Who are Motorsports’ Female Pioneers?

December 31, 2021

Thanks to women motorsport pioneers there is now a Women & Motor Sport Commission which promotes a sports culture that facilitates and values women’s participation in all aspects of motor sport. That organization as well as women motorsport drivers and team managers owe their successful competition careers to the pioneering activities of women who fought for the right to compete as equals. So put your FairGo casino login aside for right now and join us on an adventure of historical exploration to learn more about these brave pioneering women.

Early Role Models

For more than a century motor racing has been a predominantly male hobby. The first motorized race took place in 1867 between two steam carriages but it wasn’t until the last decade of the 19th century that women got involved, racing on motorized tricycles on a racing track in Paris in a “ladies’ race.”

For the next 120 years, few women ventured into motorsports but those that did laid the groundwork for the women racers who followed. Some of the most notable of these ladies include:

Camille du Gast

Camille du Gast was a wealthy French widow who, together with  Baroness Hélène de Rothschild and the Duchess of Uzes Anne de Rochechouart de Mortemart  was a pioneering motoring celebrity. Du Gaste loved extreme sports and was an enthusiastic balloonist, fencer, tobogganist, shooter, horse trainer, fencer and skier. She was the second woman to compete in an international motor race, the 1901 Paris-Berlin race in which, of 122 entrants, she started dead last and finished 33rd. Du Gast was named to the Automobile Club de France in 1904 and for many years was the only woman to occupy a seat in that club.

Gwenda Janson

By the 1920s women were inspired to leave their homes after having taken their places in the workforce during the First World War. One of them, Gwenda Janson, drove an ambulance during WWI on both the Russian and Romanian fronts and for her efforts received the Cross of St. Stanislaus and the Cross of St. George.

She became interested in motorcycle racing in the ‘20s and competed in events at Brooklands where she established the 1000-mile record and the Double-12-hour record.  A move to France resulted in her winning the 24-hour motorcycle speed record at the Montlhéry circuit. She turned to her interest to motorsports and broke the one-mile speed record on a Derby-Miller.

Gwenda competed in the 24 Hours of Le Mans event and was named the fastest woman ever at Brooklands in 1935 with a lap at a speed of nearly 136 mph. That record was never broken.. She died in 1990 at age 96.

Maria Teresa de Filippis

Maria Teresa de Filippis started her career with participation in different types of motor racing events including endurance racing and hill climbing. Her first Formula One resulted in a second-place finish in a sportscar race. In 1956 she raced in the Naples Grand Prix.

She competed in the Belgian Grand Prix and finished in 10th place, the last Grand Prix in which she finished though she remained active in the racing world. After a number of drivers were killed in 1959 in racing accidents she retired from the circuit. In 1979 she joined the International Club of Former F1 Grand Prix Drivers and became vice-president of the club in 1997. She also served as chairperson of the Maserati Club.

Anne Hall

Anne Hall was another wartime ambulance driver – World War II – who turned her driving skills into racetrack skills. In 1951 she won the Ladies Award at the RAC rally along with her sister Mary – the two became known as the “Mad Newton Sisters.” From there she partnered with Sheila Van Damme, owner of London’s notorious The Windmill, and set out to the  International Viking Rally in Norway which they completed with a broken fan belt – they still won the ladies award.

She moved on to drive a Ford Tulip with new partner Val Domleo and the pair won the Morecambe Rally, a first for an all female team. All in all she competed in a total of four Acropolis events, four Safari events , seven Tulips, 11 Alpines, 12 RACs and 13 Montes.

Janet Guthrie

Janet Guthrie was the first woman to qualify and compete in both the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500, both in 1977. Her background was as a research and development engineer for an aviation company, during which time she qualified for the NASA scientist-astronaut program. She began racing in 1963, 3 years after completing her B.A. She joined an all-women’s racing team which went on to win several major events.

In 1976 Guthrie became the first woman to compete in a NASCAR Winston Cup event and in 1977 became the first woman to participate in the Indianapolis 500. She qualified again in 1978 and 1979.

Guthrie was inducted into the Women’s Sports Hall of Fame, the International Motorsports Hall of Fame and the Automotive Hall of Fame.

Michèle Mouton

Michèle Mouton is best known for taking four victories and finishing runner-up in the 1982 drivers’ world championship.

Mouton got her start as a co-driver but by 1975 she was competing in circuit racing and won the two-liter 24 Hours of Le Mans prototype class. In 1977 she finished runner up in the European Rally Championship Bernard Darniche and won the 1978 Tour de France Automobile, the Tour de Corse and the Monte Carlo Rally.

Additional victories included a close second to Walter Rohrl in the 1982 World Rally Season, the German Rally Championship, the first Audi manufacturers’ title and the 1985 Pikes Peak International Hill Climb where she set a record. .

Mouton co-founded the international motorsport Race of Champions event in 1988 and was named the first president of the FIA Women & Motor Sport Commission.