In case you didn’t already know its International Women’s Day and the famous Italian motor racing brand, Alfa Romeo is paying homage to some of the female drivers that have featured within its prolific racing lineage that dates back to 1910 and extends to Formula One today.
While spirit and competitiveness is no stranger to the Italian marque, the skilled and courageous women who were trailblazing unchartered waters throughout many racing eras are all too often overshadowed by their male counterparts.
The storied list begins with Maria Antonietta d’Avanzo, who was herself a pioneer of Italian motorsport and often dubbed as “the most famous Italian woman racing driver of the inter-war period“.
Maria Antonietta d’Avanzo
Maria Antonietta d’Avanzo debuted for Alfa Romeo at the end of the first World War and the pioneering racing driver, aviator and journalist gained third place with the Alfa Romeo G1 on the Brescia circuit in 1921 and proved her worth in many competitions as a formidable opponent for the best drivers of the time, including a young Enzo Ferrari.
Born Mariette Hèlène Delangle, the controversial model, acrobat, and dancer became known by the artistic name of Hellè Nice and renowned for her outgoing tenacious personality. The French model was also a good friend of the Rothschilds and the Bugattis and participated in the 1933 Italian Grand Prix at Monza in her own 8C 2300 Monza; the tragic race in which Campari, Borzacchini and Czaikowski lost their lives. In 1936, she won the Ladies Cup in Monte Carlo and took part in the São Paulo Grand Prix in Brazil, where she had a terrible accident, but miraculously came out of her three-day coma.
Hellé Nice – Bugatti Queen
In the 1930s, Alfa Romeo asserted itself as one of the main protagonists in motorsport. This was partly down to extraordinary vehicles, but also the drivers who became part of the legend: these were the years of Nuvolari, Varzi, Caracciola and Sommer. The latter won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1932 behind the wheel of an Alfa Romeo 8C 2300, but the Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 SS driven by Odette Siko finished fourth overall and won the 2.0-litre category. A young Parisian, Siko quickly became one of the stars on the track, with her elegance displayed both in the paddock and in her racing performances. She was often accompanied by another French racer who also played a role in the Alfa Romeo motorsport history book: Hellé Nice.
Susanna ‘Susy’ Raganelli
Born in Rome and possibly the only woman to have won a World Championship on four wheels, Susanna ‘Susy’ Raganelli ended her career behind the wheel of an Alfa Romeo GTA, but she was also the first Italian buyer of the legendary 1967 Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale, of which just 12 units were produced.
Anna Maria Peduzzi
The years of Scuderia Ferrari marked a fundamental chapter in the history of Alfa Romeo. Among the drivers of the ‘Prancing Horse’ was Como-born Anna Maria Peduzzi, the wife of driver Franco Comotti, who was nicknamed the ‘Moroccan’. After her debut onboard her own Alfa Romeo 6C 1500 Super Sport, which she had purchased from Ferrari himself, Peduzzi almost always raced alone and only occasionally with her husband. In 1934 she won the 1500 Class at the Mille Miglia and, in the post-war period, she raced an Alfa Romeo 1900 Sprint and an Alfa Romeo Giulietta.
Christine Beckers & Liane Engeman
The 1960s were the era of the Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint GTA. Its results, victories and importance in the history of Alfa Romeo are well-known. Less known, however, are the events of the (supercharged) Alfa Romeo GTA-SA. Prepared in ten units for Group 5, it was equipped with two hydraulically operated centrifugal compressors that boosted output to 220hp, resulting in a top speed of 149mph. It reached peak performance, but as a historical test driver from Autodelta, Teodoro Zeccoli explained, the GTA-SA had “an unpredictable boost of power [that] would kick in suddenly without notice, making the SA an unpredictable vehicle, hard to govern on curves or when manoeuvring.”
Someone who was able to govern this ill-tempered vehicle better than any other was the young Belgian driver Christine Beckers, who won in Houyet in 1968 and went on to achieve excellent results the following year in Condroz, at the ‘Tre Ponti’, at Herbeumont and at Zandvoort. However, Beckers was not the only driver to distinguish herself in the GTA. The super-fast Dutch driver Liane Engeman also excelled in the Toine Hezemans team’s Alfa Romeo 1300 Junior.
In 1992, Vidali won the Italian Tourism Championship (Group N) in an Alfa Romeo 33 1.7 Quadrifoglio Verde, set up by the brand’s newly established racing department. Just as unforgettable, is the full yellow livery of the Alfa Romeo 155 that she drove in the Italian Superturismo Championship (CIS) in 1994.
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