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)