Antonella Mandelli was the 1981 European Ladies’ Champion. She was part of the Aseptogyl team early in her career, although she was more associated with the Jolly Club squad.
Antonella was born in the affluent Como region of Italy.
Her earliest major rally seems to have been Sanremo in 1977, when she was 23. She drove an Opel Kadett, but did not finish. The same car was used for the Rally Sangiacomo, also in Italy, but the results are not forthcoming. Her co-driver was Iva Boggio.
This drive got her noticed, and she was picked up by Fiat. Jolly Club were running their rally operation. In October 1978, Antonella tried Sanremo again in a Fiat 131. The car broke a driveshaft and she retired. Shortly afterwards, she became part of a six-car Team Aseptogyl, driving a smaller Fiat 127. Antonella was one of three Italian drivers, with Maurizia Baresi and Anna Cambiaghi. The other three were the experienced Frenchwomen, Christine Dacremont and Marianne Hoepfner, and Joëlle Chardin. They got an entry for the Tour de Corse, but Antonella had to drop out with an oil leak. None of the Aseptogyl cars finished.
She spent the next season in the 131, which was becoming one of the most competitive cars of its time, in the hands of Walter Röhrl and Markku Alen. It was an unforgiving car; Michele Mouton also drove one, and never liked it, despite winning two events in it. Antonella’s best result that year was an eighteenth place in the Targa Florio Rally.
The 131 finally came good for her in 1980, when she scored her first podium finish. She was third in the Rally delle Valli Piacentine.
In 1981, she travelled to the Iberian territories with Jolly Club and the 131. She was rewarded with second place in the Madeira Rally. This was a really tough event, with only 17 finishers from 69 starters. Antonella was ahead of her Jolly Club team-mate, Adartico Vudafieri, who won five rallies that year.
A one-off drive in an Alfa Romeo Giulietta in Spain was not as successful; she crashed out of the Rally Costa Brava. She did use this car in Italian rallies, but this was her only international outing in it.
She ended the season as European Ladies’ Champion, ahead of Michela “Micky” Martinelli of Switzerland. Her other results do not seem to be widely available. Micky could not catch her in the Italian championship, either.
The 131 remained her car of choice for international rallies in 1982. She entered six ERC events, and finished in the top ten in five of them. The best of these was a seventh place in the Costa Brava Rally, which made up for her disappointment in 1981. The Madeira Rally continued to be one of her strongest events, and she was eighth this year. Her other top-tens were eighth places in the RACE Rally and Rally della Lana, and a tenth spot in the Rally 4 Regioni.
In the Italian championship, she was already trying out the newer Lancia 037 Rallye, also run by Jolly Club. She was Italian ladies’ champion at the end of the year.
She drove a Lancia 037 Rallye for Jolly Club in the 1983 European Championship. Again, Madeira was her lucky rally, and she was third. She was 18th in the Ieper 24 Hours, supporting team leader Miki Biasion, and was becoming very familiar with the powerful, Group B 037 when she had a big accident in Spain. It was during the Sol RACE Rally and she and her co-driver Tiziana Borghi were unharmed, although the car was written off. This followed an exclusion from the Costa Brava Rally due to problems at the finish.
1984 was another good season for her. Driving the 037, she repeated her third place in the Madeira Rally. Later in the season, she followed it up with a fifth in Catalunya.
This was her last season in rallying. Apparently, she married an heir to the Jack Daniels whiskey fortune and moved to the USA. She had earlier stated that she wanted to race at Le Mans and to enter the Dakar Rally, but this never came to fruition.
Antonella was clearly a very talented driver who had connections in the right places. If she had continued her career a little longer and competed more in northern Europe, she could have made a real impression on the World Rally Championship.
(Image from http://autologia.net)