Thursday, 16 August 2018

Chelsea Herbert

Chelsea Herbert races V8 stock cars in New Zealand. She is the first woman to win a V8 Series race.

Chelsea is a former junior karter who took her first steps in senior competition in the 2014-2015 season, aged 15. She raced in the SsangYong Actyon Ute Racing Series, but was unable to complete the season due to receiving a concussion in round five. She admitted in an interview in the NZ Herald that the jump from karts to cars had been steeper than she expected and that she had often found herself “in the wrong place at the wrong time” on track. That said, she started the fifth round from pole position.

After a three-month recovery, she returned to kart racing, at least temporarily.

Later in 2015, she was part of a 20-woman strong celebration of women in all areas of motorsport at the CRC Speedshow.

She returned to Utes for the 2015-16 season and had an up and down year, although she was getting to grips with driving a much larger vehicle at speed. Her reward was two podium finishes, including a second place at Manfeild.

For the 2016-17 season, she began racing in BNT NZ Touring Cars, in a Ford Falcon. This is a V8 series in the vein of Supercars in Australia. She was fourth in the championship, with one second place at Manfeild and two thirds at Pukehohe and Hampton Downs.

In 2017, she was third in the BNT V8 Series Class 2 Championship, driving a Falcon. She scored two wins at Taupo and Ruapana and led the championship for much of the season. Her Taupo victory was the first for a female driver in this category. She kept up the momentum for most of the season, earning another win and eleven more podium finishes. A disappointing fifth and sixth place at Hampton Downs at the end of the season dropped her down the order a little; Brock Timperley had a late surge and finished fourteen points ahead of her.

Chelsea did her first sportscar races at the end of 2017. She joined former Ute rival Christina Orr in an Aston Martin Vantage GT4 run by Mike Racing for the last rounds of the South Island Endurance Championship. They raced at Ruapana and Timaru. The second time out for the team led to a seventh place overall.  

She stuck with V8s for the 2018-19 season, although she moved up to Class 1. Her car was a Toyota Camry. She scored her first podium in it, a third place at Teretonga, in January. This was part of a long list of top-five finishes that left her sixth in the championship.

For the 2019-20 season, she is racing V8s again, as well as trying out single-seaters for the first time in the Toyota Racing Series.

(Image copyright Simon Chapman)

Sunday, 12 August 2018

Judy Charlton (Witter)

Judy Charlton became the first woman to win a South African motor racing title when she won the Formula Vee championship in 1973.

At the time, Judy was racing as Judy Witter, using a a Witter Formula Vee which she had helped to build the year before with her father, Joseph. She was still in her teens.

She married Arnold Charlton, brother of single-seater racer Dave Charlton, and competed for a long while as Judy Charlton.

Judy was very fast from the start, but the combination of a very young female driver and a new chassis provoked suspicion among competitors and officials. The Witter’s engine was declared illegal. Even when Joseph changed it out for a different one, this was followed by everyone using that engine having their results suspended and their cars impounded. This was the top six in the championship. Only after much argument and justification was Judy recognised as champion. She was awarded her trophy in 1974, plus her prize of a Merlyn Mk25 Formula Ford, spares and a tow car.

The wrangles over her champion’s status do not seem to have affected her 1974 season in Formula Ford too much. Unfortunately, results are very hard to come by but photos show her competing at the main South African circuits, including at the SA Grand Prix support race.

In 1975, she raced in Formula Ford again, and was third in the South African championship.

Her achievements were rather overshadowed by those of Desiré Wilson, with whom she shared a Ford Escort in the 1975 Kyalami 1000km race. The result has been lost, although it is known that the pair drove a Ford Escort 1.6. Desiré won the SA Formula Ford series in 1976.

Later, she specialised in saloon racing, and was joint winner of the South African Group One championship in 1977, with Sarel van der Merwe. Her car was a Datsun 140Y.

Later, she drove a Datsun in touring car races, including a run in the Wynns 1000 at Kyalami with her husband Arnold, in a 280L. She used this car for at least two seasons, driving solo in the Kyalami Star production car event in 1980.

She continued to race, on and off, until 1994.

Her last major appearance was in Formula GTi in 1994, when she took over her son’s car due to his National Service duties. She has since raced her original Witter Formula Vee at a historic meeting, after it was restored.

(Image copyright Mike Wesson)

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Fiona James

Fiona James is a British sportscar driver who mostly races on the Continent. She also the founder and owner of Walero racewear, which manufactures body-temperature regulating fireproof underwear.

Her introduction to motorsport came when she was already an adult, in the form of a track day in 2006. Her sporting background was equestrian rather than automotive; she trained dressage horses for Team GB. “Walero” was the name of one of her notable ones.

She actually began racing in 2007, driving a Radical SR4 to some class wins in Britsports.

After that, she switched from a prototype to a GT car: a Ginetta G40. She competed for the next two seasons in both the British GT Cup and the Dutch Supercar Challenge, running part-time campaigns in each with In2Racing. Her best UK result in 2008 was a 13th place at Brands Hatch and she was 27th in the championship, having driven in four rounds. She and her team-mates also won their class at Spa.

She was thirteenth in the Supersport 2 category of Dutch Supercars in 2009, driving a Ginetta G50. Her results in the Britcar GT were improving and she scored her first top-ten at Snetterton, finishing eighth and winning her class. This was augmented by another class win at Silverstone.  

It was back to the UK in 2010, when she and the In2Racing team entered Britcar in the Ginetta. This included the season-ending Britcar 24 Hours, although they did not manage to finish. The team struggled to get on to the grid much that year, for reasons not clear.

he drove a Lamborghini Gallardo on her return to Britsports in 2011, first with Backdraft Motorsport. Her best result was an eighth at Donington. Later, she came back in the same car as part of the Panic team. She only managed to drive in the Spa round, when the car suffered a fire.

Later in the season, she drove the Gallardo in the Barcelona 24 Hours, and was 41st overall, second in class, with a four-person Backdraft Motorsport team.  

She moved back to the Netherlands for the Dutch Supercar series in 2012, still in the Gallardo, but had to cut her season short due to a skiing injury. She was ninth overall. Her team-mate Simon Atkinson was sixth.

She was meant to return in 2013, but does not appear to have raced.

In 2014, she took part in the world's longest race, the Maxi Endurance 32h, at Algarve. She was second in the Sport class, driving a BMW M3 with four other British drivers.

She did more 24-hour racing in 2015, taking part in the Barcelona 24 Hours in a BMW Z4, but she did not finish. The Backdraft Racing Lamborghini was also in evidence, at the Spa round of the Supercar Challenge. She was fourteenth in one race, and did not finish the other.

She raced a BMW for Intersport at the 2016 Silverstone 24 Hours, as part of a four-driver team. They were 25th overall, after a radiator problem and a broken propshaft.

For the first time since the start of her career, Fiona drove a prototype during 2017. She signed up with Blueberry Racing, a Dutch team, alongside Cor Euser and Dick van Elk, driving a Praga R1.

Her first race was the opening round of the Supercar Challenge at Assen, and she was eleventh and thirteenth. After the car’s debut, the team switched focus to the GT & Prototype Challenge for most of the season. Fiona  was second in class, with four wins, two seconds and a third. Her best overall finish was a fifth place at Assen, which coincided with one of her class wins.

In 2018, she took another step up in her racing career, sharing an Academy Motorsport Aston Martin Vantage in the GT4 European Series with Matt Nicoll-Jones. Part of her programme involved a run in the Aston Martin Race Festival that supported the Le Mans 24 Hours.   

Her second season in the GT4 European Series with the Aston included two third places at Brands Hatch, in the Pro-Am class. She and co-driver Tom Wood were also fifth at Paul Ricard. Unfortunately, a crash at Zandvoort ended their season prematurely. Neither driver was seriously hurt but the car was badly damaged.

(Image from

Friday, 3 August 2018

Eeva Heinonen

Eeva Heinonen was the Finnish Ladies’ Champion four times, between 1971 and 1974.

Born in 1946, she had quite an early start to her rally career, taking on her first major rallies as a driver in Finland in 1969. She had been navigating for longer, however, from at least 1965. In 1968, she sat beside Kirsti Airikkala in an Isuzu Sport.

She drove an Opel RK on the 1000 Lakes Rally in 1969, but did not finish.

The RK was a car she used for most of the early part of her career. She scored her first 1000 Lakes finish in it in 1970, when she was 25th.

At this stage of her career, she was still only competing within Finland. Her first Finnish ladies’ title was in 1971. With it came her first top-twenty finish, a 17th place in the Salpausselkä Rally.

Her first overseas event was the 1972 RAC Rally. She drove a Volvo 142 for the works team and had a British co-driver, Liz Crellin. She was 29th and beaten to the Ladies’ award by Marie-Claude Beaumont by less that two minutes. Opel driver Marie-Claude was Eeva’s regular rival for Coupes des Dames.

Marie-Claude never went near the 1000 Lakes, which was at that time dominated by local drivers, so Eeva faced less of a challenge for the Ladies’ Prize there. She was 20th overall, and this counted towards her second Finnish Ladies’ Trophy. That year, she also had her first top ten finish, coming tenth in the Arctic Tunturi Rally.

Her best international result was 18th, on the 1973 1000 Lakes Rally. She was driving a Volvo, as she usually did during the second half of her career.

She picked up another works drive for Volvo at the 1973 RAC Rally and went one-up on her French rival, Marie-Claude Beaumont. Although Eeva was only 32nd on the stages, Marie-Claude had to retire in her Opel Commodore. This international Coupe des Dames was in addition to a third Finnish ladies’ title that year.

Her 1974 season may have been curtailed by pregnancy; Ford’s Tony Mason offered her a Ford drive at the RAC Rally, which she was unable to take up. This could have been for 1974 or 1975. Tony Mason’s own writings suggest it was 1974, but it could have been either.

She was able to compete in the Arctic Rally at the end of January 1974, finishing 24th, but this was followed by a break until June. Her shortened season proved enough to retain her Ladies’ crown in Finland, but she did not get to square up to Marie-Claude Beaumont again. Domestically, her best results were two 18th places in the Kalakukko and Länsirannikon rallies, both of which had in the region of 50 finishers.

Eeva’s last season of rallying was 1975, and she finally got herself a Ford drive. She drove an Escort RS in three Finnish rallies. Her best finish was 15th in the Arctic Rally. Her season ended in March, so a pregnancy is a possible reason.

She later married Saab driver Pertti Lehtonen. In recent years she has appeared at classic motor shows in Finland. Like her countryman Ari Vatanen, she had a sojourn in politics, running for local office in the mid-1980s.

(Image from