Love. The Ladies’ Passion for Horsepower.
Women and motor racing: this love affair is almost as old as the motor car itself. Long before grid girls became a normal paddock sight in the 1960s, female motorsports enthusiasts challenged men as rivals in road rallies, Grand Prix and even Formula 1 racing. “Adrenaline and competitive spirit know no gender,” says Mercedes racing driver Susie Wolff. She is one of two women in the DTM racing series. The blond power woman is utterly convinced that at some time in the future a woman will again be driving in Formula 1. Maybe even herself.
Susie Wolff, née Stoddart, is a racing driver with all her heart and soul. “I quasi grew up in the paddock,” says the 28-year-old Scotswoman. Her father and maternal grandfather competed in motorcycle races. Consequently her mother is a big motorsports fan as well. At age eight Susie started in her first kart race. In 1996 at age 14 she was kart driver of the year in Great Britain, a title she also won the next three years.
In 2001 speed-crazy Susie, as she refers to herself, celebrated her racing car debut in the Formula Renault Winter Series. After a total of five years in the British Formula Renault and the British Formula 3, Mercedes-Benz brought her to the high-powered DTM international touring car series in 2006. “The day the Mercedes-Benz family took me in was the greatest day of my career,” she reveals. Because racing for this brand with its legendary motorsports history is ‘the best job in the world’ for Susie Wolff.
“I am a racing driver, not a woman in a world of men”
In the DTM the petite Scotswoman weighing just 52 kilogrammes immediately commanded respect with a 10th place finish. In 2011 she and her 500-hp AMG Mercedes C-Class competed against 16 men and one woman, Audi racing driver Rahel Frey. The field of racing drivers in which she had to assert herself also included former Formula 1 drivers Ralf Schumacher and David Coulthard, who like her both piloted an AMG Mercedes C-Class. In 2010 she garnered her first four DTM points and finished in the championship standings ahead of both F1 ‘veterans’.
Although she is strong-willed and assertive, Susie Wolff doesn’t feel like a woman in a world of men. “I see myself as a racing driver just like everybody else. I am one of them and want to be accepted as such,” says the ever-cheerful Wolff, who has made Switzerland her home and lives in Ermatingen on the shores of Lake Constance. She has won that acceptance by now. “Of course it wasn’t easy. But I received a lot of support from Mercedes-Benz and have earned the respect of my colleagues through performance and skill.”
Long tradition of successful women racing drivers
Susie Wolff loves the adrenaline, the competition and the determination that winning demands. This places her in a long tradition of ambitious and successful woman racing drivers. As early as in the 1920s woman drivers have made racing history. In 1926 Elisabeth Junek of Prague won the hillclimb Königsaal-Jilowischt on a Bugatti and one year later the Grand Prix of Germany at the Nürburgring in the three-litre sports car category – both while setting new track records. At the same time Ernes Merck was a serious competitor of legendary Mercedes racing driver Rudolf Caracciola. At the risky Klausenpass race in Switzerland in August 1927 she finished a close second behind him. The daughter of an industrialist from Darmstadt was at the time the only professional woman racing driver. She was a factory driver at Mercedes.
The first woman in Formula 1 was Neapolitan Maria Teresa de Filippis in 1958. She finished in tenth place at the Grand Prix of Belgium on her Maserati. 17 years later Lella Lombardi caused a true sensation at the Grand Prix of Spain. The Italian was the only woman to date to finish in the points in the ‘premier racing series’. She finished sixth and was awarded 0.5 championship points.
In the 1990s Ellen Lohr created quite a stir in the DTM. At the Hockenheimring in 1992 the Mercedes driver became the first woman to win a DTM race. Women have created a sensation in rally sport as well. In 1962 Ewy Rosqvist won the Gran Premio Argentino, the world’s toughest road race, in her Mercedes 220 SE. The Swede and her co-driver Ursula Wirth outclassed their male competitors during all six stages of the race that covered a total distance of 4,624 kilometres. The two were the only women’s team on the grid. And last but not least, in 2001 Jutta Kleinschmidt won the legendary Dakar rally driving a Mitsubishi. These are just a few examples of successful woman racing and rally drivers.
“I want to be the second woman to win a DTM race”
These are the footsteps Susie Wolff is following in. “I want to be the second woman after Ellen Lohr to win a DTM race,” says the ambitious Mercedes driver with a confident smile on her lips. She trains hard for that purpose – and for the goal of soon doing some Formula 1 test laps in a Silver Arrow. Racing in Formula 1 is her greatest dream. “But it’s not as if I dream about Formula 1 every night,” she admits. “I want to reach my goal in the DTM first.”
Susie Wolff is sure that a woman will once again make it to the ‘premier class’ of motorsports. “If women can have success in top-tier racing such as the DTM or GP2, then sooner or later the F1 teams won’t be able to pass them by any longer,” she says and adds: “Having a woman in Formula 1 would make motorsports overall much more attractive to young girls.” Because then they’d have a role model to look up to – just like the boys look up to Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher.
Fashionable with a weakness for handbags
The cheerful and rather reserved Susie Wolff pursues her career with single-minded determination. Her motto is: never give up! She wants to win people over with performance and wants to achieve everything on her own power. Her husband Toto Wolff, a shareholder in the Williams Formula 1 racing team and former Austrian racing driver, is behind her one hundred per cent. “He is a tough critic and as an experienced racing driver he gives me tips at times.”
As soon as she dons her helmet she must exhibit strength, be aggressive and fight for every thousandth of a second. “In contrast, privately I am feminine and like to dress stylishly,” says the fashionable DTM pilot, who has a particular weakness for handbags. She finds relaxation in reading and sports. Water skiing, swimming, running and skiing are her passions off the racetrack.
Even though Susie Wolff has petrol in her veins, the racing driver in her never gets the upper hand on public roads. “I live in Switzerland, you have to drive prudently or otherwise it gets pretty expensive,” she says with a laugh. And when travelling with her husband she usually voluntarily relinquishes control of the steering wheel. “It’s more relaxing for both of us because Toto is a truly poor co-driver,” she discloses. The two got married in October 2011 just before the season finale in Hockenheim. It was a small church wedding and Susie was a bride all in white.
The ‘Grandes Dames’ of Mercedes motorsports
Mercedes-Benz backed women in motorsport from very early on – as factory and racing drivers. Three women in particular have made Mercedes-Benz racing history.
She embodies the modern, affluent woman of the Twenties – adventurous and with a passion for motor cars. Ernes Merck came from an industrialist family from Darmstadt and was married to factory owner Wilhelm Merck, who shared her passion for racing. In many contests the Mercedes factory woman driver bested a number of proud racing drivers. In 1927 the then 29-year-old started twice in the Klausen race. She finished second with her 180-hp Mercedes in the national competition and third in the international race.
Swedish-born Ewy Rosqvist from Ystad was three-time European champion in women rally racing between 1959 and 1961. In 1962 she and her co-driver Ursula Wirth were the only women’s team to compete in the Gran Premio Argentino, considered to be the toughest road race of its time. Before the start, Ewy Rosqvist later wrote in her book ‘A Drive through Hell’, her male competitors tried to persuade her not to participate: “This here is a race that can soften even hard men. Don’t you think you took on a little too much?” But the ladies left the men in the dust of their Mercedes 220 SE during all six stages and secured a fabulous overall victory.
Mönchengladbach-born Lohr came to the DTM via kart and Formula 3 racing. Between 1990 and 1995 she drove with much success for the AMG-Mercedes team in the DTM. At the Hockenheimring in 1992 she became the first woman in DTM history to win a race. After her career as a touring car racing driver the now 46-year-old participated in various truck racing series and rallies driving Mercedes-Benz vehicles.