Five Famous Women in Motorsports

Five Famous Women in Motorsports
Motor racing doesn’t have to be a man’s world. Here are five reasons why…

Put a bunch of motorsport enthusiasts in a room and ask them to come up with the names of five truly significant racing or rally drivers and arguments would rage over dozens of potential candidates. Ask the same group to pick five significant women drivers and the room will most likely fall silent.

Currently, there are several initiatives aimed at getting more women to compete in motorised sports. Some are backed by the FIA, there’s the women-only W Series and recently, Ferrari has specifically scouted out talented young girls to join their young driver programme. However, if we try and pick five women who have made their mark on the sport, with a couple of notable exceptions, the candidates are there because they were pioneers, unique in their field, or because they fought prejudice in order to race, rather than for the quality and quantity of the results they achieved.

Automobilist’s pick of five women who made a difference, starts with Eliska Junkova, who already features in one of our pieces of artwork. Born in 1900, she was a true pioneer, who became famous for her exploits at the wheel of Bugattis mainly. Eliska began racing alongside her husband, but she made her name in the gruelling Targa Florio in Sicily, first in 1927 when she crashed out with broken steering and again in 1928. After two laps of the 108 km course, she was leading in her Bugatti 35B, then second going into the final lap, but a puncture ruined her chances of success, although, the ever-tenacious Eliska fought back and still finished fifth in what was then the world’s most gruelling race.

Eliska Junkova behind the wheel of a Bugatti 35B. Image courtesy Auto Veteran

Maria Teresa de Filippis was the first woman to take part in a round of the Formula One World Championship. Born in Naples in 1926 into a car mad family, her two brothers challenged her to take up racing, her first car being a tiny Fiat Topolino. Talented and fearless, she finished second in 1955 in an Italian sports car championship and made her F1 debut in the 1958 Monaco GP at the wheel of the iconic Maserati 250F. Her best result was a tenth place in the Belgian Grand Prix, but following the deaths of two close friends, Jean Behra and Luigi Musso, she retired from active competition. She occasionally attended grands prix in the modern era, in her role as vice president of the Societe des Anciens Pilotes passed away in 2016.

Maria Teresa de Filippis at the GP in Monaco 1958. Image courtesy Maserati 

The F1 baton was taken up two decades later, by Maria Grazia Lombardi. To this day, “Lella” as she was known, is the only woman to finish in the points in a Formula 1 World Championship Grand Prix, who first drove a car, working as a delivery driver for her butcher father in Piedmont, Italy. She enjoyed great success on her way to becoming a grand prix racer, finishing as runner-up in the 1968 Italian Formula 3 championship and winning the Formula 850 series two years later. She raced in F1 from 1974 to 1976, with the March, RAM and Williams teams, entering for 17 races and qualifying for 12 of them. Her points finish was tinged with sadness as it came when she finished sixth in the 1975 Spanish Grand Prix at Montjuich Park, when four spectators were killed when Rolf Stommelen’s car flew over the barriers. The race was stopped after just 29 laps, so that half points were awarded. With points only going down to sixth place back then, Lombardi picked up a half point. She died of cancer, aged just 50, in 1992.

Lella Lombardi in the Alfa Romeo GTV6. Image courtesy Alfa Romeo

In the 1982 World Rally Championship, Michele Mouton finished second overall, just 12 points behind the great Walter Rohrl. Behind her in the standings were rallying “gods” Hannu Mikkola, Stig Blomqvist, Per Eklund, Bjorn Waldegard and Henri Toivonen. No wonder Stirling Moss said she was one of the best, while Niki Lauda had just one word for her – “superwoman!” With four world rally victories to her name as well a win in the fearsome 1986 Pikes Peak Hill Climb, few would argue that she is the best woman motorsport competitor the world has ever seen. Born in Grasse in the South of France, the heart of the country’s perfume industry, she first experienced rallying as a co-driver, tackling various events before navigating a friend, Jean Taibi around the 1973 Monte Carlo Rally, the very first World Championship event. She made her driving debut with a beautiful Alpine-Renault A110 with her WRC debut coming in 1974, when she finished 12th in the Tour de Corse. Her career really took off in 1980, when Audi signed her up. The “shock” came in the 1981 San Marino Rally, when along with co-driver Fabrizia Pons, she held off Henri Toivonen and Ari Vatanen to record a famous win that left her male rivals dumbstruck. More recently, Mouton has been a keen advocate of getting more women to compete, and was the first president of the FIA’s Women and Motor Sport Commission.

Michèle Mouton (Right) with fellow female racing drivers Cathy Muller, Gosia Rdest and Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky at the Audi Sport TT cup finale in Hockenheim in 2015. Image courtesy Audi

But let’s end this quick look at a handful of heroes of female motorsport with a current racer and one who makes do with just two wheels. Ana Carrasco, who turns 25 in a few days, is to date the only woman to have won an FIM World Championship race, setting the fastest lap and taking pole position into the bargain. The young woman from Murcia in Spain, started racing minibikes at the tender age of three, before going on to win regional championships in the 125cc class. She started her world championship campaign in 2013, the first woman to score points in Moto3, finishing 15th in Malaysia.

Ana Carrasco after becoming world champion at the World Superbike in 2018. Image courtesy Motorsport images

Her world title came at the controls of a Kawasaki in the 2018 Supersport 300 World Championship, making her the first woman to win a World motorcycle Championship. Today she is poised to return to the ultra-competitive Moto3 class, starting with this weekend’s Qatar GP, having recovered from a crash that left her with a broken back in 2020.

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