To celebrate International Women’s Day, Alfa Romeo would like to salute its female racing drivers, who have stood out in the brand’s history
Women whose assertion transcends the mere sporting value of their achievements, who have become an example of overcoming preconceptions and barriers. A number of women from different eras and different countries all shared a pioneering spirit and a passion for racing, trailblazing uncharted territory in what is a challenging sport.
We reconstruct the history of their contribution to the success of the Alfa Romeo brand, with a quick roundup that, in the style typical of social media, starts from the present day and goes back to the early 20th century.
Born in 1993 in Bogotá, Colombia, Calderon took her first steps in motorsport in 2005, winning a National Championship in the Easy Kart Pre-Junior series. Just three years later, she would become the first woman to win the JICA class of the Stars of Karting Championship East Division in the United States.
In 2017, Calderon became a development driver for the Sauber Formula One team. One year later, Sauber promoted her from F1 development driver to F1 test driver for Alfa Romeo Racing.
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 fully yellow livery of the Alfa Romeo 155 that she drove in the Italian Superturismo Championship (CIS) in 1994.
Maria Grazia Lombardi & Anna Cambiaghi
To follow Maria Teresa de Filippis in the 1950s, the second Italian woman to drive in a Formula 1 race – in as many as 13 GPs – was Maria Grazia Lombardi, known as “Lella”. Between 1982 and 1984, she took part in the European Tourism Championship with the Alfa Romeo GTV6 2.5, together with Anna Cambiaghi, Giancarlo Naddeo, Giorgio Francia and Rinaldo Drovandi, and helped to bring in multiple titles. She remains the only female Italian driver to have improved her standing in a Formula 1 race.
Christine Beckers & Liane Engeman
The 1960s were the era of the Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint GTA. Its results, victories and importance in Alfa Romeo’s history 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 220 hp, resulting in a top speed of 240 km/h. It reached peak performance, but as historical test driver from Autodelta Teodoro Zeccoli explained, the GTA-SA had “an unpredictable boost of power would kick in suddenly without notice, making the SA an unpredictable vehicle, hard to govern on curves or when maneuvering.”
One 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, later to be chosen by Alfa Romeo as a model, excelled herself in the Toine Hezemans team’s Alfa Romeo 1300 Junior.
Susanna “Susy” Raganelli
Possibly the only woman to have won a World Championship on four wheels was Rome-born Susanna “Susy” Raganelli, who won the 100 cc Kart World Championship in 1966, defeating Leif Engstrom and the great Ronnie Peterson. Raganelli forever linked her name to Alfa Romeo when she 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, produced in a series of just 12 units.
Ada Pace (“Sayonara”)
In the 1950s, another driver achieved outstanding results behind the wheel of several Alfa Romeos: Turin-born Ada Pace. Throughout her 10-year career, Pace won as many as 11 national speed races, 6 in Turismo and 5 in Sport class. Almost always enrolled in races under her pseudonym “Sayonara” – based on the derisory wording she often posted as a rear license plate – her most prestigious successes were achieved in the Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint Veloce and the Alfa Romeo Giulietta SZ, in which she also won the Trieste-Opicina race in 1958.
In the 1930s, Alfa Romeo asserted itself as one of the main protagonists in motorsport. This was partly down to extraordinary vehicles, but also to 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 the striking Odette Siko finished fourth overall and won the 2.0-liter category. A young Parisian, Siko quickly became one of the stars on the track, displaying her elegance both in the paddock and in her racing performance, often accompanied by another female French racer whose path also crossed Alfa Romeo’s several times: Hellé Nice.
A model, acrobat, and dancer, Mariette Hélène Delangle was more commonly known as Hellé Nice. Renowned for her outgoing personality, Nice was good friends with the Rothschilds and the Bugattis. She raced in Europe and America and became one of the first drivers to display the logos of her sponsors on the bodywork of a single-seater racing car. She took part in the 1933 Italian Grand Prix at Monza in her own 8C 2300 Monza; in the same race, Campari, Borzacchini and Czaikowski tragically lost their lives. In 1936, she won the Ladies Cup in Monte Carlo and took part the São Paulo Grand Prix in Brazil, where she fell victim to a dreadful accident, then miraculously came out of her three-day coma.
Anna Maria Peduzzi
The years of Scuderia Ferrari marked a crucial chapter in Alfa Romeo’s history. The drivers of the “Prancing Horse” included Como-born Anna Maria Peduzzi, the wife of driver Franco Comotti, who was nicknamed the “Moroccan”. After her debut aboard 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, raced in the Alfa Romeo 1900 Sprint and the Alfa Romeo Giulietta.
Maria Antonietta d’Avanzo
The forerunner of female Alfa Romeo drivers, Baroness Maria Antonietta d’Avanzo made her debut in the interwar years. A pioneer of Italian motorsport, aviator and journalist, d’Avanzo won third place in the Alfa Romeo G1 at Brescia 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. Baroness d’Avanzo raced until the 1940s in a variety of vehicles and races, traveling all over the world to do so.