Friday, 8 June 2018

Anne Wong

Anne Wong is a Singaporean driver best known as the winner of the 1970 Macau Grand Prix race, in a Mini.

Born in 1949, she was quite well-travelled as a teenager, moving between Singapore and Malaysia. Both her father and uncle were involved in the local motorsport scene and Anne picked up an enthusiasm for cars. She had learned to drive at the age of twelve and passed her test at sixteen.

In the late 1960s she was living in the UK and attending college. She enrolled in the Motor Racing Stables driving school at Brands Hatch, but did not finish the course. It was only when she returned to Singapore and watched a friend racing a car that her father had prepared that she made her real start in motorsport. The car was a Hillman Imp; she planned to try racing it herself but did not make any starts in it.

Her first big race was in 1970, although she may have taken part in some club rallies or autotests earlier. She entered the Singapore Grand Prix, then held on a 4.8km street circuit. Her car was a Mini Cooper, which unfortunately did not last the distance.

A few weeks later, she raced in Malaysia for the first time. She took the Mini to the Batu Tiga track at Shah Alam and finished third in a race there. In April, she won the under-1000cc class at the Selangor Grand Prix.

At the end of the year, she entered the same car into the Macau Grand Prix, in the touring car race. She started from last on the 30-car grid, having only just qualified. There was an additional worry about an attack of german measles that almost kept her from the track.

Anne steadily progressed up the grid and took the lead after Johnny Leffler’s Ford Escort suffered a broken differential and Dieter Quester’s works BMW lost its gears.

Her Macau win led to offers of drives all over the Asia-Pacific region. In June 1971, she raced at Wanneroo Park in Australia, sharing a Mini with Australian driver Ric Lisle in a six-hour enduro. They were leading their class when a piston cracked after an hour and a half.

Shortly after that, she was set to travel to Manila for the Philippines Grand Prix. She did not make the start for reasons unknown, but she did predict that the race would be won by a Mini Cooper S in the Straits Times newspaper. She had already declined an entry in the BP Rally in order to concentrate on the Philippines race.

The invitation to race in Australia came while she was driving in another rally, the Rothmans event, in Hong Kong. For a change, she was driving a Simca 1200 offered by National Motors of Hong Kong. She did not finish after an off into some water.

Her second attempt at the Singapore Grand Prix was more fruitful. She was seventh overall in the Mini from 26 starters, and her top ten was in spite a lengthy pitstop to deal with a loose exhaust.

She tried again in at Macau too, and was seventh, in the Mini. This was one of her first events with her new sponsorship from Malaysia Singapore Airlines (MSA). By now, she was a popular media figure; this was helped by her sideline as a motoring journalist for the Straits Times and other papers.

Announcements at the start of 1972 proclaimed that Anne would be taking part in fifteen events, including some of the saloon rounds of the Tasman Series in Australia. Her first event was the Manila Grand Prix. She was billed as racing against 173 men, but the results are proving hard to find. She may also have taken part in another Singapore Grand Prix.

In April, she did her first race in Indonesia, when she entered the Penang Grand Prix. Later in the year, she won the saloon race at the Indonesian Grand Prix, held at Antjol. She started from third and defeated eleven other drivers.

Her third Macau Grand Prix ended in disaster. She had qualified fifth on the grid but had to retire on the first lap due to a fire in her Mini. It turned out to be an electrical short-circuit.

By this time, she was having trouble with sponsorship. MSA had become Singapore International Airways and they dragged their feet providing the funding for the Macau race. In early 1973, she pulled out of the Singapore Grand Prix, having sold her Mini. She said in the Straits Times that it was “not economical for a private entry to try and compete against factory teams.”

She did race at the Malaysian Grand Prix in a V8 Ford Fairmont, but she found it too wide for the narrow circuit. Her own write-up of the event suggested that she had won, but in fact she had been black-flagged. She later apologised in print.

In May, she was entered in to the Penang Grand Prix in an Alfa Romeo Berlina, but it is not clear whether she actually started the race.

She retired from the circuits in 1974 and continued to work as a journalist, as well as an advertising executive. In June, she made her debut as a jockey, winning a pro-am ladies’ race at Bukit Timah.

In 1979 she was the official starter for the Malaysian Grand Prix. She was not quite able to get her need for speed out of her system and reappeared in the Singapore press in 1984, this time racing powerboats. Six years later, in 1990, she entered the Rally of Singapore for the first time in almost twenty years.

She continued to work in advertising. Later, she married.

(Image copyright Straits Times)

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