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)

Monday, 5 June 2017

Chantal van der Sluis

Chantal van der Sluis raced in the early and mid 1990s, in the Netherlands. She was a race-winner in one-make series and a popular figure at the time.

She was introduced to karting at the age of thirteen, by her then-boyfriend. For three years, she steadily gained experience, competing up to European level. Her first senior season was in 1991, when she entered the Citroen AX GT Cup. For her first race, she qualified in fifth place, but went off at the first corner trying to out-manoeuvre her rivals.

This would not be the last of Chantal’s offs. At Zandvoort in 1992, she managed to vault her car over the armco barrier, although she was not hurt. Despite these mishaps, she became one of the star drivers of the series in 1992, winning two races outright and finishing third in the championship. She won the Ladies’ Cup, ahead of Sandra van der Sloot. This was Sandra’s debut year, and she looked up to Chantal as her earliest female role model. The two later became friends. The Ladies’ Cup was quite hotly contested that year, with at least seven female drivers racing in the series.

That year, she tested an Alfa Romeo 155 Cup car, alongside Allard Kalff and Ton Roks. She was almost as fast as the experienced Allard Kalff. Her other activities included posing for some pictures in Dutch Playboy.

The following year, she moved to the Renault Clio Cup and was on the pace in her new car straight away. Her best finishes were two second places and she was sixth overall.

In 1994, she drove in some rounds of the European Renault Clio Cup, although she was not as successful. It was this year that she crashed very spectacularly at Zandvoort, sending her Clio over a crash barrier and through an advertising hoarding. Her season was not all about crashes, however; she did manage a third place at Spa, behind Allard Kalff and Jip Coronel.

1994 was her last season of competition. She died in 2008, aged 38, after a long struggle with cancer.

(Image from www.autosport.nl)

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Marika Diana

Marika in 2011

Marika Diana is an Italian driver who is most famous for winning the 2005 Italian Formula Ford Challenge.

Her 2005 victory was only her second season of car racing, and her second in motorsport. She began karting in 2003, and did her first races in a Formula Ford in 2004, aged seventeen.

Winning the championship brought her to the attention of the motorsport world. Observers including racing instructor Henry Morrogh commented on her speed and commanding performance. She was keen to progress up the single-seater ladder and looked to the rest of Europe for opportunities.

She raced in Formula Three in Germany in 2006 and 2007. 2006 was a tough season for her. She drove for Ombra Racing and could only manage thirteenth as her highest finish, at the Nürburgring.

Ombra retained her for another year. Her best result of 2007 was ninth, at the Nürburgring. She was fifth in the Class B championship, with one runner-up spot and a series of podium places.

In 2008 she resumed racing in Italy, in the Campionato Italiano Prototipi, a sportscar series. However, she only managed two races in a Ligier, driving for two different teams. She scored one third place at Vallelunga.

In 2009, she managed a brief comeback, competing in three Prototipi races. This translated into a longer Prototype season in 2010, driving a Wolf for BF Motorsport. She was thirteenth overall, and had a best finish of fourth in class.

She stuck with the Wolf in 2011, but only appears to have competed in the first two rounds, the best being the Misano race, in which she was fourth.

Another comeback in 2013 took in a couple of races in the Prototype championship again, at Vallelunga. She had taken two years out in order to have a child, a daughter named Danika. Even then, she expressed a desire to try a different motorsport discipline, possibly touring cars.

In 2016, she finally switched to saloons, and did two rounds of the Italian Touring Car Championship, in a SEAT Leon Cupra. She scored two ninth places at Magione. This was her first experience of touring cars, apart from a test session at Mugello. She had linked up again with the BF team.

She has not competed since then and her official Facebook page has not been updated.

(Image from /www.acisport.it)

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Bonnie Henn

Bonnie, centre, with Janet Guthrie and Lyn St James

Bonnie Henn raced Ferraris and Porsches in IMSA between 1979 and 1985, usually as part of her father, Preston Henn's, team. She and Preston were IMSA’s first father-daughter racing team. Her other team-mates included Kathy Rude, Janet Guthrie and Desiré Wilson.

Bonnie’s career developed in tandem with her father’s. He only began racing two years before she did, having made his money buying disused drive-in cinemas, which he turned into flea markets.

Her first major finish was a seventeenth place at the 1979 Sebring 12 Hours, driving a Ferrari 365 GTB/4 with Lyn St James and Janet Guthrie. They were sponsored by Thunderbird Swap Shop, the Henn family business. Bonnie also entered the IMSA Daytona Finale, driving the Ferrari with Hal Sahlman. They were 28th overall, fifteenth in the GTO class. In between, Preston Henn ran an AMC Pacer for Bonnie in the Daytona 6 Hours. She did not finish. The underpowered Pacer must have been a stark contrast to the Ferrari she was more used to.

In contrast to her first season, 1980 was very quiet, as Bonnie concentrated on developing her driving skills. She was linked to a drive in an Alfa Romeo Alfetta in the Daytona 6 Hours, but did not start. The car belonged to Janis Taylor, who drove instead, with Del Russo Taylor.

1981 could have been her first attempt at the Daytona 24 Hours. Preston put together a Swap Shop team of himself, Bonnie, Desiré Wilson and Marty Hinze. Although she had practised in the team’s Porsche 935, she decided that she did not have enough experience to tackle the race itself, and stepped down. She did race the 935 at the Daytona Finale in November. Preston was her team-mate. They did not finish.

Desiré Wilson became something of a mentor to Bonnie at this time. She gave her advanced driving tuition and supported her through a part-season in IMSA in 1982. Desiré’s race seat with the Swap Shop team was largely down to her work with Bonnie.

Bonnie and Desiré aimed to start 1982 by teaming up again for the Daytona 24 Hours, but Bonnie, along with Janet Guthrie, dropped out. The three worked together again at the Sebring 12 Hours, where they drove a Ferrari 512BB/LM in “Miss Budweiser” colours for North American Racing. For her next race, the Charlotte IMSA round, she shared a Swap Shop Porsche 935 with Preston, and was rewarded with an eleventh place. Her best result of the year was a fourth place in the Daytona 250 Miles. She had jumped into the 935 of Preston and Randy Lanier after her own Swap Shop 935 expired after eight laps.

She raced with Desiré again at Mosport and Road America. At Mosport, she was 24th. Later in the season, she and Preston travelled to Japan to race in the Fuji 6 Hours, in the Ferrari. They crashed out on the tenth lap. At the end of the year, she decided that she no longer wanted to race. Sadly, this meant that Desiré Wilson’s place in the team became redundant.

Having announced her retirement once, Bonnie was persuaded back into action in 1983 with an all-female team, led by Deborah Gregg and carrying her Brumos colours. The third driver in the team was Kathy Rude. They drove a Porsche 924 Carrera in the Daytona 24 Hours and gave Bonnie her best finish of her career: thirteenth. They were sixth in class. Bonnie’s last event with the team was the Sebring 12 Hours. Driving the same car, she was 35th with her two team-mates. After Sebring, she retired for good, aged just 27.

She died suddenly in 2006. She was 49.

(Image from www.lynstjames.com)

Saturday, 20 May 2017

The Fast Girl Trophy

Sally Stokes in her Mini

Brands Hatch, 19th May 1963

  1. Joey Freeman (Aston Martin Spa Special)
  2. Michaelle Burns-Grieg (Austin Mini)
  3. Wendy Hamblin (Lotus 7) - fastest lap
  4. Sally Minter (Austin A40)
  5. Sally Stokes (Austin Mini Cooper S)
  6. Ann Glover (Morgan Plus Four)
Anita Taylor (Ford Anglia) - DNF
Jean Dorken (Lotus Ford) - DNF

Entered, finishing position unknown:
Gabriel Konig (Austin Healey Sprite)
Mary Wheeler (Vauxhall VX4/90)
Gillian Sturgess (Daimler SP250)
Isobel Robinson (Ford Anglia)
Kim Stevens (Austin Healey Sprite)
Fritzi Landes (Austin Mini Cooper)
Wendy Atkinson (Austin Mini)
Sylvia Mason (Austin Mini)

Entered, did not race:
Jenny Tudor Owen (MGB)
Rosemary Seers (Sunbeam Rapier?)
Louisa Squires (Porsche 1600)
Tessa Hollis (Austin Healey Sprite)
Jean Aley (Mini Cooper)

The original Fast Girl Trophy was part of the BRSCC’s Members Meeting at Brands that weekend. Fifteen drivers took the start; as many as 21 may have attempted to qualify. The race was open to female drivers in saloon or sports cars and was run in a handicap format.

It was originally scheduled to run for ten laps, but was shortened to twelve minutes. Michaelle Burns-Grieg and Gabriel Konig had a low-speed collision on the formation lap, which had to be dealt with before the race commenced. On the fifth lap, Jean Dorken’s clutch blew up, then Anita Taylor rolled her Anglia after puncturing a tyre on the debris. The resulting pictures were picked up by several daily newspapers, who were all over this story of women drivers and carnage. Anita Taylor joked to a reporter that she would have to do her shopping by bicycle until the car was repaired. Some of the drivers used their own cars, while others were borrowed, from the likes of Chris Craft and Gordon Spice.

The race was won by Joey (Jocelyn) Freeman in an Aston Martin. This was her comeback race after a heavy crash in 1962, and her first all-female event. Anita Taylor and Michaelle Burns-Grieg had previously raced each other in the BSCC, the fore-runner of the BTCC. Fifth-place finisher, Sally Stokes, was making her competition debut. She was better-known as the long-term girlfriend of Jim Clark.

Another Fast Girl Trophy was apparently held at Mallory Park later in the year, but no results are forthcoming.

Full results for the race are rather hard to track down. There were fifteen starters, who were pictured in the Daily Express. One of the names on the list must have either dropped out or not qualified.

I am grateful to Richard Page, John Winfield and Richard Armstrong for their help in finding entry lists.

(Image copyright Alamy)

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Rebecca Jackson

Rebecca Jackson is best known for racing Porsches in the UK, and for her “Project Le Mans” plan.

She grew up around motor racing, having been introduced to the sport as a baby by her dad. However, she was never a junior karter and only started competing once she was an adult, with her education finished. After university, she ran her own car sales business, which she started in 2007. For fun, she drove her Subaru Impreza on track days. She set up her own Youtube channel, in which she posted her own car reviews of vehicles she was selling. This was the start of her media career, which progressed in tandem with her racing ambitions.

Her first Porsche was a 924, in 2011, which she raced in the BRSCC’s Porsche championship. The car had cost her £5000, the proceeds from the sale of the Impreza, and was pretty basic. She was eighth overall. Her best finish was fifth, at Oulton Park.

Having gained valuable experience, she was fourth in 2012, having scored her first win at Snetterton, as well as a second and third. That year she also raced a Toyota MR2. Quite early in her career, she picked up a reputation as a wet-track specialist, having prevailed in a number of wet races.

For 2013, she swapped the 924 for a production-class Boxter, remaining in the same championship, but a different class. She won the class comfortably, and was 19th overall, six places above her nearest Boxter rival.

2013 saw her launch “Project Le Mans”, a four-year plan that would end with her racing at Le Mans. She used the Autosport International Show to canvass support. To begin with, this was in the form of spare parts, but she did get some cash sponsors on board.

In 2014, she planned to move into the Race Spec Boxter class, the highest level of Porsche  club competition. However, she opted for the Cartek Roadsports Endurance Series, a production-based championship, run by the 750MC. Her best results were two fifth places, at Snetterton and Silverstone, and she struggled a little with non-finishes and development issues with the Boxter. However, her performances were enough to earn her some good Class B finishes, including a second at Snetterton. Later in the season, she drove in the Birkett Six Hour Handicap Relay, as part of Team Turtle Wax, all driving Porsches or Ginettas. They were fifth on handicap, and 22nd on scratch, winning their class. Turtle Wax became her principal sponsor for the next three seasons.

Rebecca moved a little further up the Porsche racing ladder in 2015, with a view to a Le Mans seat in 2016. For this, she needed some top-level GT3 experience, which the GTUK championship provided. She was sixth in the GTB class of the GTUK series, driving a Porsche 997 Carrera Cup car. Her best result was a third place, at Donington, and she was normally in the top five. Although she was still in a Porsche, this was the most powerful car she had raced yet.

Another of her 2015 activities was her RecordRoadTrip, sponsored by the RAC and Audi. The aim of the trip was to visit as many countries as she could on a single tank of fuel. She was assisted by Andrew Frankel, and the car, an Audi, had a special enlarged fuel tank. The pair set a Guinness-ratified world record, having travelled most of the way round Europe.

Later in the year, she did another road trip, the Track 2 Track Challenge. Rebecca and Russian racer Natalia Freidina travelled around the UK and Eastern Europe and raced each other on circuits along the way, including some forgotten F1 tracks.

She spent most of 2016 in the GT4 European Series, driving a KTM X-Bow in the Pro class for the Reiter team. Her best finish was fifth, at Pau, and she was 20th overall. This was her first experience of a sports prototype. She also paid another visit to Dubai for the 24 Hours, but did not finish in the Sorg Rennsport BMW 325i.

This was the final year of her Project Le Mans plan, and true to her word, she raced at Le Mans. She did not compete in the 24 Hours itself, but in the Road to Le Mans support race for LMP3 cars. She drove a Nissan-engined Ligier to sixteenth place, with her By Speed Factory team-mate, Jesus Fuster. This was only the second time she had driven the Ligier. The first time was a month earlier, at Paul Ricard, where she raced in a round of the VdeV championship, finishing sixth.

In 2017, she is racing in the UK Mini Challenge.

Away from actual racing, she is a motoring journalist and broadcaster who writes for The Telegraph’s motoring section, among other publications.

(Image from www.rebeccaracer.com)