In case you didn’t notice, yesterday was International Women’s Day, a day dedicated to the struggle for gender equality. Motorsports is one of the most unequal sectors of them all, but there are some women who have proven themselves just as capable, if not more so, than men. Here’s a few of the best.
1) Simona De Silvestro
One of the most successful females of modern times, De Silvestro has previously competed in IndyCar and Formula E, as well as being an ‘affiliated driver’ for Sauber F1 Team. She currently competes in the Supercars Championship (previously known as V8 Supercars).
In 2011, she missed round 13 of the IndyCar championship as she had been refused entry to the United States. A US Customs agent was suspicious over her frequent trips from country to country, and did not believe that she was a professional racer.
2) Hellé Nice
A prewar model, dancer and racer, Hellé was a very proficient Grand Prix driver. She drove a factory backed Bugatti Type 35C in the early thirties, and also competed in hillclimbs and rallies, including the Monte Carlo Rally. In 1936, a freak accident resulted in the lives of four being taken, and nearly her own as well.
After she recovered, she was one of the five all-female team who drove nonstop for ten days and ten nights at Montlhéry race track, setting ten records that still stand today.
In 1949, Louis Chiron, fellow race driver and the person who the new Bugatti Chiron was named after, claimed that she was a Nazi collaborator. As a result, she lived her final years penniless, friendless and completely forgotten.
3) Michèle Mouton
Michèle is one of the only women in the world to have won at the top level of rallying. That she did it in the era of Group B makes it all the more amazing.
She came second in the 1982 World Rally Championship, and also completed the Pikes Peak hillclimb on record time in 1985. And then she co-founded something called the Race of Champions.
We all know and love two other legends of Group B, Ari Vatanen and Walter Röhrl, but what is often forgotten is there thoughts about Mouton. Ari said “Never can nor will I lose to a woman,” before losing to a woman, and Röhrl conceded that he would not have accepted second place in the championship to her simply because she was a woman.
4) Lella Lombardi
Lella Lombardi is the only female to score a point in Formula One.
She competed in Formula Ford and Formula 5000, before being recruited by March for the 1975 F1 season. Her best result was sixth place at Spanish Grand Prix; however, since the race was shortened, she only got half a point. That half point is the only point she ever scored.
5) Eliška Junková
Another pre-war Grand Prix racer, Junková was best remembered for her efforts in the 1928 Targa Florio. At the end of the first lap she was fourth, at the end of the second lap first, and only on the final lap, when she ran into trouble, did she drop to fifth. She beat some of the greatest drivers of the era, including Luigi Fagioli and Tazio Nuvolari
After the war, her native Czechoslovakia came under Communist rule, and she was prevented from travelling abroad. And so she was almost forgotten, just like her contemporary Hellé Nice.
6) Jutta Kleinschmidt
The Dakar Rally is one of the toughest races in the world. So it was pretty impressive when Jutta won it in 2001.
She first drove at the Dakar on a BMW motorcycle, but a few years later moved into cars. She won in a Mitsubishi Pajero, and also competed in a Volkswagen Touareg and BMW X3.
I know there are many other women in motorsports who have also had a lot of success, but these are the best examples of women who, even in the 1920s, were competing with and beating men.
Hopefully, more and more women will start to compete in motorsports, until, maybe, one day, there will be an equal amount of men and women on every grid. And all of those people are there because they are extremely talented drivers.