Lady competition drivers

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Continued from July issue

Betty Haigh has had an extremely varied driving career, although like so many lady competition drivers her first interest was in the equine world. However, she was taken to Brooklands and to quote her own words “the rot set in.” Her first experience of real speed was in the old 300-h.p. Fiat then owned by le Champion when they got in a brief spell in 3rd gear near Daventry, which represented about 130 m.p.h., at which velocity the car was using a lot of road.

After early experience on Austin Seven, Singers and M.G.s she really began to learn how to drive on a 328 B.M.W., taking part in the Swiss International Hill-Climb in 1948 when she received valuable advice from Hans von Stuck. Soon after the war Miss Haigh began competing in European rallies and took part in the first post-war rally, the Alpine of 1946, when the Germans had hardly left the country. The only engine oil was that drained from American Army vehicles and the petrol was so poor that the cars pinked going downhill! Tyres were usually so old, or of such poor quality and literally exploded from time to time, and although most bridges were missing and replaced by planks and so on, the rally managed to carry on. Miss Haigh’s pre-war A.C. managed to keep going and won the 2-litre class and the Coupe des Dames. Strangely enough she describes it as her most exciting drive!

Another interesting drive was in the Ferrari which she co-drove with Yvonne Simon in the 1951 Le Mans 24-hour Race. This was a 2-litre V12 capable of some 130 m.p.h., but during the inevitable downpour the brakes become full of water and rather temperamental. Despite this and a high thirst for oil the car finished at 82.3 m.p.h., and gained the Coupe des Dames for the two ladies, the last time this was awarded at Le Mans.

In hill climbing she has held the ladies’ record at Prescott for six years and has also had numerous ladies’ class wins at many other hill climbs both here and abroad.

Future plans include a Lotus 7 with 1,460-c.c. F.W.B. Climax engine for British hill-climbs and if a suitable British car can be found she will enter Continental Mountain Championship events, possibly with an Elite. For a road car she has used various Porsche models since 1957.

* * * * *

Bluebelle Gibbs. Mrs. Gibbs is not ashamed to admit that she has been an active competitor in motoring competitions since 1923 when she went as sidecar passenger on her father’s Norton. She learned to ride a motorcycle at the age of 12 and by the age of 18 she was in the Norton works team, winning the Ladies’ Motorcycle Championship the following year. In the ensuing years she rode Enfield, Francis-Barnett, Cotton Blackburne, Raleigh and Norton machines, having a good deal of success in Trials.

Motor competitions did not feature in her programme until 1951 when she began racing the ex-Eric Thompson Le Mans 1,500-c.c. H.R.G. converted to twin overhead camshafts and became a regular supporter of Club meetings by such clubs as the M.C.C., S.U.N.B.A.C., A.M.O.C., M.M.E.C., V.S.C.C., B.A.R.C., Maidstone & Mid-Kent, Eight Clubs gaining awards in many of these meetings. Later, a rear-engined Cooper-Climax replaced the H.R.G. and this was used for some time, although Mrs. Gibbs was not happy with the rear engine layout and oventually reverted to a front-engined car, the ex-Michael Taylor Lotus XI which she races today. She is happy to stay in Club racing and as long as there is an 1,100-c.c. class she will take part along with her husband Len Gibbs who races a Lotus junior. She has a high opinion of the standard of driving in motor racing especially in National events and in her experience the newer drivers soon learn their way round. For a road car Mrs. Gibbs uses an M.G. Magnette.

* * * * *

Shelley Marten was almost destined to take part in motor racing as her father raced at Brooklands before the war and her brother races a Morgan Plus 4. She started driving in 1959 with a Morris Minor but after having the engine rebuilt three times in a year decided it wasn’t fast enough. After trying a Lotus 7 which went very well but allowed the elements to enter too freely she bought an Alexander-Turner and spent the off-season practising at Brands Hatch. The car was modified to Sebring specification and raced almost every week-end. Little success has come her way, her best place being a second at Brands when, having led all the way she was pipped on the line by the Toucan Special.

She hopes to move on to something like an A.C. or an Elite and is quite prepared to move on to Formula racing if the opportunity arises. The Turner is used as a road car and gets a hard life but she praises the handling both on road and track, having spun only once, at Snetterton. She also has a high opinion of male drivers on the circuits, believing they have greater powers of concentration than women and probably more endurance for longer races.

* * * * *

Isobel Robinson became interested in motor racing when she took the position of secretary to the Public Relations Officer of the Owen Organisation which runs the B.R.M. team. In this position she has the opportunity to visit many of the European G.P. races in which B.R.M.s are entered, helping to film the team’s activities.

Three years ago she commenced hill climbing with Eric Broadley’s 1172 Broadley Special, which was the forerunner of the Lola, then replaced this with a Downton-tuned B.M.C.-engined Turner formerly raced by Betty Haigh. So far no great successes have come her way but she has several Ladies’ Class wins and one or two class records to her credit. In rallying, she co-drove with Rosemary Seers in the 1959 R.A.C. Rally.

For this season she has purchased the ex-Philip Robinson Cooper-Norton 500 which she will use in hill-climbs and possibly some circuit racing.

On the road she uses a Daimler to tow the Cooper and also drives a 3.4 Jaguar with automatic transmission.

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