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)