Motoring News

Women drivers: A tribute to the First Ladies of track and trail

The 2020 Women’s Month and Ford SA are celebrating three South African women for their contributions to motorsport through achievements on the tracks and trails for more women to follow. Support these drivers and navigators as the 2020 and future motorsport calendars resume…

PRETORIA, South Africa – Women have been involved in motorsport from the very start – on the track, in the pits, behind the garage doors. From pioneers such as Vicki Wood (who died aged 101 in June 2020) and Janet Guthrie to contemporary competitors such as Sarah Fisher and Danica Patrick women have made their mark from Detroit to Daytona, Indianapolis to Le Mans.

ONE OF THE WOMEN WHO TAME THE RACING BEASTS. Image: Supplied

South Africa, too…

Women in motorsport is the start for a weekly series of Women’s Month segments to be compiled by Ford SA through August.

Three women in South Africa have forged a tight relationship in racing with Ford: Elvéne Coetzee-Vonk has been in rallying from a young age as navigator for various teams and drivers before joining Neil Woolridge as navigator for the 2020 SA Cross Country Series in a Ford Ranger – and on tarmac circuits around South Africa,

Paige Lindenberg has shown the same determination at the wheel of a Shelby Ford Mustang as she has in the family-run Shelby-SA, the official Shelby American mod-shop in sub-Saharan Africa.

She grew up with Ford Mustangs and uses her racecraft to grow the Shelby following in South Africa – you’ll see her in various events at the wheel of a 560kW Shelby Super Snake.

Then there’s Clare Vale who, since 2007, has proved no motorsport discipline to be beyond her. She was the first woman to race in the national WesBank V8 Supercar series and her contribution to motorsport is so great that you’d be forgiven for thinking she started well before the age of 40!

Clare’s been in a hurry to make up for lost time: she’s been nominated twice for the Colin Watling Award for service to motorsport.

Elvéne Coetzee-Vonk’s calm and experience in a navigator’s seat have earned her recognition by the country’s best drivers and teams. She’s Kassie Coetzee’s eldest daughter and for almost 20 years attended races with her dad. During the late 1970’s and 1980’s Kassie excelled at rallying in a variety of classes before switching to cross-country racing.

Elvéne had her motorsport debut in 2006 as a navigator in the Regional championship. Her talent was visible from the outset, and from 2007 to 2010 gained more experience navigating for noted drivers such as Tjaardt Conradie and Etienne Louwrens.

In 2009 she joined eight-times SA Cross-Country Special Vehicle champion Evan Hutchison. Together they won the Class A7 championship in Hutchison’s first year of rallying; in 2010 Hutchison and Coetzee contested the SA National Rally championship in Class S2000.

The following year Elvéne was selected to navigate for Leeroy Poulter. Their partnership lasted six years and included SA National Rally Overall champions in 2014 and 2016. In a closely fought 2015 championship Elvéne again claimed the Overall SA National Rally Navigators’ title; Poulter was runner-up in the Drivers’ championship.

Elvéne Coetzee-Vonk and Neil Woolridge.

This achievement made Elvéne the most successful female navigator in South African rallying.

Elvéne had her first taste of cross-country racing next to Poulter. From 2015 to 2018 she shared a cabin with various drivers in the Special Vehicle category of the SACCS.

She told The Corner in a media release: “I was thrilled when I was approached by Neil Woolridge Motorsport to join multiple cross-country Class T champion Lance Woolridge in the Ford Castrol Cross-Country Team – and even more delighted when I learned we would be contesting the top-level FIA class.”

LOOKING FOR MORE SILVERWARE…

The pair had a fantastic debut in the Mpumalanga 400 around Dullstroom in February 2020 but the championship was frozen because of CoVid-19; Elvéne can’t wait for the season to resume with the Bronkhorstspruit 400 on August 14 2020.

”I hope to contribute more silverware to the cabinet with the Ford Castrol Cross Country squad.”

Clare Vale’s motoring career is almost impossible to summarise. Her ambition knows no bounds and she’s considered by many to be a stalwart of South African motorsport, with the records to show for it.

Her great uncle was a racing driver (he won Le Mans in 1924 in a Bentley) but Clare’s involvement in motorsport was restricted to spectating until she turned 40. “I went to Kyalami and did a high-speed advanced driving day with Basil Mann. That day really ignited the fire and I started racing soon afterwards.”

THROUGH THE RANKS

In March 2009, in the WesBank V8 race at Kyalami, Clare became the first woman to take pole as go on to lead a V8 race. She also became the first woman to reach the podium in WesBank V8 Supercar history with third place in October 2010.

Clare Vale was never going to be intimidated by a racing car after mastering the physicality of WesBank and rose through the ranks and formulas. She won her first race during the Springbok series at the Killarney circuit in 2006 in a Shelby Can-Am sport car and has raced in Class A Production Cars.through

CLARE VALE

She also drove in the International Sports Prototype class, finishing second in the championship in 2011 despite missing some races.

“I love Fords”, she says. “Everybody already knew me as a Mustang driver from my time in WesBank V8s so it was a no-brainer to stick with Ford and build something different out of drifting.”

Most recently, Clare has become the first woman to participate in the Supadrift Series with the SN95 Black Art Racing Mustang producing 450kW from its V8 engine.

“The Ford Mustang is definitely the most popular car I have ever driven. That Ford V8 makes peoples’ hair stand up when they hear it and it has entertained crowds from Cape Town to Windhoek – everyone loves the iconic Mustang.”

“Motorsport’s not easy. I’ve learned an enormous amount about myself; it was tough starting out in a sport where most people had been doing it for decades; it was also tough being a woman. All eyes are on you… if you make a mistake or something goes wrong you can be sure somebody will be rolling eyes and muttering about female drivers!”

Paige Lindenberg’s path through motorsport was mentored by father Peter Lindenberg – a 15-times SA Formula 1 Powerboat champion and third in the 1989 World championships. Her father has won National colours 39 times, and won 23 National championships across four sports, one of them Springbok colours for water-skiing.

PAGE LINDENBERG

The last few awarded in motor racing were largely responsible for Paige’s accomplishments at the wheel.

Maybe it was in her genes… Paige quickly climbed through the motorsport ranks and formulas, pairing with her father many times. Paige’s first motorsport championship came at age nine in Power Boating World championship though she was in an age category well above her own – until her father’s near-fatal accident in 2002.

FIRST MEMORY – A CORTINA

After that Paige continued to nurture her love for motorsport in the VW Polo Regionals. Experience gained there, as well as a period in the grassroots Formula Ford single-seaters, allowed her to join her father in Historics – a fruitful transition that would galvanise the Ford brand and models far into her racing and business future.

Her first racing memory in a Ford was at the wheel of a Cortina; then came the nimble and iconic Ford Escort. “I then took a big leap into my dad’s Ford Fairlane,” she recalled. Now she continues to compete in endurance racing with her dad, sharing his Daytona Coupe.

Since then motorsport has been ingrained in Paige’s life – though she finds adrenalin rushes in other places. As she says: “Follow your dreams, never give up, fight for what you want in life.”

MOVING TO HISTORICS

She opened her own events company in 2013 and had to fit it in in between completing a marketing degree and training for races. She also helps the less fortunate by working with charities. She summited Mount Kilimanjaro on Mandela Day in 2018 to raise money for sanitary pads for schoolgirls.

She and her father Peter were selected to join a four-race International Historics series in 2019: a race in each of Pretoria, Cape Town, the Netherlands, and England.

These three women of South African motorsport are not alone; whether on dirt, tarmac, two or four wheels, more and more women are reaching the top echelons of motorsport and continue to inspire other women from all backgrounds to do the same.

Happy Women’s Day from Carman’s Corner!

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