Friday, 30 September 2016

Gabriel Konig


Gabriel with her Modsports MG

Gabriel Konig (not Gabrielle) was a much-travelled Irish driver who competed off and on from 1962. She was most successful in MG Midgets and a Chevrolet Camaro, winning 18 races in different series, at club and National level mostly.

Living at her mother’s Beaulieu House near Drogheda, she learned to drive very young; at ten, she was able to drive a tractor. She was a regular spectator at motor races with her mother, attending events at Dundrod and Curragh. She earned her driving license at seventeen, then four years later, began racing. By this time, she was married to Mark Konig, another racing driver and car builder, and living in London. Her first racing car was a Lotus Elite. A Lotus Elan soon followed. She rarely raced in her home country, but was a regular face on the scene in England, and also in continental Europe. In 1964, she was twelfth in the Tourist Trophy at Goodwood, in the Elan. The following year, she shared the Elan with Mark for the Nürburgring 1000km, driving for the WJ Moss team. They did not finish due to gearbox problems. That year, 1965, she entered the Autosport Championship in the Elan. Later in the year, she raced a much more powerful Ferrari 250 GTO at Silverstone, but crashed out.

In 1966, she took her first race win, driving a Hillman Imp. This was a National-level race. This year, she returned to smaller cars, and was rewarded with results that went with her level of experience.

After a quiet 1967, during which she may have raced an Austin-Healey Sebring Sprite, she was taken on by John Brittan’s team in 1968. The car she was given was an MG Midget, and she raced in the Modsports series. This style of competition suited her well, and she ended the year with fifteen class wins. One of her best overall results was fourth at Mallory Park, with a win in the 1150cc class. The year before, she had been a member of the Ring Free Oil “Motor Maids” team in the USA, and had travelled to America for the Daytona and Sebring sportscar races. However, she seems to have been a reserve driver, and did not get to race. Her winning year in 1968 must have gone some way to making up for that.

Her first international win came in 1969. She was first at Fassberg in Germany, driving an Austin-Healey Sprite. The Brittan MG was still competitive, and she travelled to Italy to race in the Mugello Grand Prix, with Garo Nigogosian. They were 31st, fifth in class, from 65 finishers. Also in Italy, Gabriel and Mark did the Targa Florio together, in the Nomad MkII. This car had been designed and built by Mark, and was powered by a BRM F1 engine. Sadly, an accident caused by a puncture put them out of the event on their third lap.

1970 was another year affected by accidents. Gabriel did not do much racing at all this year, as she suffered broken vertebrae in an accident in Brazil. She had been driving in a Formula Ford race at Sao Paulo, and crashed when the steering on her car failed. Later in the year, she returned to UK club racing as part of the “Carmen Curls”, an all-female team who raced a Royale in Formula 100. They were sponsored by Carmen hairstyling products, and Tina Lanfranchi was the team manager.

1972 saw her career go international again, with her first attempt at the Spa 24 Hours. She drove a Chevrolet Camaro with Marie-Claude Beaumont, a driver with considerable experience of both Chevrolet power and endurance racing. Sadly, they did not finish, due to a loss of oil pressure.

Despite her experience, Gabriel liked the car, and bought it to race for the 1972 season. She competed in the Irish Group 2 championship, now that motor racing had grown in her home country. At the end of 1972, she had it shipped to Guyana, where she would live and race for the next twenty years.

One of her first sporting appointments was joining the BOAC Speedbird team, which took British-based racers to the Caribbean, in partnership with the Guyana Motor Racing Club. Gordon Spice was one of her team-mates. She won at least two races in the Camaro at the South Dakota track in Guyana, and was second at Bushy Park in Barbados.

Among the cars that she raced during her Caribbean years was a Byldenstein Vauxhall Viva, built as a sister car to Gerry Marshall’s famous “Old Nail”. In this car, she won at least one race at Waller Field in Trinidad, in 1976.

During her time in Guyana, she raced again in Barbados. She was part of the group of enthusiasts initially responsible for bringing UK-based drivers to Barbados for its annual rally, something which continues to this day.

Gabriel was one of the founder members of the British Women Racing Drivers’ Club, one of the first group of drivers to be invited to join. In 1968 and 1972, she received awards from the BWRDC for being the highest-achieving female driver in the British Isles.

She also rallied in the UK more recently, doing some classic events in a Ford Escort, among other cars, including a Hillman Imp and an Austin A40. In 1997, she entered the Tour Auto in France, driving a Vauxhall GT. Latterly, she owned her own motor museum at Beaulieu, based around a collection of her own racing cars.

She died in January 2013.

(Image from http://www.backroads.ie/forums)

Monday, 19 September 2016

Women Drivers in the 12 Hours of Reims


Isabelle Haskell and Annie Bousquet with their Porsche in 1956

The 12 Hours of Reims was a major sportscar race that ran, on and off, between 1953 and 1967. It was held at the Reims-Gueux circuit in France, and was a round of the World Sportscar Championship (or the World Championship for Makes) between 1953 and 1965.

It is significant for the 1956 edition, during which Annie Bousquet was killed in a crash early on. This accident, and the negative publicity that stemmed from it, was the cause of women drivers being banned from major circuit races in France until the early 1970s, although the ban at Reims itself was lifted much earlier.

1953
Yvonne Simon/Jean Hémard (Panhard Monopole) – 14th

1954
Gilberte Thirion/Olivier Gendebien (Gordini T15S) – 14th

1955
Race cancelled

1956
Gilberte Thirion/Roger Loyer (Gordini T15S) – DNF
1500cc:
Gilberte Thirion/Roger Loyer (Gordini T15S) – DNF
Annie Bousquet/Isabelle Haskell (Porsche 550) – DNF

1957
No female entries

1958
No female entries

1959-1963
No race held

1964
Annie Soisbault/Claude Dubois (Porsche 904) – 13th

1965
Annie Soisbault/Gérard Langlois van Ophem (Ferrari 250 LM) – DNF

1966
No race held

1967
No female entries

(Image from http://type550.com/)

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Ada Pace


Ada Pace was an Italian rally driver and touring car ace of the 1950s and 1960s. She went by the nom de course of “Sayonara”.

Ada was from Turin, which would be her home base throughout her career, and her life. She enjoyed sports growing up, and her earliest memories are of riding on her father’s motorcycle and sidecar. All of her early racing experiences were on two wheels, not four; Ada raced scooters in Italy from quite a young age. In 1947, she started racing her Vespa, in both circuit events and long-distance trials. It was in trials that she really excelled. After 1948, she rode for the works Piaggio team. She would continue in scootering on and off until 1953; she won two Ladies’ 125cc titles in 1952 and 1953.

The date and nature of her first steps into four-wheeled competition is not entirely clear. Some sources claim that her first race was in 1950, when she was 26. Little additional detail is offered, although Ada was said to be disappointed with her own performance, as well as the car’s. The race may have been at the Circuit Piazza d’Armi in Turin, where Ada did drive a Moretti early in her career, although some sources have her first car as a Fiat 1500. Speaking in 1990, she describes the Turin event as her first race, held in heavy rain, although she says it happened in 1953. She did own and race a 600cc Moretti in 1953, which adds credence to her own recollections (or the reporting thereof).

In 1951, she is said to have earned her first win. This is said to have come in a “Torino-San Remo race”. Her car was a Fiat 1500 6C. The nature of this event is unclear; it could have been a time trial rather than a mass- or group-start race, or even a regularity rally. I have been unable to find any official records of this event.

She definitely did race a Moretti in 1953, and was fourth in class in the Sassi-Superga hillclimb.

 The following year, Ada may have entered her first Giro Di Sicilia, driving a Fiat 1100. She is down as a starter, but her finishing position, if any, is not recorded. This is not certain, as another driver called Pace was active in Sicily at this time. Ada certainly did drive an 1100 at some point, but her car in 1954 was the little Moretti. She mainly raced locally, entering the Sassi-Superga climb again and a Coppa Michelin at Torino. She also became involved in the growing women’s motorsport scene in Italy, and entered both the Perla di Sanremo Rally and the Como-Lieto-Colle Coppa delle Dame, a hillclimb. She was second in class in Sanremo.

In 1955, she was fourth overall in the Coppa delle Dame, driving an Alfa Romeo Giulietta. Variations of this model would become her signature car. She also raced a Fiat 1100 in hillclimbs at Sassari and Corallo.

Her next major race was also her first overseas event: the 1956 Nürbrugring 1000km. For this, she teamed up with Gilberte Thirion, in an Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint Veloce. Gilberte, an experienced international sportscar racer, was the entrant. They were sixteenth, and fourth in class.

The same year, Ada, driving solo and normally in the Giulietta, was becoming a regular figure in Italian hillclimbs and races. She was fifth in the Perla di Sanremo and third in the Coppa delle Dame, as well as scoring some highly respectable finishes in hillclimbs, and the Supercortemaggiore regularity trial. She even tried her hand at a conventional rally, the Rallye dei Rododendri, and was tenth overall.

1957 was the year that Ada really committed to four-wheeled competition, and began to race as a professional driver. She underlined her new role with an entry into the Mille Miglia, driving the Giulietta, solo. Unfortunately, she did not finish, stopping near Rome. Later in the year, a run in the Coppa Inter-Europa led to a finish, albeit as the last runner. The race was a one-make affair for Giulietta SVs, at Monza. In November, she did proportionately better in the Targa Florio; she was 48th, out of 129 finishers. This would be the first of four attempts at the Sicilian classic. A season-ending Vallelunga 6 Hours was good for eleventh place.  

This schedule of major events was augmented with a busy calendar of domestic hillclimbs and rallies. These included the Perla di Sanremo, in which she won her class, and the Coppa Colle San Rizzo climb, which gave her a GT1300 class win. She ended the year as the Italian women’s GT champion.

She raced a Zagato version of the Giulietta SV in 1958, supported by the Racing Club 19 team, so-called because it consisted of nineteen drivers. She finished the Targa Florio on her second attempt, sharing the car with Carlo Peroglio and earning a fifteenth place. This year’s Targa was a race of high attrition, and it was an achievement to finish at all. The Vallelunga 6 Hours was a happy hunting ground for her, driving solo this time: she was third. She repeated her podium finish in the Coppa Sant Ambroeus at Monza, finishing third again. Her team-mate, Carlo Peroglio, was seventh, in a similar car. The Giro di Calabria was another good event for her; she was fourth.

That year, she took part in many hillclimbs, and won her class in the Stallavena-Bosochienesanuova event. This helped her to third in the GT1300 class of the Italian hillclimb championship. She retained her national Ladies’ title.

The Sant Ambroeus Cup was moved to May the following year. Ada entered the 1300cc GT race in the Giulietta, and was third again. A run in an Osca S1100 in the 1100cc sportscar race was not as successful; she did not finish. Three weeks later, she and Carlo Peroglio tackled the Targa Florio together for the second time, but did not finish. In June, Ada tried out a new Giulietta, a Speciale, and was fourteenth at Monza in the GT Grand Prix.

In a similar car, she contested the Mille Miglia, now run as a regularity trial. She and Piera Bertoletti were fifth overall, and won the GT1300 class. She managed another GT1300 win in her heat for the Vallelunga 6 Hours, but did not finish the final. She ran well in the Sestriere Rally, finishing second overall. This must have been very satisfying for her, as she dropped out of the previous year’s rally within sight of the finish.

In both the Osca and the Giulietta, she performed well in hillclimbs, including some long classic climbs such as the Catania-Etna event, in which she was sixth. Her best hillclimb moment came in the Veglio Mosso – Mosso San Maria climb, which she won in the Alfa. She was third in her class in the Italian championship at the end of the year, as well as defending her ladies’ crown, and adding the Italian ladies’ Sportscar title to her collection. In the overall Italian racing championship, she was runner-up in both the GT1300 and the Sport 1100 classes.

1960 saw a lot of change happening around Ada, but it seemed to bring out the best in her. She scored her first major race win in October, winning the Coppa d’Oro di Modena. Her car was an Osca 1100. She would later describe this car as her favourite. The same car gave her her career-best finish in the Targa Florio earlier in the year, an eleventh place. She was sharing the car with Giancarlo Castellina, and won the 1150cc Sports class.

Further excitement came from the furthest “away race” of her career. She was invited to Cuba for the Grand Prix, one of only a small number of “Western” drivers to compete there during Castro’s presidency. The race had begun in 1957, but this was the first edition to be run in Communist Cuba. She drove an Osca MT4 and was fifteenth. She also took part in the supporting Formula Junior race, making a rare single-seater appearance in a Stanguellini. She did not finish. Later in the year, she drove a De Sanctis FJ in the Pescara 12 Hours, but did not finish. She did tentatively enter another couple of single-seater races, but did not actually compete.

Once more, hillclimbs made up most of her sporting schedule, both in the Alfa and the Osca. She scored many class wins, and was second in class in the Italian hillclimb championship. A third ladies’ GT championship and a second Sports championship added to her tally, and she was runner-up in the 1150 category of the Italian racing championship.

In 1961, she spent much of the year competing under the name “Sayonara”. Much later, she claimed that this was to make it less obvious that she was a woman. During her early career, she experienced some quite open negativity. This sometimes came in the form of over-zealous scrutineering, based on complaints from other competitors.

She had intended to enter the Targa Florio again, in a works Osca, but this did not happen. For circuit racing, she normally used her Giulietta SV. Driving with Carlo Baghetti, she did not finish the Coppa Ascari at Monza, after a spectacular crash on lap 14, which sent the car rolling at 200mph. Ada escaped through a window just before it caught fire. The following month, she did much better in the GT Grand Prix at the circuit. She was seventh, and fifth in class. Breaking with tradition, she drove a non-Italian car in the Pescara 4 Hours: a Lotus XI, albeit Osca-engined. She drove with Roberto Lippi, but did not finish. Alone, she used the Lotus in some hillclimbs, finishing seventh in the Trieste-Opicina climb and winning her class. The Osca 1100 was her usual mount for hillclimbs, scoring some class wins.

It was back to Italian power for the 1962 season, although Ada expanded her car repertoire once more. She drove a Ferrari 250 GT in the GT Trophy at Monza, and was second overall. She was also second in two other events in the car: the Stallavena-Bosochienesanuova and Coppa Fagioli long-distance climbs.

Mostly, she drove a 1184cc Osca, in which she earned another outright win, in the Campagnana Vallelunga. She also had some outings in an Abarth-Simca. Her best result in this car was an eighth place in a GT race at Vallelunga. The Giulietta was sold towards the end of the year.

1963 was spent switching between the Osca and the Abarth-Simca, which she used in the Targa Florio. Driving the Osca, she was third in the Campagnana Vallelunga. This was her best result of the year. She was fifth in the Shell Trophy at Cesenatico, and managed some top-five class finishes in hillclimbs.

1964 was her last year of competition. She drove a Lancia Flaminia for HF Squadra Corse in the European Touring Car Championship, including the Spa 24 Hours. She shared the car with Claudine Bouchet at Spa, but did not finish. The car’s rear axle broke after just over five hours.Her best finish in the championship was eighth, at Zolder. She never really got to grips with the Flaminia and found it hard to drive. Driving for the same team, she drove a Lancia Flavia in the Polish Rally, but did not finish.

In her later years, she took to living alone with her menagerie of rescued dogs and birds. She occasionally appeared at historic races and rallies, although for the last few years of her life, she retired from public appearances. She died in November 2016.

This post would not have been possible without the research published by John de Boer.

(Image from http://www.aisastoryauto.it/)

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Suzy Dietrich


Suzy with her MG TC

Suzy Dietrich raced sportscars in and around the USA in the 1950s and 1960s. In the later part of her career, she took part in major races such as the Daytona 24 Hours.

Suzy began racing in 1953, after her marriage to Charles (Chuck) Dietrich, another racer. Away from the track, she worked as a school librarian, and the Dietrichs ran their own car dealership together.

Her first car was a supercharged MG TC, built in 1948. Her first race was at the Chanute Air Force base circuit. It was a ladies’ race, and she was fourth, winning her class. A month later, she entered another ladies’ race at Cumberland, and was second, behind the more experienced Margaret Wyllie in a Jaguar, who had started racing at the same time as Suzy.

In 1954, she scored two more second places in ladies’ races, at Cumberland and Akron. Both times, she was beaten by Margaret Wyllie again. This year, she branched out into mixed competition, entering some SCCA races at Chanute and a hillclimb at Brynfan Tyddyn. The results are not forthcoming.

Still in the MG, she achieved her first win in 1955, seeing off Margaret Wyllie in her Jaguar C-Type in a Cumberland ladies’ race. At the same meeting, she started a mixed Novices race, but did not finish. This was down to a mechanical failure. Later in the year, she ventured to Elkhart Lake for an SCCA National race at Road America, and was eleventh.

Her racing repertoire expanded further in 1956, with a new car and a first international outing. She drove a Porsche 550 in competition for the first time at the Nassau Speed Week in the Bahamas. In the Ladies’ event, she scored a third and a fourth place. The 550 was probably not hers, although she seems to have picked up its workings quite well. She would later claim that this was her favourite of all of her racing cars.

Among the other women she encountered on the Ladies’ racing scene was Denise McCluggage, who later described her as “an enormously cute librarian”. The two became lifelong friends.

She had some more races in at least two different Porsche 550s in 1957, earning three second places in Ladies’ races, and a twelfth in mixed competition at Watkins Glen, during the SCCA Nationals. This year, she had another new car, in the shape of an Elva MkII which belonged to Chuck. Suzy won a Ladies’ race at Watkins Glen in this car, as well as contesting some SCCA races. At the end of the season, when Nassau Speed Week rolled round again, Chuck and Suzy were supported by the Elva factory. Suzy was fifth in one of the Ladies’ races, but crashed out of another, damaging the car but escaping serious injury herself. She attempted to race again the next day, despite Chuck having to help her out of bed.

The Elva served her well again in 1958, helping her to Ladies’ wins at Dunkirk and Watkins Glen. This was the car she used in the Road America 500 Miles, sharing it with Charles Kurtz. They were eleventh overall, and second in class. At various times, she also raced Bernard Vihl’s 550; her best result in this car was a third in a Ladies’ race at Cumberland.

The next two seasons were much quieter for Suzy. The Dietrichs took delivery of at least two new Elva models, a IV and a V, which she used to good effect in a select few Ladies’ races.

It was back to a fuller competition schedule for 1961, and with a new car. The Dietrichs had acquired a Porsche 356, in which Suzy attacked the SCCA National championship. This time, it was mostly in the main races, rather than against the other women. Her best finish was fifth, at her lucky circuit, Watkins Glen. Mid-season, she dusted off the Elva and won the Ladies’ race at Dunkirk in it.

In 1962, she switched to single-seaters and campaigned a Cooper in Formula Junior in the States, among other cars. She used an Elva FJ much of the time, and was eleventh in the Governor’s Cup at Marlboro in this car.

The Cooper proved to be another good car for Suzy; she won a Formula Junior race outright at Dunkirk in it, in June 1963.

For the next couple of seasons, things were quieter on the racing front for Suzy. She was absent from the major entry lists until 1966, when she made quite a dramatic comeback, entering her first Daytona 24 Hours. She was part of an all-female team with Janet Guthrie and Donna Mae Mims, driving a Sunbeam Alpine for the Autosport team. Suzy enjoyed driving European cars, like the Porsches and the Cooper, so the Alpine probably suited her. The car was not a highly-tuned race machine, being barely more than showroom trim. Suzy and her team-mates finished the race in 32nd place, and were the only team in their class to finish at all.

In 1967, the all-woman team had become the “Ring Free Motor Maids”, sponsored by the Ring Free oil company. Suzy narrowly missed out on a spot in the main “Motor Maids” car for Daytona, a Ford Mustang, but raced a satellite Jim Baker ASA 411, which was another production car, albeit provided by the factory. Her team-mate was Donna Mae Mims. They were not classified. They raced the same car together in the Sebring 12 Hours, and were 25th, not far behind Liane Engeman and Anita Taylor in a Matra Djet, the other Ring Free ladies’ car.

Ring Free also supported Suzy in some single-seater races, driving a Lotus 20. She raced in Formula A and Formula Continental. She had been competing in the Lotus since at least 1965.

At about this time, Suzy and Chuck went their separate ways and eventually divorced. This was one of the reasons why Suzy’s racing career really wound down after 1967. According to friends, she regretted the end of her relationship. She went back to working as a librarian, although she did make a comeback as a team owner in 1970, running a Brabham BT21 in Formula Continental under the “Team Suzy” banner.

She died in 2015 after a stroke, at the age of 88. For the last few years of her life, she lived in a care home, and in 2011, she auctioned off her memorabilia collection to pay for this.

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