- Where Are They Now?
F1's female Winter Olympian - Divina GalicaAndrew Marriott February 16, 2010
Divina Galica has always been addicted to speed, and although it's over 30 years since she attempted to become one of the rare breed of women who have actually started a grand prix, she's still very much involved with motor racing.
The fact that this very British lady isn't on the UK radar much these days is primarily because she has spent many years working, and occasionally still racing, in the United States. As director of partner relations for I Racing, who claim to be the world's largest on-line race simulator service, she has recently been in the UK concluding deals with both Brands Hatch and the Williams F1 team, to add to a portfolio that includes NASCAR. Brands Hatch is particularly apt because it was the track's boss John Webb who "discovered" her and made her a part of his charm school, which did so much to popularising motorsport in the 1970s.
However, she didn't make her name as an aggressive racing driver or become a member of the Order of British Empire because of her car racing activities. Instead Divina came to fame as Britain's most successful lady skier of all time. Put simply, no one has come close before or since.
She competed in the Winter Olympics for Britain in 1964 in Innsbruck, in 1968 in Grenoble and in 1972 in Sapporo, and in the latter two occasions was the captain of the British team. Amazingly in 1992 she returned to the Winter Olympics and competed for Britain in the speed skiing event. Her main eight-year skiing career also included twice making the podium in the main downhill events in 1968 and coming close in both the slalom and grand slalom. Subsequently she set a British speed skiing record at 125mph. Yes, she's brave.
In those days, Brands Hatch boss John Webb was very much the motor racing master of spin. So when Divina took part in a 1974 Ford Escort celebrity race at Oulton Park and finished second after a feisty drive up the field, Webb was quickly on the phone with an offer for the following year. He suggested a course at Motor Racing Stables, then the Brands Hatch racing school, followed by a season in a Ford Escort Special saloon. "Divi", as she became known, jumped at the chance but got off to a difficult start when she wrote-off the car on the second lap of her first race. But she was making the headlines, so Webb subsequently had the car re-built and she also entered "celeb" races in a Formula Ford Elden.
Nevertheless there were plenty of sceptics around when Webb announced that she would move up to a Nick Whiting-run Surtees TS16 Formula One car and compete in the 1976 Shellsport Formule Libre Championship. But she surprised the critics and finished fourth in the series. Less successful was her attempt to qualify the same car for that year's British Grand Prix. Running with the number 13 she failed to make the cut along with another lady racer Lella Lombardi and Jacky Ickx no less.
The following year she continued in the Shellsports Championship, but with a more contemporary Surtees TS19, and beat all the men at Thruxton. She went on to score some good finishes and took sixth in the series. She also drove a Lola T490 in the new Sports 2000 series, won a lot of races, but was narrowly beaten to the title.
Now with Olympus cameras backing her, she cut a deal to move up to the F1 world championship in 1978. However, in the ill-handling Hesketh 308E she failed to qualify for the opening two South American races. She raced again in the non-championship International Trophy meeting, but after a spirited drive from the back of the grid, spun off in the appallingly wet conditions. After that the plug was pulled on the programme, although she reappeared in the new Aurora AFX British Formula One championship and finished second at Zandvoort in the TS19. The following year she raced again in the Aurora series in a Formula 2 car.
Subsequent seasons followed in the Thundersports S2000 sports car category and in some of the early truck races. She became involved with the Skip Barber Racing School in the United States as an instructor and rose to become a senior vice president. When Skip sold the series she joined I Racing.
Still with the short cropped hair she sported in the 1970s and with the same upper class English accent, Divina not only retains her huge enthusiasm and zest for life but also looks remarkably similar to the old days. She's always kept her racing licence active, appearing occasionally in Barber races where there are more than a few teenage wannabe boys finding themselves chastened by being beaten by a woman in her 50s. Most recently she has been competing in US historic events, in cars such as the Brabham BT37 raced by Carlos Reutemann and an ex-James Hunt Hesketh.
Divina remains a true "queen of speed".
Andrew Marriott is a freelance Motorsport commentator and journalist