Last Saturday night, on behalf of our publisher, Madison Wells Pty Ltd, we hosted an event for the Motoring Group within the Royal Automobile Club of Australia (RACA) entitled “Balancing the Grid – Women in Motorsport is a Positive Future”. The Guests of Honour were two Australian drivers competing in various categories: Emily Duggan and Chelsea Angelo. The event had a secondary theme of the centenary of Bentley, a marque also steeped in motorsport legend.
The focus though was on Emily and Chelsea and to promote women’s participation in the sport – from a driving perspective as opposed to the off-track functions that many women already do today. We had a good spread of attendance from the RACA membership, the Rolls-Royce Owners Club, the Bentley Drivers Club and Club Maserati Australia and others who were interested in the topic. Importantly, the Australian Racing Drivers Club were present and part of the evening was to highlight their Womens Development Program.
The evening was split into three parts: a history of women in motorsport, a discussion with Emily and Chelsea followed by a discussion on the centenary of Bentley.
History of Women in Motorsport
Women have been racing cars since the very beginning of the automotive industry – 119 years ago the first female racers competed in road races in France. During the 1920s and 1930s, several ladies competed – and won – races in Europe and the US with cars supplied by Bentley and Bugatti amongst others. Then during the 1950s, we saw an increased participation in racing and rallying, Pat Moss and Ann Wisdom, for example, were a very successful team in European rallying. Interestingly from the late 1970s through to the late 1990s there appeared to be fewer women competing at the highest levels of racing and rallying. Michele Mouton in France, Davina Galica in Britain and Leila Lombardi of Italy were notable competitors in Europe with Lyn St James and the South African, Desire Wilson competing in the US and the UK.
Australia has also had some pioneers: how many of you know the names of Midge Whiteman and Jane Richardson? They were the first all-female team at Bathurst, racing a Morris 1100S in the 1967 Gallagher 500, finishing 4th in class and beating an all-male team in a similar car! Incidentally, the 1100S was an Australian built car with an upgraded 1275cc motor producing a mere 58hp! The following year Whiteman teamed up with Christine Cole to finish 5th in class at that years Hardy Ferodo 500. Since that time we have seen a number of ladies compete at the highest levels of motorsport in Australia including Coral Taylor and her daughter Molly who have been very successful in rallying along with Leanne Tander, Veronica McCann, Christine Gibson and Melinda Price to name but a few who have tackled the Mountain.
However, we are now in a resurgence of participation and the grid is slowly being balanced with many more women challenging the myth that motorsport is a male-only sport. Even the Australian Racing Drivers Club has a Women’s Development Program to increase the participation rates.
An Interview with Emily and Chelsea
The interview focused on how the two ladies started racing and their career progression including the different cars they have raced and we also touched on the off-track work that is now needed as part of being a professional driver.
Chelsea started racing in motocross at the age of 6 thanks to a father who raced superbikes. She then progressed to karts before moving through Formula Ford and Formula 3. In recent years she has also raced Porsche GT3s and Super2s and was one of the first group of drivers to test for this year’s first season of the W Series in Europe. She is currently campaigning a Holden Astra in the inaugural Australian TCR Championship and will compete in the Excel Enduro Cup race at Queensland Raceway in November. She is signed to Push Talent Management.
Emily’s path was different in that she had no family influences and so has done everything herself. Starting with a Hyundai in Series X3 with great success, she has moved into Super3 and the Toyota GT86 Series where her determination is gaining her more success. In addition, Emily is her own team boss, building the teams that ensure that her cars are track ready, finding new sponsors and ensuring that all event licensing and registration is done. Emily is also a volunteer for the ARDC Womens Development Program.
Both Emily and Chelsea were very engaging and explained in detail how they had progressed through their careers, where they learnt their race craft and in Emily’s case, how she set up the team and the management side of racing. We also touched on the international scene with the new W series with Chelsea and endurance racing with Emily. Sadly we only had 30 minutes and I’m sure we could have gone through many more topics if we had the time!
Centenary of Bentley
Rather than discuss the four periods in Bentley’s history (WO, Derby, Crewe and VW), the evening discussed the Bentley Girls.
Mary Petre Bruce was a Bentley Girl who was the first British woman to be issued with a speeding ticket – at the age of 15 – on a motorcycle – with her dog in the sidecar! She was an ace rally driver, speedboat racer and pilot, however she is also remembered for single handedly driving a Bentley 4½ litre for 24 hours capturing the world record for single handed driving, covering over 3,000 kms and averaging 143 km/h. Amazingly she survived into her 90s!
Another Bentley Girl was the Honourable Dorothy Paget who was described as “gambling all night and sleeping all day”! Sir Tim Birkin, one of the Bentley Boys taught her to drive at the famous Brooklands circuit and he wanted more power from his Bentley, so her Ladyship duly obliged by bankrolling the development of what became the Blower Bentley – the 4½ litre Bentley with a supercharger. Her team entered four cars in the 1929 Le Mans race.
Woolf Barnato’s daughter, Diana, was the third and final Bentley Girl who drove a 4½ litre Bentley road car with a coach built body by Park Ward. She was an accomplished pilot and during the Second World War delivered over 260 aircraft including Spitfires from the factory to the squadrons on the front line which really was a dangerous operation. In 1962, she flew an English Electric Lightning jet at over 1,900 km/h or nearly twice the speed of sound!
The evening showcased the work being undertaken locally to balance the grid and get more females behind the wheel – ensuring that Australian motorsport has full grids and a flow of experienced drivers into international racing.