The recent invention of the W Series may have put the spotlight on female drivers in motor racing today, but Desiré Wilson was a true trailblazer of her time. Still the only woman in history to win a race run to Formula 1 rules, she also competed – and won – at the top levels in sports car racing. Having cut her teeth in her native South Africa, she took a gamble to move to England and chase her dream, shortly after meeting her husband Alan Wilson, whose career spanned the other side of the sport after years of working on the organisational side with Ford. The pair now run a successful circuit design business to remain active in the sport.
Interviews by James Mills
Desiré Wilson: “My mother hated every minute of racing, believe it or not, so my father [Charlie Randall] was the influence. He was a motorcycle champion and I’d watch him and his friends in the garage, and ask questions about various parts of the motorcycle and that’s where my technical skills started. Then he built me a micro-midget race car and my competitive streak came out. I did pretty well, often up against boys twice my age – and I’d sometimes square up to them after a race!
When I turned 18 he was itching to get me into a car. He took me to Kyalami, approached the owner of a Formula Vee and said, ‘I bet you my daughter can drive it faster than your current driver’. I’d never driven a FVee, or at Kyalami, and I never forget my father’s words, ‘This is the throttle, that’s the brake pedal and the clutch, these are gears – 1, 2, 3, 4 – and this is the track record. Get going…’