Thursday, 26 July 2018

Women in Toyota Atlantics/Formula Atlantic

Katherine Legge in 2005

The Atlantic Championship is a one-make single-seater series in the US which has historically acted as a feeder for IndyCar and Champ Car. It evolved from Formula Atlantic, previously called Formula B, which was based on production engines but not strictly a one-make series. Formula Atlantic also existed in the UK.

Toyota came on board in 1989 and sponsored the championship as well as providing engines. Atlantics were part of the CART family in 2004 to 2005, then functioned as the Champ Car development series in 2006 and 2007, similar to Indy Lights. The Atlantic Championship is currently run by USAC after some time under the SCCA umbrella.

Relatively few women have taken part in Toyota Atlantics, although some have been very successful. Danica Patrick scored a number of podiums in her two seasons there and Katherine Legge won three races in 2005. Simona de Silvestro managed five wins over two seasons.

During the Toyota era, Atlantics were masterminded by Vicki O’Connor of the ProMotion agency. She co-ordinated the championship until it was bought out by CART.

Toyota Atlantic Championship
Carol Soucy (Scalzo Racing) - 33rd (3 races)

Danica Patrick (Team Rahal) - 6th (12 races)

Danica Patrick (Team Rahal) - 3rd (12 races)

Katherine Legge (Polestar Racing Group) - 3rd (12 races)

Champ Car Atlantic
Simona de Silvestro (Walker Racing) - 19th (12 races)

Atlantic Championship
Simona de Silvestro (Newman/Wachs Racing) - 8th (11 races)

Simona de Silvestro (Team Stargate Worlds) - 3rd (12 races)

Atlantic Championship Series (USAC)
Jenna Grillo (K-Hill Motorsports) - 13th (4 races)

(Image copyright Kurt Dahlstrom)

Friday, 20 July 2018

Lia Comirato Dumas

Lia Comirato Dumas was the undisputed queen of the Mille Miglia, having entered the Italian classic eight times between 1936 and 1949.

Her best finish was second in 1948, driving a Fiat with her husband, Alberto. It was one of her last attempts at the race. They were also fourth in that year's Coppa d'Oro delle Dolomiti, in a Stanguellini.

The Comirato-Dumas’ first car was a Fiat Balilla 508C with berlinetta bodywork, built in 1935. It was a fairly modest car with a one-litre side-valve engine and 34 bhp. In their first Mille Miglia, they were fourteenth overall and second in the 1100cc class, behind the similar Fiat of Milton Biagini and Arcangelo Periccioli. The car was likely tuned and prepared by Fioravante Zanussi.

It was probably Alberto’s second Mille Miglia in the car, but Lia’s first time.

The same car and driver combination tackled the 1937 Miglia, but they did not finish for reasons unrecorded.

Lia’s next car was a modified Fiat 1100, called the “Fiat Comirato 1100”. This car was not successful in the Miglia either; it failed to finish in 1938 and 1940. Heavily customised with a narrower profile and less bodywork than a standard 1100; it was the subject of complaints by rival drivers who tried to claim it was illegal.

After the war, Alberto was the first to resume his motorsport career. He raced a Fiat 1100 in 1946, but Lia did not take the wheel herself. She returned in 1948 for another Mille Miglia, finishing eighth in another Comirato-built Fiat referred to as the “Fiat-Comirato Speciale.”

This new special was Lia’s car the 1949 Miglia, which she did not finish. The car was entered for the 1950 event, but did not make it to the start.

Her last Mille Miglia was the 1952 edition. She and Alberto drove a Siata Daina Gran Sport, another Fiat derivative. They were 66th and fifth in the 1500cc class.

Lia sometimes participated in other races in Italy, still driving with her husband. Between 1948 and 1950, the couple entered three editions of the Coppa d’Oro delle Dolomiti. The first two times, they drove the Stanguellini, in which they recorded a fourth place in 1948. In 1950, their car was another “Comirato Speciale”, based on an OSCA this time. It was entered by the OSCA team and they were seventh overall.

Earlier, in 1938, she may have driven with Alberto in the Targa Abruzzi, in a Fiat 1100.

The only time that Lia competed outside Italy was in the Litoranea Libica, a 1000km road race held in the Italian territory of Libya. She and Alberto were 16th in the first running of this event in 1937, driving a Fiat 500. The race was run a second time in 1939 and the couple entered again in a Fiat, but their finishing position is not known.

Much about Lia’s life and career is not known. Even her dates of birth and death are obscure. Alberto, although a more prolific racer, is scarcely better documented. He is known to have come from Treviso so it is likely that Lia was also from there, although “Dumas” as a name suggests French ancestry.

It is possible that Lia entered some of the women-only rallies and hillclimbs that seem to proliferate in Italy at the end of her career, but entry lists are hard to come by. She did not compete outside of Italian territory, so it is unlikely that she took part in the Paris-St. Raphaël Rally.

(Portrait from,  car image copyright Peter Kappeler)  

Monday, 9 July 2018

Milla Mäkelä

Milla Mäkelä is a Finnish driver who has spent most of her career racing for Mtec in Formula Ford.

She has been active in motorsport since 2009, when she was 16. She always races for her family’s Mäkelä Racing team. The team builds the Mtec Formula Ford chassis for a number of teams in Scandinavia.

Her first races were in the Finnish Formula Ford Zetec championship, although right away, she took part in two Northern European Formula Ford races as well, in neighbouring Sweden. This would be her standard season pattern for most of the next couple of seasons.

In 2010, she was on the pace in the Finnish Formula Ford Junior Championship, and finished the season in tenth. Her brother and team-mate, Miikka, had use of the 2010 Mtec chassis for part of the season and was third. Milla used the ‘09 car. Again, she guested in the NEZ championship, for two races.

In 2011, she concentrated solely on the Finnish championship and recorded a tenth place. She was still using the ‘09 car.  

The following year, she scored her first podium finish, a third at Alastro, and was fifth overall, one behind her brother Miikka. Milla achieved another two top-five positions, at Alastro and Ahvenisto. She was finally driving the ‘10 Mtec and feeling the benefit.

Mid-season, she raced at the NEZ meeting at Karlskoga, and finished two out of three races, in twelfth and fourteenth.

In 2013, she was ninth again in the Finnish championship. However, her three Swedish races in the NEZ series were enough to give her ninth in that championship, her best yet. She was driving the ‘12 Mtec car.

She raced again in the Finnish series in 2014, and was normally a midfield finisher. She scored another podium finish, a third at Alastaro, and was fourth in the championship.

In 2015, she made the jump from midfielder to leading driver in Finnish Formula Ford, despite missing some of the races. She scored three second places, and one third, and was fifth in the championship. For the second part of the year, she also raced in Danish Formula Ford and earned one sixth place, at Spa.

Another Finnish FF season in 2016 was rather patchy, although she did earn herself two third places at Kemora.

In 2017, she switched to saloon racing, in the BMW Xtreme Cup. This ended up only being a part-season, and she was 17th overall. Her best race result was fifth at Ahvenisto.

She stayed involved with Formula Ford through the championship’s shorter Formula SM series, run over three rounds. She scored a third place at Alastaro, despite brake problems. Mäkelä Racing ran two BMWs for two two-driver teams.

In 2018, she remained involved in the Mäkelä Racing team, but did not appear to be competing regularly. She applied to take part in the all-female W Series Formula 3 championship for 2019 but was not selected.

Her W Series disappointment did not deter her. She raced a Chevrolet Camaro in the NEZ V8 Thunder series, finishing fifth after a season that included a podium finish in her first season of sportscar racing.

(Image copyright Milla Mäkelä)

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Marketta Oksala

Marketta Oksala is three-times Finnish Ladies' Champion, winning her titles in 1975, 1976 and 1977.

She was a six-times entrant of Rally Finland, with a best result of 22nd, in 1976. Her car was a Lada 1300.

Her best result in all of her eight WRC outings was 17th, in the 1977 Monte Carlo Rally, in an Alpine-Renault A310. She was competing as part of the all-female Team Aseptogyl, alongside Christine Dacremont and Colette Galli in a Lancia Stratos. Marketta was partnered by the experienced Yvonne Pratt (Mehta), rather than her usual navigator Pirjo Pynnä.

1974 seems to have been her first season of international rallying. She was 28 years old at the time. Earlier, she raced a Ford Capri on the circuits in Finland, as part of the Teboil junior team. One of her team-mates in the Finnish state oil company’s squad was Ari Vatanen.

She did one season in the Finnish rally championship in 1973, driving an Opel Ascona. She scored two top-twenty finishes in the Helsinki Rally and the Pohjola Rally. Her first 1000 Lakes ended in a 24th place.

Her first overseas rally was the 1974 RAC Rally. She drove a Hillman Avenger but did not finish. This came after a second season in the Finnish championship, driving a range of cars: Fiat 124, Alfa Romeo Alfetta and Opel Kadett. She only managed one finish, a 31st place in the Kalakukkoralli.

The Avenger became her favoured car for 1975. She won the first of her Finnish ladies’ titles with three Coupes des Dames, including one on her third 1000 Lakes Rally (she was 36th overall). Her best result was a 16th place in the Hankiralli. Away from Finland, she competed in one ice rally in Sweden, the Polar Bergslagsrallyt.

Her second Finnish ladies’ title came at the wheel of a somewhat unlikely car: a Lada 1300. This rather underpowered car nevertheless gave her her best-ever 1000 Lakes finish. She was the third Lada driver to finish and the second of the 1300cc cars. Her 21st place was the best overall result she had all season.

She also put together a string of six ladies’ awards and finished top of the women’s leaderboard, 20 points ahead of her nearest rival, Marja-Liisa Korpi.  

1977 was an inconsistent year for Marketta. She began the year with her Monte Carlo  adventure as part of Team Aseptogyl, which was a one-off drive. She then switched to a Ford Escort Mexico and then an Escort 2000 for Finnish rallies. She was the top lady on both the Hanki and Mantta events, but was not quite as high up the overall leaderboard as she could be. A switch to an Opel Kadett led to another top-twenty finish on the Itaralli in June. She was 19th.

Although she won more ladies’ awards, her overall finishes in the Kadett were indifferent and she retired from the 1000 Lakes and Nokia rallies. In November, she accepted another international guest drive in the Tour de Corse, in a Toyota Celica, but she did not finish.

Team Aseptogyl called for her services again for the 1978 Monte. This time, they were running diesel-powered Citroen 2500 CXs. Neither Marketta nor her team-mates Marianne Hoepfner and Christine Dacremont finished.

1978 was a short season, and her last one on the stages. The Nortti team ran her Kadett for the Hankiralli, then she drove a Mercedes 300 D for her final attempt at the 1000 Lakes. The Mercedes was another diesel car. She won the diesel class from Hans Sevelius’s VW Golf and was 36th overall.

After her retirement, she retained her interest in rallying and was a regular spectator at the 1000 Lakes.