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Nascar, F1 and WRC: 5 very fast Females in motorsport

2017-08-09 09:00

Lance Branquinho

Image: Jared. C Tilton / AFP

Think Indy 500, Dakar and even Formula 1 and Le Mans... there are a few women who have dominated in male-only domains.

Cape Town - Motorsport is not a male-only domain. These five ladies prove why. 

1. Danica Patrick

The American racer is unquestionably the fastest contemporary female racer, having shown competitive ability in both open- and closed-wheel racing during the last decade and a bit. 

In the brutally competitive American racing scene, Patrick has become the only woman to podium at the Indy 500 and her eight-place finish at the 2013 Daytona 500 remains the highest placing ever for a woman in Nascar. Her greatest achievement remains a stunning victory at the Indy Japan in 2008, making her the only woman to ever win a race in the highest form of American motorsport. 

After starting in karts as a ten-year old, Patrick’s natural talent convinced her parents that a move to the United Kingdom, to hone her single-seater race craft, was more important than high school.

She dropped-out at 16 to further her racing career – something which has transpired to be an inspired move in a racing career which shows no signs of slowing down. Danica currently races a Ford Fusion in Nascar for the Stewart-Haas team. 

Image: Jonathan Ferrey/ AFP

2. Jutta Kleinschmidt

South Africans love off-road racing because we have the terrain for it and a buoyant local off-road racing series. We also know that the world’s toughest motor racing event is the Dakar, that monumental test of human endeavour and racing machinery which captures the imagination each January. 

There is no credibility to robustness in motorsport purer than a Dakar victory and it’s the reason Germany’s iron lady is on our list. After graduating as a physicist, Jutta started working at BMW, which flared her interest in motorcycles and eventually led to a first Dakar entry, on two-wheels, in 1998. 

She would become a notably competitive feature of the Dakar during the 1990s, especially after switching to the car category in 1994, before triumphing as overall race winner, for Mitsubishi, in 2001. 

3. Michelle Mouton

If Formula 1 is precision, aerodynamics and ultimate a battle of designers as opposed to drivers, then WRC is quite the opposite. 

Gravel, snow and tar. No margin for error and everything done, effectively, blind – but for a few words or direction drowned out by the sound of straight cut gears. Rallying is the truest test of driver skill and Group B was the greatest era of rallying. Audi’s Quattro, unarguably the greatest rally car – too. 

In the era of overpowered, barely controllable Group B rally cars, there was a dashing French lady who was a driver without compare: Michele Mouton. With four WRC rally wins and an agonising second-place in the 1982 WRC world championship, her title hopes ruined by a mechanical on the last rally, Mouton is unquestionably the greatest female driver in history, her car control and sheer speed, in a car as legendary as the S1 Quattro, will perhaps never be rivalled. 

Absolutely fearless and possessed of a deft touch, Mouton won the 1985 Pikes Peak hill climb in Colorado, setting a record time. To underscore just how intense her addiction to speed and danger were, Mouton quit motorsport after the FIA banned Group B rally cars, citing driver and spectator safety. The French lady from Grasse, is one of the greatest motorsport competitors ever. 

Away from the gravel, Mouton tallied a class win at Le Mans in 1975, driving a prototype. 

4. Desiré Wilson

We could never compile a list fo the greatest female racing drivers without at least one South African. Enter our very own Desiré Wilson, a lady who had no fear in a time when motorsport was at its most dangerous. 

Wilson was born in Brakpan and in the early 1970s she showed her class and driving skill, by capturing the South African formula Ford championship in 1975 – usually a springboard to higher levels of open-wheeled racing such as Formula 1. 

Desiré would eventually obtain an FIA super licence and become the only woman to ever ‘win’ a Formula One race. During the tumultuous power struggle between FISA and FOCA, the Aurora AFX series was established, which has a rue which allowed ‘F1 machinery’ to enter. As such Wilson won the 1980 Brands Hatch round of the Aurora championship in a Wolf WR4. 

Politics and gender bias prevented Desiré from a proper F1 career, but she showed her pace by winning the Silverstone six hour in 1980 and her immense mental strength, competing at the 1982 Indy 500 even after team mate Gordon Smiley was killed in a ferocious crash during qualifying.

Wilson still occasionally dons her driving gloves, when invited, to events such as the Goodwood Festival of Speed. 

5. Sabine Schmitz

In the automotive world, we argue about a great many things, but not which is the greatest road of all. That’s simple: the Nürburgring. And queen of the ‘Ring is a lady named Sabine Schmitz.

Raised within earshot of the fabled racetrack, Sabine knowns it better than most – lapping the km course about 1200 times per year. With wins at the Nürburgring 24 hour in both 1996 and 1997, her ability on this hugely technical section of road is beyond reproach. She even shares the skill set, having established a Ring taxi service, where passengers are ferried around the Nürburgring in a BMW M5. 

Beyond her driving mastery of the world’s greatest race track, Sabine’s affable personality has secured her many guest appearances on the TopGear show. A true speed queen. 

Read more on:    danica patrick  |  motorsport

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