Alfa Romeo celebrates women in motorsport, past and present
8 March 2021
Alfa Romeo has a long history in racing that dates back to 1910 and extends to Formula One today. Throughout these decades, many Alfa Romeo drivers have made an indelible mark in the sport. In celebration of International Women’s Day, Alfa Romeo looks back at the female race drivers that helped shape the brand.
While these women competed in different eras and came from different countries, they all shared the pioneering spirit and a passion for racing of Alfa Romeo, trailblazing uncharted territories in a male-dominated sport.
The storied list begins with Tatiana Calderon, who in 2018 was named a test driver for the Alfa Romeo Racing ORLEN Formula One team, and goes back to the pioneering Baroness Maria Antonietta d’Avanzo, who raced for Alfa Romeo in the early 1900s. Chronicled below are some of the key female race drivers in the brand’s illustrious history.
Born in 1993 in Bogota, Colombia, Calderon took her first step 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. A year later, Sauber promoted Calderon 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 full yellow livery of the Alfa Romeo 155 that she drove in the Italian Superturismo Championship (CIS) in 1994.
Maria Grazia Lombardi & Anna Cambiaghi
After 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 “Lella” Lombardi. Between 1982 and 1984, she participated 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 home multiple titles. She remains the only female Italian driver to have gained points 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 the history of Alfa Romeo 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 220hp, resulting in a top speed of 149mph. It reached peak performance, but as historical test driver from Autodelta, Teodoro Zeccoli explained, the GTA-SA had “an unpredictable boost of power [that] would kick in suddenly without notice, making the SA an unpredictable vehicle, hard to govern on curves or when manoeuvring.” Someone who was 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 also excelled 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 100cc 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, of which just 12 units were produced.
Ada Pace (‘Sayonara’)
In the 1950s, another driver achieved outstanding results behind the wheel of several Alfa Romeo cars: Turin-born Ada Pace. Throughout her 10-year career, Pace won as many as 11 national speed races, six in Turismo and five 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 the 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 Odette Siko finished fourth overall and won the 2.0-litre category. A young Parisian, Siko quickly became one of the stars on the track, with her elegance displayed both in the paddock and in her racing performances. She was often accompanied by another French racer who also played a role in the Alfa Romeo motorsport history book: Hellé Nice.
Born Mariette Hèlène Delangle, she was a model, acrobat, and dancer known by the artistic name of Hellè Nice. Known for her outgoing personality, Nice was a good friend of 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 race car. She participated in the 1933 Italian Grand Prix at Monza in her own 8C 2300 Monza; the tragic race in which Campari, Borzacchini and Czaikowski lost their lives. In 1936, she won the Ladies Cup in Monte Carlo and took part in the São Paulo Grand Prix in Brazil, where she had a terrible accident, but miraculously came out of her three-day coma.
Maria Antonietta d’Avanzo
Following the end of the first World War, Baroness Maria Antonietta d’Avanzo debuted with Alfa Romeo. A pioneer of Italian motorsport, aviator and journalist, d’Avanzo won third place with the Alfa Romeo G1 on the Brescia circuit 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, and in every corner of the planet.
Anna Maria Peduzzi
The years of Scuderia Ferrari marked a fundamental chapter in the history of Alfa Romeo. Among the drivers of the ‘Prancing Horse’ was Como-born Anna Maria Peduzzi, the wife of driver Franco Comotti, who was nicknamed the ‘Moroccan’. After her debut on board 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, she raced an Alfa Romeo 1900 Sprint and an Alfa Romeo Giulietta.
Celebrating 110 years of heritage, Alfa Romeo has designed and crafted some of the most stylish and sporty cars in automotive history. That tradition lives on today as Alfa Romeo continues to take a unique and innovative approach to designing automobiles. The Alfa Romeo Stelvio sets a new benchmark in performance, style and technology in an SUV. The award-winning Alfa Romeo Giulia delivers race-inspired performance, advanced technologies and an exhilarating driving experience to the premium midsize saloon segment. The Giulia Quadrifoglio and the Stelvio Quadrifoglio feature the most powerful Alfa Romeo production engine ever. Alfa Romeo forms part of the portfolio of brands offered by Stellantis, a leading global automaker and mobility provider.