Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Vivien Keszthelyi

Vivien Keszthelyi is a Hungarian driver who had her first senior races in 2014, aged only thirteen. She was competing in the Suzuki Swift Cup in Central and Eastern Europe.

Her best result was second, achieved at the Panonniaring and her home race at the Hungaroring. She finished in the top ten in all races she finished, and was on the podium in the Junior class every time. Her overall position at the end of the year was sixth. An outing in the Austrian Suzuki Cup gave her a fourth place. This was all despite having almost no prior motorsport experience. She had not been a junior karter in any serious way and only attended her first motor race a year earlier. Having said that, her parents liked cars, and she got an electric jeep for an early birthday.

In 2015, she returned to the RCM Swift Cup, and was a much stronger driver, despite a shaky start. Her first race ended in eleventh place, the first finish outside the top ten of her career. She scored her first win at the Pannoniaring, one of two this season. She was second three times, at the Hungaroring and the Slovakiaring. At the Hungaroring, she was also third in a multi-marque endurance race, driving solo in the Swift.

Always adding to her experience, she entered a couple of rounds of the Central European Touring Car Championship in Slovakia, in the same car. She was fifteenth and ninth, third and second in class.

In 2016, she raced an Audi TT Cup car in the Hungarian touring car championship. She was among the leading drivers, and won five races, mostly the sprints. The first of these wins was at Brno, where she won two in a row, with two fastest laps. Later in the season, at the Hungaroring, she won another three races at the same meeting. This gave her the Hungarian Touring Car and CEZ Endurance titles.

She stayed with the TT Cup car in 2017, but took a further step up into the Audi TT Cup in Europe. She is now a member of the Audi Sport Academy and receiving professional coaching from Pierre Kaffer. She was still only sixteen at the start of the season, having had to wait for a year to be allowed to start in the series.

Her season began badly, with a non-start in the first race, then a non-finish in the second. She was struggling without her race engineer, who had been in hospital, then had the embarrassing experience of sliding off during the parade lap and damaging her car. It was patched up for race two, but tyre problems intervened. Things got worse at the Nürburgring; she was caught up in a Fabian Vettel’s crash on the first lap, hit the wall, and spent the next two days in intensive care.

At the Norisring, she had recovered sufficiently to take part, and was rewarded with her first points finish, an eighth place. She will contest the rest of the 2017 season.

Her aim is to race in the DTM or the WEC.

(Image copyright Gabor Muranyi)

Friday, 7 July 2017

Laleh Seddigh

Laleh Seddigh is Iran’s top woman driver. She has won several races against men, as well as her country’s Ladies’ Championship.

Laleh was born in 1977. Her family was wealthy; her father owned several factories, including a car spares firm. She was a car enthusiast from a very early age and learned to drive at home, in the family’s yard. Some articles claim this was when she was eight, or eleven. A 2008 interview with Laleh for the German magazine Spiegel says she was thirteen.

By the time she was fourteen, she was being stopped by police and returned home, having “borrowed” her father’s car for a nocturnal excursion. Again, some sources claim this happened when she was much younger. She got her license later. As a teenager and young adult, she was very sporty and competed in athletics, equestrianism and volleyball.

Her first motorsport experience came through rallying. Her website says that she first competed in 2000, when she was 23, but details are hazy, partly due to language and information barriers. She took part in the Iranian championship between 2001 and 2005 and won the 2004 Ladies’ Championship. Part of the problem was that her activities were deemed un-Islamic by Iran’s religious authorities, and a media blackout was imposed on reporting her successes. She eventually petitioned for legitimate participation, which was granted. One fact in motorsport’s favour was that it was easy for Laleh to adhere to strict Muslim dress codes while clad head-to-foot in Nomex. In 2005, she was pictured at the start of the Arjan Rally close to Tehran, getting into her car. Her schedule involved both stage rallies and longer cross-country raids. She drove a Proton for an official team, and apparently won three rallies before 2004, from 28 starts.

In 2004, she started circuit racing as well as rallying. She used two different Protons and a Peugeot 206 over the course of five races. One of her first, at the Asadi Park stadium track, gave her a third place.

She won the Iranian 1600cc GT championship outright in 2005. Her car for the eight-race series was a works Proton.

From 2006, she was barred from competing in her own country after accusations of cheating. She was prohibited from entering the Open class of the Iranian touring car championship after her 2005 win, so she disguised her new 2400cc car as her last season’s 1600 model in order to compete. She was found out and banned.

After that, she did some training for Formula BMW Bahrain after receiving a licence there. It is not clear whether she actually raced. She is also reported to have raced a Formula 3 car in Italy. Some reports say this happened at Monza, but no results are forthcoming.

For a while, things went fairly quiet for Laleh. Her website states that she won a “ladies’ rally” organised by Tehran motor club in 2009, but further details are not available.

A film was made about her in 2012, supported by none other than Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It caused huge controversy in Iran. For one, its depiction of a Muslim woman was deemed un-Islamic and supportive of Western stereotypes. The film received a huge amount of state sponsorship, which was also criticised.

In 2014 and 2015, she entered Iran's Shiraz Rally, driving a Peugeot 206 and a Mitsubishi Lancer, respectively. She finished in 2014, in thirteenth place.

In 2015, she did some testing for the Indian Mahindra team, in their XUV500 4WD. Once more, it is not clear whether this was during or in preparation for competition.

Since then, her profile, outside Iran at least, has been lower. She has undertaken a PhD and teaches at a university, as well as speaking publicly about her motorsport experiences. In 2016, she talked of setting up a women’s racing school.

She was nicknamed “Little Schumacher” in Iran during her first brush with stardom.

(Image from http://arhiva.dalje.com)

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Pat Coundley

Pat Coundley raced sports and touring cars in the 1960s, in the UK.

She was always quite sporty and her first love was horses, in common with several other speedqueens, such as Pat Moss and her contemporary, Jean Aley.

She started her motor racing career in 1959, in speed events, driving a Jaguar D-Type belonging to her husband, John, another racer who was a Jaguar specialist. It was he who persuaded her to enter her first event, the North Weald hillclimb, in which she won the ladies’ award. She drove another of John’s cars, a Lister-Jaguar, in 1960, winning the sportscar class in sprints at Castle Combe and Long Marsden Airfield.

After some years in club races and sprints, often using Jaguar sportscars, she made her debut in the British Saloon Car Championship in 1964, driving a Lotus Cortina run by John Coundley Racing Partnership, her husband’s team. She was not overly competitive. Her first race was the second round at Goodwood, where she was seventeenth overall. She is recorded as a finisher at Oulton Park, but her position is not forthcoming. At Aintree, she may have shared the car with John. The Coundley Cortina was 22nd. The team disappears from the BSCC grids after that.

The same year, she drove a single-seater Lotus Climax 19 in the Brighton Speed Trials.
The year before, she used a D-Type, entering the 1600cc+ sportscar class, and the Ladies’ class.

At the Antwerp Speed Trials in 1964, she drove a long-nose Jaguar D-Type, and set a European women's speed record of 161.278 mph. This made the front page of at least one British newspaper. Pat was described as a “housewife”.

The Coundley Racing Partnership Lotus Cortina made some appearances in the 1965 BSCC, but it was not driven by Pat.

At some point in the early 1960s, Pat also raced a Lotus Elite, including a Ladies’ Handicap at Brands Hatch. In Motor Sport in 1962, she likened driving the Elite to “handling a beautiful horse”.

(Image copyright Getty Images)

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Muriel Thompson

Muriel in her FANY uniform

Muriel Thompson was Brooklands’ first female winner in 1908, when she won the Ladies’ Bracelet Handicap and the Match Race that followed it, defeating Christabel Ellis.

She was a member of the Berkshire Automobile Club from at least 1904. Among her earliest practical motorsport experiences was a run in the club’s Gymkhana in 1904. She drove a Wolseley in a “Legal Limit Race” on a grass track at Hall Place near Maidenhead. She was second overall.

She made another appearance in the Berkshire AC’s Gymkhana in 1905. She was third in the “Bending Race”, a slalom between markers, driving an 18hp Siddeley, belonging to her brother.

Her first motorsport success seems to have been a win in a Blindfold Test at the Berkshire Club’s 1907 Gymkhana. The competitors were required to drive blindfolded towards a flag 75 yards away, from a stationary position facing away from the flag. Muriel got within forty feet of the flag, in 25 seconds.

Her car was an Austin, nicknamed "Pobble", which had belonged to her brother, Oscar, a regular racer. He was a member of the BARC, and as such, was able to enter his car into the first ladies’ event at Brooklands, held in July 1908. Eight ladies entered the Ladies’ Bracelet Handicap, with five making the start. Muriel won comfortably, after the favourite, Christabel Ellis, ran into trouble. Commentators likened Muriel’s upright driving stance to that of “an American jockey”. Shortly afterwards, Muriel and Christabel challenged each other to a match race at Brooklands. Muriel won again.

In 1908, she also went up against Dorothy Levitt in the Aston Hill Climb, driving the Austin. She was eighth overall. Her achievements were reported in Queen magazine.

Opportunities for Muriel to race "Pobble" were quite limited, due to the BARC's ban on women drivers, but she did make some other appearances.

In 1909, she was part of the winning Berkshire Motor Club team in the five-mile Inter-Club Team Trophy, at Brooklands. She was permitted to race due to the meeting being a non-BARC sanctioned event.

The same year, she was appointed by the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) as an official driver. She acted as chauffeur to Emmeline Pankhurst and other prominent suffragettes in the WSPU’s own Austin. She was succeeded as chauffeur by Vera Holme, but was still an active member of the Union in 1912.

In July 1911, at the RAC's Associated Motor Clubs meeting, she won the Declaration Handicap, in the Austin. At the same meeting, she revisited her blind-driving skills, winning another blindfold driving competition.

The following year, she returned to Brooklands for the RAC Associated Clubs meeting once more. She drove Pobble in the Skilful Driving Race. She posted a very fast time in the hillclimb section up the Test Hill, but clipped an obstacle in the reversing section. In yet another blindfold driving competition, she did not live up to her usual high standards and did not stop when she reached the marker.

She later became a decorated war hero, as a WW1 ambulance driver and medic, in the FANY. Among her awards was a British Military Medal, French Croix de Guerre, and from Belgium, the Order of Leopold II and Queen Elisabeth Medal. Muriel commanded convoys and delivered aid to soldiers on the frontline. She took her own Cadillac, named “Kangaroo”, over with her and it was used as an ambulance. Muriel kept a detailed diary throughout the war, which has been useful in piecing together the history of the FANY. Her nickname among her FANY colleagues was “Thompers”.

She continued testing cars occasionally until the 1930s. In 1939, she died of encephalitis lethargica (sleeping sickness), probably contracted during a flu epidemic. She was 65.

(Image from http://www.ocotilloroad.com/geneal/thompson3.html)

Monday, 19 June 2017

The Fast Girls Consul GT Challenge

Gillian Fortescue-Thomas

2. Jenny Birrell
3. Micki Vandervell
7. Susan Tucker-Peake
8. Margaret Blankstone
9. Carolyn Tyler-Morris
10. Sheila Islip-Underwood
11. Jenny Dell
14. Vicki Graham
DNF Liz Crellin
DNF Trisha Morris

The “Fast Girls Consul GT Challenge” was held on August 26th, 1972 at Brands Hatch, during the Formula 5000 meeting.

It was a launch event for a Ford Consul one-make series and was intended as a one-off. The British Women Racing Drivers’ Club supplied many of the drivers. Some had come through the Shellsport “charm school” at Brands Hatch, including winner, Gillian Fortescue-Thomas, and Juliette Scott-Gunn. Some very experienced rally drivers took part as well as circuit racers. Tish Ozanne, Liz Crellin and Rosemary Smith had been active much earlier. Jill Robinson was more current. Yvette Fontaine was the only international entrant.

It was run over ten laps of the club circuit. Jenny Birrell started on pole.

The winning driver was presented with a mink coat by none other than Graham Hill.

(Image copyright Autosprint, 1971)

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Ladies, Start Your Engines!

June 11th marks 120 years since a woman first raced a motor vehicle in an official event.
Léa Lemoine won the Championnat des Chauffeuses at Longchamp racecourse, from seven other women. All of them drove De Dion-engined tricycles. You can read more about the Championnat here, and about some of the chauffeuses, including Léa, here.

This was no one-off. Later in 1897, Léa drove her tricycle in the Coupe des Motocycles. In 1898, Madame Laumaillé drove her own De Dion tricycle in the Marseille-Nice Trial. Every year since then, women have raced cars or motorcycles, somewhere in the world, with the possible exception of during part of the Second World War, when no-one raced at all.

Speedqueens are active in every continent of the world, in circuit racing and rallying, every week of the year. Here's to another 120 years!

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Gillian Fortescue-Thomas (Goldsmith)

Gillian Fortescue-Thomas (Goldsmith) was active in sports and touring car races in the UK and Europe between 1970 and 1975, then later in historic motorsport.

She rose to prominence in 1971, when she drove in the Ford Escort Mexico series, almost winning a race from Jody Scheckter. This was her second year as a racing driver. In 1970, she had campaigned a Formula 1200 Rejo and won one race at Lydden Hill, despite losing second gear. This car proved too expensive for her to run, as did the TVR Griffith that preceded it.

Ford were using female racing drivers to promote their cars at the time. Their competitions manager, Stuart Turner, had previously capitalised on Pat Moss’s success at BMC as a marketing tool, and was now doing the same at Ford. Gillian entered a driver search for women, organised by Ford. Rallycross featured heavily. She emerged as one of the victors, and earned a drive in the Ford Escort Mexico Challenge.

Through the Mexico series, she became involved with the Shellsport team, which usually used Mexicos. This was run out of Brands Hatch by John and Angela Webb, two more proponents of the publicity value of female racers. Her first major Shellsport event was a “Fast Girls Consul Challenge” at Brands Hatch in 1972. This race supported the Formula 5000 meeting and was highly publicised. Seventeen women took part in Ford Consul GTs. Gillian, as the winner from Jenny Birrell and Micki Vandervell, received a mink coat, presented by Graham Hill.

Gillian also travelled to Spa in 1972, to drive in the 24-Hour race in an Escort. This was one of her semi-works drives that she had won in 1971. Her team-mate was Yvette Fontaine, and they had to retire after a head gasket blew. They had qualified in eleventh spot. The pair had raced against each other in the Consuls, with Yvette finishing fourth.

In 1973, Gillian continued to appear at Shellsport events, including a “Relay Triathlon” at Brands. The traditional swimming leg was replaced by a four-lap race around the track. She was not part of the winning team, although she was one of the leading drivers. At the time, she was a popular figure in British motorsport and appeared in the likes of the Daily Express, jumping over her cars on a horse. She was usually described as a “farmer’s wife”.

At Llandow, she took part in another Ladies’ race, run by the British Women Racing Drivers’ Club. It was a handicap race, and she won in her Mexico.

As a Ford driver, she started the BSCC in an Escort. The engine failed at Brands Hatch. She did most of the rest of the season, although it is unclear whether she was driving for Ford, or her own team. The car was very unreliable, although she did manage a seventh place in the Silverstone GP support race. This was definitely a works entry.

Ford also provided a Mexico for her in the Avon Tour of Britain, as part of a works team that included Roger Clark and Prince Michael of Kent. Her co-driver was Carolyn Faulder.  

Later, in 1975, Gillian drove a Triumph Dolomite in BTCC races in the UK. Her car was run by Shellsport again, and she was sixth at Brands in her first appearance. She was then ninth in the very competitive Thruxton race. Her best finish was fourth at Silverstone, just behind her Shellsport team-mate, John Hine.

1975 was her last season for quite a while. She drifted back to her early love, horses, and became a successful amateur jockey, initially in point to point racing. In 1976, she was the first female National Hunt champion jockey.

After one retirement and a marriage, she started competing again as Gillian Goldsmith in the early 1980s. One of her first cars was an HWM-Jaguar.

She returned to the circuits in 1989 in an Aston Martin DB4. Since then, she has appeared at many major historic meetings, including the Goodwood Revival and the Le Mans Classic. She normally drives an Aston Martin, most frequently the DB4.

She still works as an ARDS instructor and races occasionally, as well as supporting her daughter, Samantha, in her own equestrian and motorsport career.

She is still fondly remembered from her BSCC days, when Gerry Marshall nicknamed her “Gillian All-Askew Thomas”.

(Image copyright Ronald Speijer)