Women at the wheel

Posted on 07 March 2016 by CarTakeBack

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The motoring industry could be seen as a very male-dominated business. With International Women's Day on the 8th March, we wanted to take some time to celebrate 5 of the most prominent women in the history of motoring.

Helene Rother

Helene Rother designing the interior of a new car

One of the trailblazers of the vehicle manufacturing industry was Helene Rother from Germany. Born in 1908, she was the first woman to work as an automotive designer, joining General Motors in the US in 1943 and specialising in designing the interiors of cars.

Helene was later contracted by Nash Motors, styling the interiors of most of their cars from 1948 to 1956, including helping establish a new area of the market, compact cars, with the Nash Rambler.
She was the first woman to address the Society of Automotive Engineers, and was recognised by the industry as a big influence.

Helene certainly had an interesting life. Not only was she the first woman to work as an automotive designer for General Motors, her first job was working as an illustrator for Marvel Comics!

Desiré Wilson

Racing driver Desiré Wilson poses with an old car in the pits

Believe it or not only 5 women have ever competed in Formula 1. Desiré Wilson, born in 1953, is the only woman to have ever won an F1 race. She won at Brands Hatch in 1980 and as a result has a grandstand there named after her. Unfortunately, after 2 more podium finishes that year, her team ran out of money!

That didn't stop her though. After Formula 1 Desiré took part in other motor racing disciplines, winning both the Monza 100km and the Silverstone 6 Hours World Championship for Makes races in 1980 too. That was a very successful year for her! She is the only woman to have ever been licensed to drive in a CART Indycars event.

Desiré continued to race in various international competitions, with her last big race being the North American Super Touring Car Championship in 1996, where she competed in a Mazda Xedos. She is recognised as the most accomplished female racing driver in the world.

If you'd like to see this incredible woman in action, Desiré occasionally races at Goodwood Revival.

Vicki Butler-Henderson

Vicki Butler-Henderson with a Ford ready for scrap.

Coming from a racing family, Vicki started racing carts at the age of 12. Her first race was with a young David Coulthard! She currently holds a Race International C licence, as well as a power boat racing licence, and has worked on motoring magazines that include Auto Express and What Car?. Vicki was also the assistant launch editor and mechanic in the publication Max Power.

Vicki competed in the Formula First Single Seater Championship at the tender age of 17, working as a racing instructor at Silverstone on the weekends to pay for it. Since then she's raced yearly in various different cars, ranging from a Porsche 911 in the Carrera Cup, to a Peugeot 206 in rallies and a Citroen Saxo in an ice race! Vicki also became the first woman to win a Maserati race in the history of the marque, competing in the Maserati Trofeo Support Race.

In 1997 Vicki joined the famous BBC motoring show, Top Gear, working alongside Quentin Willson and Tiff Needell. In 2002 she started work on the program Fifth Gear, which she still presents today. She has also worked as a presenter in radio, on various other TV motoring projects, and was even the voiceover in the racing video game Gran Turismo 4 Prologue. Impressive!

Claire Williams

Claire Williams F1 deputy team principle

Claire Williams is someone you'll recognise if you watch Formula One. She's the deputy team principal of successful racing team, Williams F1.

Claire began her career in the motoring industry after she graduated in 1999, when she became a press officer for Silverstone. In 2002 she became communications officer for Williams racing team, which was founded by her father, Frank Williams. Recognised for her hard work and talent within the team, she was promoted to director of marketing and communications in 2011. Claire was appointed deputy team principle at the age of 36, which is the role she still holds today.

We're crossing our fingers that Claire and the Williams team get pole position in the upcoming season!

Sabine Schmitz

Sabine Schmitz in a racing car

Sabine Schmitz is a professional racing driver and TV presenter. Having grown up near the famous Nürburgring race track, it's no wonder that Sabine developed an interest in motor sports and a taste for racing.

Sabine has competed in many race events, and her wins have included the Circuit Racing Challenge and multiple titles for the 24 Hours Nürburgring, which were all won with her BMW M3. She came to public attention when she was driving the BMW M5 "Ring Taxi" around the 20.8km race track, which she has circuited more than 30,000 times throughout her life!

You might recognise Sabine from one of her numerous television appearances. Our favourite is when she took a Ford Transit Van for a whirl around Nürburgring, beating many racers in their sporty cars, narrowly missing beating her own time in a Jaguar S-Type by only 54 seconds! She's also been a host for motoring shows in her home country of Germany. This year, the BBC excitedly announced that Sabine would be a presenter on the new series of Top Gear. The CarTakeBack team can't wait for the series to start!

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Photo credit: Claire Williams - LookingSpiffy. Sabine Schmitz - wikimedia. Vicki Butler-Henderson - Liton Ali


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