ada really committed to four-wheeled competition, and began to race as a professional driver. She underlined her new role with an entry into the Mille Miglia, driving the Giulietta, solo. Unfortunately, she did not finish, stopping near Rome. Later in the year, a run in the Coppa Inter-Europa led to a finish, albeit as the last runner. The race was a one-make affair for Giulietta SVs, at Monza. In November, she did proportionately better in the Targa Florio; she was 48th, out of 129 finishers. This would be the first of four attempts at the Sicilian classic. A season-ending Vallelunga 6 Hours was good for eleventh place.
This schedule of major events was augmented with a busy calendar of domestic hillclimbs and rallies. These included the Perla di Sanremo, in which she won her class, and the Coppa Colle San Rizzo climb, which gave her a GT1300 class win. She ended the year as the Italian women’s GT champion.
She raced a Zagato version of the Giulietta SV in 1958, supported by the Racing Club 19 team, so-called because it consisted of nineteen drivers. She finished the Targa Florio on her second attempt, sharing the car with Carlo Peroglio and earning a fifteenth place. This year’s Targa was a race of high attrition, and it was an achievement to finish at all. The Vallelunga 6 Hours was a happy hunting ground for her, driving solo this time: she was third. She repeated her podium finish in the Coppa Sant Ambroeus at Monza, finishing third again. Her team-mate, Carlo Peroglio, was seventh, in a similar car. The Giro di Calabria was another good event for her; she was fourth.
That year, she took part in many hillclimbs, and won her class in the Stallavena-Bosochienesanuova event. This helped her to third in the GT1300 class of the Italian hillclimb championship. She retained her national Ladies’ title.
The Sant Ambroeus Cup was moved to May the following year. Ada entered the 1300cc GT race in the Giulietta, and was third again. A run in an Osca S1100 in the 1100cc sportscar race was not as successful; she did not finish. Three weeks later, she and Carlo Peroglio tackled the Targa Florio together for the second time, but did not finish. In June, Ada tried out a new Giulietta, a Speciale, and was fourteenth at Monza in the GT Grand Prix.
In a similar car, she contested the Mille Miglia, now run as a regularity trial. She and Piera Bertoletti were fifth overall, and won the GT1300 class. She managed another GT1300 win in her heat for the Vallelunga 6 Hours, but did not finish the final. She ran well in the Sestriere Rally, finishing second overall. This must have been very satisfying for her, as she dropped out of the previous year’s rally within sight of the finish.
In both the Osca and the Giulietta, she performed well in hillclimbs, including some long classic climbs such as the Catania-Etna event, in which she was sixth. Her best hillclimb moment came in the Veglio Mosso – Mosso San Maria climb, which she won in the Alfa. She was third in her class in the Italian championship at the end of the year, as well as defending her ladies’ crown, and adding the Italian ladies’ Sportscar title to her collection. In the overall Italian racing championship, she was runner-up in both the GT1300 and the Sport 1100 classes.
1960 saw a lot of change happening around Ada, but it seemed to bring out the best in her. She scored her first major race win in October, winning the Coppa d’Oro di Modena. Her car was an Osca 1100. She would later describe this car as her favourite. The same car gave her her career-best finish in the Targa Florio earlier in the year, an eleventh place. She was sharing the car with Giancarlo Castellina, and won the 1150cc Sports class.
Further excitement came from the furthest “away race” of her career. She was invited to Cuba for the Grand Prix, one of only a small number of “Western” drivers to compete there during Castro’s presidency. The race had begun in 1957, but this was the first edition to be run in Communist Cuba. She drove an Osca MT4 and was fifteenth. She also took part in the supporting Formula Junior race, making a rare single-seater appearance in a Stanguellini. She did not finish. Later in the year, she drove a De Sanctis FJ in the Pescara 12 Hours, but did not finish. She did tentatively enter another couple of single-seater races, but did not actually compete.
Once more, hillclimbs made up most of her sporting schedule, both in the Alfa and the Osca. She scored many class wins, and was second in class in the Italian hillclimb championship. A third ladies’ GT championship and a second Sports championship added to her tally, and she was runner-up in the 1150 category of the Italian racing championship.
In 1961, she spent much of the year competing under the name “Sayonara”. Much later, she claimed that this was to make it less obvious that she was a woman. During her early career, she experienced some quite open negativity. This sometimes came in the form of over-zealous scrutineering, based on complaints from other competitors.
She had intended to enter the Targa Florio again, in a works Osca, but this did not happen. For circuit racing, she normally used her Giulietta SV. Driving with Carlo Baghetti, she did not finish the Coppa Ascari at Monza, after a spectacular crash on lap 14, which sent the car rolling at 200mph. Ada escaped through a window just before it caught fire. The following month, she did much better in the GT Grand Prix at the circuit. She was seventh, and fifth in class. Breaking with tradition, she drove a non-Italian car in the Pescara 4 Hours: a Lotus XI, albeit Osca-engined. She drove with Roberto Lippi, but did not finish. Alone, she used the Lotus in some hillclimbs, finishing seventh in the Trieste-Opicina climb and winning her class. The Osca 1100 was her usual mount for hillclimbs, scoring some class wins.
It was back to Italian power for the 1962 season, although Ada expanded her car repertoire once more. She drove a Ferrari 250 GT in the GT Trophy at Monza, and was second overall. She was also second in two other events in the car: the Stallavena-Bosochienesanuova and Coppa Fagioli long-distance climbs.
Mostly, she drove a 1184cc Osca, in which she earned another outright win, in the Campagnana Vallelunga. She also had some outings in an Abarth-Simca. Her best result in this car was an eighth place in a GT race at Vallelunga. The Giulietta was sold towards the end of the year.
1963 was spent switching between the Osca and the Abarth-Simca, which she used in the Targa Florio. Driving the Osca, she was third in the Campagnana Vallelunga. This was her best result of the year. She was fifth in the Shell Trophy at Cesenatico, and managed some top-five class finishes in hillclimbs.
1964 was her last year of competition. She drove a Lancia Flaminia for HF Squadra Corse in the European Touring Car Championship, including the Spa 24 Hours. She shared the car with Claudine Bouchet at Spa, but did not finish. The car’s rear axle broke after just over five hours.Her best finish in the championship was eighth, at Zolder. She never really got to grips with the Flaminia and found it hard to drive. Driving for the same team, she drove a Lancia Flavia in the Polish Rally, but did not finish.
In her later years, she took to living alone with her menagerie of rescued dogs and birds. She occasionally appeared at historic races and rallies, although for the last few years of her life, she retired from public appearances. She died in November 2016.
(Image from http://www.aisastoryauto.it/)