Monday, 5 December 2016

Christine Cole (Gibson)


Christine Cole, who also raced as Christine Gibson, was an Australian touring car veteran, whose career spanned three decades.

She took part in nine Bathurst 500/1000 races between 1968 and 1984. Her team-mates included Glenn Seton, Sandra Bennett and Marie-Claude Beaumont. She drove a variety of cars, including a Nissan Pulsar, Ford Falcon, Mini and Holden Monaro. Her first try at the event was in 1968, in a Mini. She was part of an all-girl team with Midge Whiteman, whose second time at Bathurst it was. This happened in only her second year of racing: she began in 1967, with a Mini.

Christine was from a family of racers, and it was not surprising that she got into the sport. An early boyfriend raced Minis, and lent her a car. Her first season was spent in a women’s championship based at Oran Park. She won every round of the championship apart from the first one, in which she was third.

Her second Hardie-Ferodo 500 was at the wheel of a Fiat 125, in another ladies’ team with Lynne Keefe. They did not finish. Christine later described how the small, light Fiat was pulled across the track in the wake of the bigger cars.

In 1970, she used one of the bigger cars herself, a Holden Torana. She and Sandra Bennett were a more accomplished thirteenth overall, driving for the Holden Dealer Team. The same driver pairing tackled the Sandown Three Hour 250, but it is not clear whether or not they finished.

She took a break in 1971; this year, she married fellow racer, Fred Gibson, returning as Christine Gibson.
A second ride in the 500 in a Torana in 1972, this time with Pat Peck as a team-mate, led to a DNF. The following year, she switched allegiance to Alfa Romeo, driving a GTV 2000 in the big endurance races. Christine and Sue Ransom did not finish the Hardie-Ferodo 500 or the Phillip Island 500.

She was then absent from Bathurst for a couple of seasons, partly due to a sabbatical from motorsport, and, for 1975 at least, to concentrate on the Australian Touring Car Championship. She was still “in” with the Alfa Romeo team, and drove the GTV to fifth overall in the series, with four class wins. This was her best result in the ATCC.

Away from Bathurst, she competed on and off in Australian Touring Cars, later, often for her husband Fred Gibson’s team. Her best season for this was 1975, when she was fifth overall after winning the 2000cc class four times and remaining a regular feature in the overall top ten. Her car was an Alfa Romeo GTV 2000. 
During her absence from the Hardie-Ferodo 500, the French driver, Marie-Claude Beaumont, had stolen her place as the premier female Bathurst racer. In 1975, she was sixth in the 500, driving an Alfa Romeo GTV 2000 with John Leffler. On Christine’s return to the 500 the following year, they teamed up, in an Alfa Romeo Alfetta GTAm, but sadly did not finish.

Christine retired from active competition for the rest of the 1970s, only to return in 1981. That year, she drove a King George Tavern Ford Falcon in endurance races, with Joe Moore. In spite of her lack of current seat time, she took her “top lady” honours back from Marie-Claude Beaumont, with a sixth place. The same driver pairing was tenth in the Hang Ten 400.

In 1983 and 1984, Christine was a works Nissan driver, alongside her husband, Fred. As part of the Australian Endurance Championship, she drove a Pulsar with Bob Muir in the 1983 500, but did not finish, due to a mainshaft failure. She did not finish the Sandown round of the AEC either,

The same year, she took part in some races in the AMSCAR championship, driving a Bluebird.

She used the Pulsar for both series in 1984, and managed eleventh overall in AMSCAR. She drove in the 500 again with the experienced Glenn Seton, did not finish, due to a broken half-shaft.

1984 was her last season of competition. She has remained active in Australian motorsport, as an administrator and organiser, and is still remembered as the First Lady of Bathurst.

(Image copyright News Corp Australia)

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Mary Handley-Page


Mary in a Sunbeam Rapier

Mary Handley-Page was one of a group of British female drivers who were part of works teams for British manufacturers in the 1950s and 1960s.

Her family was involved in engineering; her father, Frederick Handley-Page, gave his name to a series of aircraft, and his company built the famous Halifax Bomber. Mary was his youngest daughter, born in 1923 and originally christened Patricia.

As a young woman, she rode horses and hunted to hounds. Equestrianism has proved to be a surprisingly good training for rally drivers, the best example being Pat Moss.

Her first major appearance seems to have been the 1956 RAC Rally, driving a Rover. Her co-driver was Jo Ashfield. They were second in the Ladies’ standings. The pair rallied together again on the Tulip Rally, sitting in the opposite seats. The car was a Standard, and they were 169th overall.

Mary returned to the Tulip Rally in 1957, at the wheel of a Sunbeam Mark III. She was back in the driver’s seat, with Francoise Wilton Clarke on the maps. They finished, in 134th place.

She was part of the works Sunbeam team from 1958 to 1960, driving one for their ladies’ team, with other female drivers. For the 1958 Monte Carlo Rally, she was the leader of a three-woman Sunbeam team, with Lola Grounds and Doreen Reece. Mary and Lola were a good team. As a duo, they were 21st in the 1958 Tulip Rally, in a Rapier. Mary was then sixteenth in the Alpine Rally in the summer.

Lola had moved to the Ford team for 1959, and Mary had a new co-driver in Daphne Freeman, who had got into motorsport through her work as Stirling Moss’s secretary. The new pairing entered the Monte, with Joyce Howard as a third driver, but had an accident and could not finish. As a two-woman team, Mary and Daphne were 39th in the Tulip Rally, again in a Sunbeam Rapier.

Away from rallying proper, Mary was part of a team of female Rootes Group drivers sent to prove to the Belgian motorsport authorities that a Hillman Minx was able to manage 15,000 miles of bad Belgian pavé. Averaging 40mph, the team covered the distance in three weeks during the Rallye des Routes Pavées. The team included Nancy Mitchell, Sheila van Damm, Patricia Ozanne and Francoise Clarke. They were said to be responsible for a sharp spike in continental Hillman Minx sales.

At the beginning of 1960, Mary went back to the co-driver’s seat for the Monte, assisting Jimmy Ray to eleventh place. It was quite unusual for her to be part of a mixed team. With a new co-driver again, Nesta Gilmour, she finished 105th in the Tulip Rally, in a Rapier. The Alpine Rally was another of her favoured events, and she was 27th in 1960, co-driven by Patricia Ozanne.

She continued to drive private Sunbeams in 1961, including a Rapier on the Monte Carlo Rally, with Pauline Mayman and Daphne Freeman. They had been running well, but a puncture prevented them from claiming a penalty-free run. Mary and Pauline drove the same car on that year’s Tulip Rally, and were 43rd overall.

For the 1962 Monte, she co-drove for Patricia Ozanne, in a Mini, which Patricia had bought from the works BMC team the previous year. They started from Warsaw, but do not appear to have finished. This was Mary’s last major rally.

She died in 1992.

(Image copyright alamy.com)

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Cora Schumacher


Cora in 2005

Cora Schumacher has raced in a number of one-make series in Germany. At one point, she was the highest-paid female racing driver in the world.

Cora came into motorsport quite late. She married Ralf Schumacher, then a Formula One driver, in 2001. Her own racing career began in 2004, at the wheel of a BMW Mini.

For her debut, she was part of the celebrity team in the Mini Challenge in Germany, with four other drivers who were all TV presenters. She qualified in 22nd place out of 24 for her first race, at Lausitz, and finished in 18th. Her part-season that year gave her a 27th place. Many had been rather disparaging about her going racing, given her “F1 WAG” status and former work as a model, but she kept out of trouble and surprised a few people. One of her most vocal critics was former DTM racer, Ellen Lohr, who made remarks about Cora’s breast implants adding weight to the car.

She surprised even more onlookers in 2005, when she returned to the Mini Challenge and scored her first top ten, and eighth place. Unfortunately, her season was curtailed by a nasty accident, which caused her to sit out much of it. She was 34th in the championship.

After that, she signed up for the 2006 SEAT Leon Supercopa alongside Christina Surer, in a deal that was said to make her the highest-paid woman driver in the world, and the fourth highest-paid German driver, according to the German press. This was billed as the first step on the way to a drive in the DTM. Cora and Christina shared the car, and Cora ended up only racing in two of the rounds.

After her short run in the Supercopa, she took a break from motorsport. In 2010, she returned to the MINI Challenge, with Lechner Racing, for the second half of the season. Her best finish was thirteenth, at Hockenheim, and she was 19th overall.

Her finishing positions improved a little in 2011, and she was more consistent. She just missed the top ten on three occasions, all at Hockenheim, finishing eleventh each time. She was 14th overall.

In 2012, she drove in the Dubai 24 Hours in a MINI, winning class A2. She and her four team-mates were 25th overall. She also spent some time testing a Chevrolet Camaro GT3 car. For most of the season, she raced in the MINI Trophy, scoring six top-ten finishes, the best being an eighth at the Red Bull Ring. This was good for 15th in the championship.

Another break from motorsport followed, during which time she did more modelling, appeared on the German version of Strictly Come Dancing (in 2015) and split up with Ralf Schumacher. They were divorced in 2015.

In 2016, she made a comeback, and signed up for the DTC (Deutsche Tourenwagen Cup), racing a Mini in the 1600 Production class. She joined the championship for the second half of the season, and scored two class seconds in her first races, at the Red Bull Ring. She was also third at the Nürburgring, and was sixth overall in class.

Cora’s racing plans at the moment include the 2017 Dubai 24 Hours, in an Audi TT.


(Image from motorsport.com)

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Joan La Costa


Joan LaCosta was a flamboyant French driver (apparently), mostly noted as a daredevil and speed triallist in the USA in the 1920s. Her usual car seems to have been a Miller special.

Joan’s origins are obscure. She appears in the mid-1920s, and by 1925, was proclaimed as the “women’s international champion”, as reported in the Santa Cruz Evening News. The Danville Bee, a Virginia newspaper, elaborated on this, claiming that she won her title in a women’s championship meeting at Indianapolis that year. No details of such a meeting are forthcoming, and Indianapolis was not a welcoming venue to women drivers. The event must have been held somewhere else. Reports from this time suggest that she was most active in Florida. Later, she would claim to have been racing on dirt tracks since about 1923, but this is proving hard to confirm.

There is more concrete evidence of one of the most dramatic incidents of her short career, from 1926. Whilst practicing for a speed record run on Daytona Beach in April, her car caught fire, travelling at about 130mph. The cause of the fire was a broken fuel line. A photographer was on hand to capture Joan leaping from the car, as she steered it into the sea in an attempt to douse the flames. She was not seriously hurt. Only a few days later, she made the record run in a different car, and set a series of new female records, driving at 138mph. The dramatic photos were reprinted in newspapers all across the United States.

Later in the year, she made another record run at Jacksonville beach, also in Florida. This time, she got up to 145mph, smashing her own record. The car was a Miller Special, although not much detail about it is available.

Her talents did not stop with record-breaking. In 1926, Joan entered a match race on a half-mile dirt track, as part of an IMCA (International Motor Competition Association) event in Toronto, Canada. IMCA was the only sanctioning body that allowed women to race at all. She won, beating Louis Disbrow. The two had considerable history, having raced against each other twice, in Canada and Mississippi. The same year as their Toronto battle, Disbrow apparently led a protest against Joan’s inclusion in a Lakewood starting grid. His objection was overturned, partly because her speed-trial times proved that she was faster than several of the male entrants.

IMCA’s leading promoter of the time was J. Alex Sloan, who believed in motor racing as spectacle, and used several woman drivers to add controversy and a touch of glamour to IMCA meetings. At the same time as he was promoting Joan, he was also using Elfrieda Mais, usually as a stunt performer, although she did race occasionally. The row with Disbrow must have had him rubbing his hands together with glee. Disbrow’s position on female drivers was also rather puzzling; his own career had been launched in the 1900s, as a riding mechanic to Joan Newton Cuneo, the first notable American female racer.

Her activities in 1927 are unclear. Her name does not appear on any published start lists for IMCA meetings, but she may well have continued to race at fairgrounds and horse-racing tracks.

In 1928, Joan won a women’s race in Milwaukee, but this was one of her last triumphs. At the end of the year, she announced her intention to retire and take up flying.

This did not happen, although she continued to appear in the news due to a conviction for robbery in 1929. She attempted to steal jewellery from another woman, using a replica gun in a hold-up situation. In defence, she claimed that she had lost “all of her money” at a horse race, and was unemployed. During her court appearance, she fainted and burst into tears of remorse.

By 1931, she had married a meat salesman called Joseph Maurer. At the time, she worked in the offices of a stationery firm, and pronounced herself “through” with both motor racing and aviation.

Joan LaCosta was almost certainly not her birth name. Marriage records show that Joseph Maurer married a woman named Marion Martins in 1931. There was a racing driver named Marion Martin or Martins active in Canada in the summer of 1925, just before Joan LaCosta appeared. She raced against Elfrieda Mais three times, winning once, over a mile, at Regina. Her car was a Frontenac-Ford. She also took part in open races at Edmonton, and set a speed record at Toronto. At the Canadian National exhibition at Toronto the following year, Joan LaCosta makes her confirmed debut. On her arrest for robbery, she was named as Marion Carver. Reports of her trial mention parents living in Memphis, and a former husband named Waldo Martins.

Her original nationality is not clear; she was probably not French, but American or perhaps Canadian. Given the showmanly nature of IMCA’s promoted events, it is not completely surprising that some drivers hid behind noms de course, or exaggerated their origins to make themselves stand out. There was perhaps an element of hiding from a disapproving family or a grudging husband.

She and Maurer had children at some point. Her life after her marriage was spent as a private individual.

(Image source unknown)

Sunday, 6 November 2016

The Women's Automobile and Sports Association


A WASA car badge, belonging to motorcyclist Marjorie Cottle

The Women’s Automobile and Sports Association was one of the foremost women’s motor clubs in Britain between the world wars, and the one with the greatest emphasis on competition.

It was founded in 1927 by a group of female motor enthusiasts, encouraged by their experiences in the Wood Green & District MC women-only trial, held in January of that year.

The club’s first event was in 1929. It was a night running of the Exeter Trial, an established trial route usually run by the MCC. The route was 300 miles long, and included three “observed sections”: two hillclimbs and a starting and stopping test. Thirty-eight cars took the start, with seventeen of those being driven by all-female crews. The drivers included Paddie Naismith in a Ballot, Patricia McOstrich in an Alvis, Victoria Worsley and Mrs Dobson in their MG Midgets, Lady Iris Capell in an Alvis and future RAC Rally winner, Kitty Brunell, in a Talbot.

In 1930, the club held its own Land’s End Trial, another classic MCC route. Twenty-five drivers took part. Among them were Brooklands stalwarts like Elsie Wisdom, in a Frazer Nash, and Irene Schwedler in her MG Midget. Kitty Brunell was another entrant, as was Florence Scudamore in a Triumph, and founder member Lilian Roper in her AC. It is not recorded who won the event, but Miss Roper only just managed to finish, due to engine trouble. Lilian was one of the senior members of the club, who had been active in motorsport since before WWI and had previously been the Treasurer of another Ladies’ Motor Club.

WASA members would go on to distinguish themselves in other trials. Florence Scudamore won the Ladies’ Prize in the 1931 London-Gloucester Trial, in her Triumph, and Joan Weekes succeeded her as the ladies’ champion in 1932, driving a Ford. After 1932, Florence Scudamore usually drove a Singer, supported by the works team.

Margaret Allan, who was a race-winner at Brooklands and drove at Le Mans, began her career in WASA trials, using her parents’ big Lagonda. She had watched one of the events as a spectator, and was initially unimpressed with the standard of driving. This spurred her on to have a go herself, as she believed she could win.

Lord Wakefield presented WASA with a trophy in 1930. This was awarded between 1932 and 1938, for the club member judged to have performed the best over the year. The trophy was awarded for penalty-free runs in the Monte Carlo Rally (Mrs Montague-Johnstone in 1932) or for Brooklands heroics (Mrs Wood, 1938), or for the highest scores in the club’s own trials. Mrs Wood kept hold of the trophy during the war, and it was she that gave it to the British Women Racing Drivers’ Club in 1973. It is now awarded for the most meritorious performance for a woman in motorsport during the year, if warranted.

By 1932, WASA was accepted as a bona fide motor club, and was invited to take part in the Inter-Club Meeting at Brooklands. Grace Hedges and Irene Schwedler upheld the honour of the club by taking first and third place in the Sports Long Handicap.

The club carried on organising its own trials, as well as social events. A Cotswold Trial was held at least twice, in 1933 and 1937, as well as a WASA “Day in the Hills” in 1934, which ran in the Chilterns. Margaret Allan, Doreen Evans, Florence Scudamore and Morna Vaughan were among the winners of First Class Awards in the trial, which was also open to male drivers.

The 1937 Cotswold Trial was also a mixed affair. Frazer Nash cars predominated, with five of the awards given to Frazer Nash drivers. Two of these were for Midge Wilby and Miss E.V. Watson in the team trophy, and Miss Watson also won the Iris Capell Trophy, donated by the founding Lady member. Midge Wilby earned a First Class Award in the trial.

Motorsport ceased for the duration of WWII. After the war ended in 1945, WASA did not regroup. Some of its members, including Morna Vaughan and Irene Schwedler (now known as Charlotte Sadler), continued to race and rally for some time. At least one other all-female motor club was formed, but it did not last. The closest parallel to WASA today is the British Women Racing Drivers’ Club, founded in the 1960s, which keeps a link to WASA through the Wakefield Trophy.

(Image from http://www.hvauctions.com/)

Monday, 31 October 2016

Jacquie Bond-Smith


Jacquie in the Marcos in 1967

Jacquie Bond-Smith started in club motorsport in her father's car, a “Wavendon Wombat” special, in 1960. She was then known as Jacquie Cook. The Wombat was an 1172cc clubman’s car built by her father, Arthur Cook. Results for Jacquie in this car are proving tough to track down. Both she and her sister, Joey, raced it on occasion.

Some time in the early 1960s, she married John Bond-Smith, a racer and businessman. At the same time, she seems to have made her way up through the club racing ranks, and was awarded the Chris Bristow Trophy by the BRDC in 1964, in recognition of “the most promising performance at Silverstone.” This may well have been in a Ford Cortina, or possibly a Lotus single-seater.

She definitely did race a Cortina in 1965, a Lotus model. She drove it in some rounds of the BSCC, and secured a best finish of tenth at Snetterton, followed by seventeenth place in the St Marys Trophy at Goodwood. For the next round, she drove a Ford Galaxie, at Silverstone, but did not finish. It was her only BSCC outing of the year in that car, although she did race it in the European Touring Car Championship. In August, she was thirteenth in the Snetterton 500km, winning her class.

In club races, she used a Lotus Elan. In this car, she was third in a GT race at Silverstone in October, winning her class.

In 1966, she returned to sportscar racing, campaigning a Lotus 23 in British club races. She was twelfth in one race at Silverstone, just behind sister Joey in the Wombat.

Jacquie’s big project for 1967 was the FLIRT all-girl racing team. FLIRT stood for “First Ladies International Racing Team”, and it was made up of Jacquie and Joey, plus Jacqui Smith, another young driver who had had some success in British club events in a Hillman Imp. Their car was a Mini Marcos, supplied by the Marcos factory. The team picked up quite a lot of publicity, with a Pathé film being made of the three of them testing at Castle Combe.

FLIRT made three appearances in the World Manufacturers’ Championship in Europe. Jacquie and Joey were the chosen drivers. They did not finish the Nürburgring 1000km due to engine problems, but they got to the end of the Mugello Grand Prix, in 37th place. Later in the season, Jacquie drove the Nürburgring 500km solo, and was 21st overall, fourth in class. Joey drove a sister car, but did not finish. The FLIRT team may well have done some more British races, but the results are proving elusive.

As well as her FLIRT activities, Jacquie raced in the British Sportscar Championship. She was seventeenth in the Silverstone round, in a Porsche 904, and may also have raced a Ferrari 250LM belonging to her husband.

She disappears from the entry lists at the end of 1967. Not long after, her marriage broke up. After her racing career ended, she adopted horseriding as her sport of choice.

 (Image from www.minimarcos.org.uk)

Friday, 28 October 2016

Renee Gracie


Renee in 2016

Renee Gracie currently races in V8 Supercars in Australia.

She was quite sporty from an early age. In common with many other speedqueens, she was initially drawn towards horses. She only got interested in motorsport after trying karting on holiday, in 2008.

She began her senior career in 2012, aged 17, in Aussie Racing Cars, after three years of karting. She drove a Yamaha-engined Commodore in four rounds.

In 2013, she entered the Australian Porsche Carerra Cup, a first for a female driver. She was supported by the “Cool Driver” youth development programme run by Fujitsu, who sponsored her, and had been supporting her for the last two years. In her first season, she held her own in a large field (the winner was Craig Baird), and was 19th overall.

In 2014, she had a second season in the Porsche Cup. She got into the top ten five times, and had a best finish of sixth, at Phillip Island. She was 15th overall. In addition to this, she was one of only two drivers to have a 100% finishing record, the other being Craig Baird.

In 2015, she moved into V8 Supercars, driving a Ford Falcon for Paul Morris’s team, in the Dunlop development series. Her best finish was twelfth, at Townsville. Towards the end of the season, she did improve: her best meeting overall was the last one, at Sydney Motorsport Park, where she was thirteenth and fourteenth.

She also gained a lot of attention for her entry into the Bathurst 1000 with Simona de Silvestro, the first all-female team for many years. The team was run by Prodrive Australia, and they were 21st in their "Supergirls" Ford Falcon, after an accident by Renee lost them a lot of time.   

A second season in the Dunlop series followed in 2016, still with Paul Morris Motorsport and driving the Falcon. She repeated her twelfth place best-finish at Adelaide and Sandown. It was another challenging season, but she was a steady finisher, and was 21st in the championship, just behind the other female driver in the series, Chelsea Angelo in her Dragon Racing Holden Commodore. Her car was outclassed by the newer models on the grid and it was hard to keep on the pace. Before the end of the season, Renee made the decision to leave Paul Morris Motorsport, in order to find a new deal and concentrate on her wildcard entry into the Bathurst 1000.

Renee teamed up once more with Simona de Silvestro for the Bathurst 1000. This time, they were driving a Nissan Altima for the Australian Nissan team. They raced as the “Harvey Norman Supergirls”, and were fourteenth overall.  Their race was free of major incident in a race of high attrition.

Renee’s long-term aim is to compete full-time as a professional driver. At the time of writing, she is looking for a race seat for 2017.

(Image from http://www.speedcafe.com/)