Monday, 31 July 2017

Valérie Chiasson


Valérie Chiasson is a Canadian driver who is now based in Luxembourg and racing in Europe.

She began racing in 2007, after five years of karting from age thirteen to eighteen. Her family background is not motorsport-related, but her father encouraged her in karting anyway especially as it kept her from taking up motocross.

She started in the one-make Toyota Echo Cup, and was second in the rookie standings in her first year despite a huge learning curve. She raced the Echo again in 2008, although she did not run a full season.

In 2009, she moved into the American Canadian Tour series, a stock car championship. She was 19th overall in her Chevrolet Impala, and second in the Rookie championship.

She continued to compete, on and off, until 2012, when she left the motorsport world for a year to concentrate on her other sporting interest: equestrianism. She entered the 2013 Canada Games in dressage.

In 2013, she started planning a comeback, and funding for a part-season in the 2014 Canadian Touring Car Championship was available. She joined the Lombardi Honda team for four races in their Civic, and was fourth and fifth at Montreal and tenth at Trois-Riviéres. One of these races was a Grand Prix support race; she became the first woman to take a (class) podium position at the Grand Prix meeting.

She intended to carry on part-time in 2015 and did continue to race, although in the one-make Nissan Micra Cup rather than the CTCC. Her final position was sixth overall, with one podium finish. She was second in the ladies’ standings, behind Valérie Limoges.

In 2016, she raced both the Micra and a Porsche 911. Her sponsor for the Micra Cup, Nissan Gabriel, was able to arrange her Porsche seat. The Porsche was the better car for her, and she was eighth in the Canadian Porsche GT3 championship. Her best finish was sixth, which she earned three times at Bowmanville and Montreal.

She was eighteenth in the Micra Cup. This was only a part-season. She managed three top-tens in the early part of the year.

At the end of 2016, she was elected Canada’s representative to the FIA Women in Motorsport Council.

Shortly afterwards, her career went international. Valérie began dividing her time between Canada and Luxembourg. She signed up for the Canadian and Benelux Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge series. At the time of writing, she has run better in Canada, earning two runner-up spots at Montreal. Her best result in the Benelux series has been a twelfth place at Zandvoort.

Away from the track, Valérie has business interests in both Canada and Luxembourg. She has her own automotive marketing company and collaborates with others.

(Image copyright Dario Ayala)

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Vivien Keszthelyi


Vivien Keszthelyi is a Hungarian driver who had her first senior races in 2014, aged only thirteen. She was competing in the Suzuki Swift Cup in Central and Eastern Europe.

Her best result was second, achieved at the Panonniaring and her home race at the Hungaroring. She finished in the top ten in all races she finished, and was on the podium in the Junior class every time. Her overall position at the end of the year was sixth. An outing in the Austrian Suzuki Cup gave her a fourth place. This was all despite having almost no prior motorsport experience. She had not been a junior karter in any serious way and only attended her first motor race a year earlier. Having said that, her parents liked cars, and she got an electric jeep for an early birthday.

In 2015, she returned to the RCM Swift Cup, and was a much stronger driver, despite a shaky start. Her first race ended in eleventh place, the first finish outside the top ten of her career. She scored her first win at the Pannoniaring, one of two this season. She was second three times, at the Hungaroring and the Slovakiaring. At the Hungaroring, she was also third in a multi-marque endurance race, driving solo in the Swift.

Always adding to her experience, she entered a couple of rounds of the Central European Touring Car Championship in Slovakia, in the same car. She was fifteenth and ninth, third and second in class.

In 2016, she raced an Audi TT Cup car in the Hungarian touring car championship. She was among the leading drivers, and won five races, mostly the sprints. The first of these wins was at Brno, where she won two in a row, with two fastest laps. Later in the season, at the Hungaroring, she won another three races at the same meeting. This gave her the Hungarian Touring Car and CEZ Endurance titles.

She stayed with the TT Cup car in 2017, but took a further step up into the Audi TT Cup in Europe. She is now a member of the Audi Sport Academy and receiving professional coaching from Pierre Kaffer. She was still only sixteen at the start of the season, having had to wait for a year to be allowed to start in the series.

Her season began badly, with a non-start in the first race, then a non-finish in the second. She was struggling without her race engineer, who had been in hospital, then had the embarrassing experience of sliding off during the parade lap and damaging her car. It was patched up for race two, but tyre problems intervened. Things got worse at the Nürburgring; she was caught up in a Fabian Vettel’s crash on the first lap, hit the wall, and spent the next two days in intensive care.

At the Norisring, she had recovered sufficiently to take part, and was rewarded with her first points finish, an eighth place. She will contest the rest of the 2017 season.

Her aim is to race in the DTM or the WEC.

(Image copyright Gabor Muranyi)

Friday, 7 July 2017

Laleh Seddigh


Laleh Seddigh is Iran’s top woman driver. She has won several races against men, as well as her country’s Ladies’ Championship.

Laleh was born in 1977. Her family was wealthy; her father owned several factories, including a car spares firm. She was a car enthusiast from a very early age and learned to drive at home, in the family’s yard. Some articles claim this was when she was eight, or eleven. A 2008 interview with Laleh for the German magazine Spiegel says she was thirteen.

By the time she was fourteen, she was being stopped by police and returned home, having “borrowed” her father’s car for a nocturnal excursion. Again, some sources claim this happened when she was much younger. She got her license later. As a teenager and young adult, she was very sporty and competed in athletics, equestrianism and volleyball.

Her first motorsport experience came through rallying. Her website says that she first competed in 2000, when she was 23, but details are hazy, partly due to language and information barriers. She took part in the Iranian championship between 2001 and 2005 and won the 2004 Ladies’ Championship. Part of the problem was that her activities were deemed un-Islamic by Iran’s religious authorities, and a media blackout was imposed on reporting her successes. She eventually petitioned for legitimate participation, which was granted. One fact in motorsport’s favour was that it was easy for Laleh to adhere to strict Muslim dress codes while clad head-to-foot in Nomex. In 2005, she was pictured at the start of the Arjan Rally close to Tehran, getting into her car. Her schedule involved both stage rallies and longer cross-country raids. She drove a Proton for an official team, and apparently won three rallies before 2004, from 28 starts.

In 2004, she started circuit racing as well as rallying. She used two different Protons and a Peugeot 206 over the course of five races. One of her first, at the Asadi Park stadium track, gave her a third place.

She won the Iranian 1600cc GT championship outright in 2005. Her car for the eight-race series was a works Proton.

From 2006, she was barred from competing in her own country after accusations of cheating. She was prohibited from entering the Open class of the Iranian touring car championship after her 2005 win, so she disguised her new 2400cc car as her last season’s 1600 model in order to compete. She was found out and banned.

After that, she did some training for Formula BMW Bahrain after receiving a licence there. It is not clear whether she actually raced. She is also reported to have raced a Formula 3 car in Italy. Some reports say this happened at Monza, but no results are forthcoming.

For a while, things went fairly quiet for Laleh. Her website states that she won a “ladies’ rally” organised by Tehran motor club in 2009, but further details are not available.

A film was made about her in 2012, supported by none other than Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It caused huge controversy in Iran. For one, its depiction of a Muslim woman was deemed un-Islamic and supportive of Western stereotypes. The film received a huge amount of state sponsorship, which was also criticised.

In 2014 and 2015, she entered Iran's Shiraz Rally, driving a Peugeot 206 and a Mitsubishi Lancer, respectively. She finished in 2014, in thirteenth place.

In 2015, she did some testing for the Indian Mahindra team, in their XUV500 4WD. Once more, it is not clear whether this was during or in preparation for competition.

Since then, her profile, outside Iran at least, has been lower. She has undertaken a PhD and teaches at a university, as well as speaking publicly about her motorsport experiences. In 2016, she talked of setting up a women’s racing school.

She was nicknamed “Little Schumacher” in Iran during her first brush with stardom.

(Image from http://arhiva.dalje.com)

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Pat Coundley


Pat Coundley raced sports and touring cars in the 1960s, in the UK.

She was always quite sporty and her first love was horses, in common with several other speedqueens, such as Pat Moss and her contemporary, Jean Aley.

She started her motor racing career in 1959, in speed events, driving a Jaguar D-Type belonging to her husband, John, another racer who was a Jaguar specialist. It was he who persuaded her to enter her first event, the North Weald hillclimb, in which she won the ladies’ award. She drove another of John’s cars, a Lister-Jaguar, in 1960, winning the sportscar class in sprints at Castle Combe and Long Marsden Airfield.

After some years in club races and sprints, often using Jaguar sportscars, she made her debut in the British Saloon Car Championship in 1964, driving a Lotus Cortina run by John Coundley Racing Partnership, her husband’s team. She was not overly competitive. Her first race was the second round at Goodwood, where she was seventeenth overall. She is recorded as a finisher at Oulton Park, but her position is not forthcoming. At Aintree, she may have shared the car with John. The Coundley Cortina was 22nd. The team disappears from the BSCC grids after that.

The same year, she drove a single-seater Lotus Climax 19 in the Brighton Speed Trials.
The year before, she used a D-Type, entering the 1600cc+ sportscar class, and the Ladies’ class.

At the Antwerp Speed Trials in 1964, she drove a long-nose Jaguar D-Type, and set a European women's speed record of 161.278 mph. This made the front page of at least one British newspaper. Pat was described as a “housewife”.

The Coundley Racing Partnership Lotus Cortina made some appearances in the 1965 BSCC, but it was not driven by Pat.

At some point in the early 1960s, Pat also raced a Lotus Elite, including a Ladies’ Handicap at Brands Hatch. In Motor Sport in 1962, she likened driving the Elite to “handling a beautiful horse”.

(Image copyright Getty Images)