DESIRÉ WILSON in the Media - Page 1
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BIRTHPLACE: Brakpan, South Africa
DATE OF BIRTH: 26/11/53
MOTORSPORT: Circuit racing
YEARS: 1958-2002
ACHIEVEMENTS:
1976: South African Formula Ford 1600 Champion
1977: Earned Springbok Colors - South African prestige sports award
1978: Won South African 'Sports Woman of the Year' Award
1980: Winner of the Aurora F1 British Championship race
Winner of World Endurance Championship, Monza 1000 and Silverstone 6-hour races with Alain De Cadenet
Awarded FIA Grand Prix Superlicence
1981: Drove for Ken Tyrrell in South African Formula 1 Grand Prix
1982: Membership of the BRDC
1986: Overall win at Mosport 24-hour in Saleen Mustang
1987: Winner of Sebring 6-hour and Sears Point 6-hour with Scott Pruett in Saleen Mustang
1996: First overall and pole position in Detroit GP Neon Challenge event

Incredibly Desiré started racing aged five, in micro-midget cars on dirt tracks in her native South Africa. These cars with scooter engines were capable of 60 mph, but her father, South African motorcycle champion Charlie Randall, built the cars and fully supported her efforts. At the age of twelve, she finished second overall in the South African open championship. She then decided to turn to horses for five years before returning to the race circuits in 1972 with a Formula Vee single-seater.

In this very competitive series she came fourth overall in her first year and second in 1974. Deciding that Formula Ford was the more likely road to international recognition, Desiré spent two seasons in the South African championship and in 1976 won the series outright, along with the 'Driver to Europe' award. In 1977, driving for a Dutch team in FF2000 she finished the season third in the European championship, winning the season's final round at Zandvoort. Moving into Formula Atlantic, with an uncompetitive Chevron B34 and no sponsorship, appeared to be a retrograde step until she was brought into the limelight. This occurred when she convincingly won a ladies Ford Escort race at John Webb's invitation. He then offered employment at Brands Hatch to her and her husband, Alan Wilson, enabling her to continue with her motor sport career. When illness prevented Mike Ford from competing at the circuit in a FF2000 race, Desiré stepped in at the last minute to finish in fourth place, with fastest lap also to her credit. Mike was so impressed that he offered Desiré the car for the remainder of the season, amply rewarding this offer by filling fifth spot in the overall championship. Shortly after, Desiré tested a March F1 car at Brands, and was given the opportunity to race an Ensign F1 car in the Aurora AFX championship, in which she showed considerable talent, gaining two sixth places, a fourth and a third. That season she also drove a Sports 2000 Lola and a Formula SuperVee, and received major recognition as the South African 'Sportswoman of the Year'.

1980 Brands-Hatch Victory
1980 Brands Hatch Desiré on her way to overall victory in the Aurora F1 Championship in the Wolf WR4 powered by a Cosworth DFV.

Desiré began the 1979 season in a F1 Tyrrell 008, setting the fastest lap and leading at Zolder, only to spin on the penultimate lap and finish third. She gained seventh place overall in the series, with four thirds, two fourths and a number of other good placings. She also did well in Sports 2000 with a Lola, finishing third in the championship. Despite these performances, major sponsors were not to be found for 1980 and a full championship season could not be undertaken.. Nevertheless, after racing in New Zealand's Formula Pacific series she returned to the UK and became the first woman to win a Formula One race, when at the Easter Monday Brands Hatch meeting she drove a Wolf WR3 to victory with rapturous applause. She went on to score a second at Thruxton and a third at Mallory Park. Moreover, in a De Cadenet she was to drive alongside Alain De Cadenet to win two World championship endurance races, finishing third overall at Brands, but prevented from running at Le Mans following a practice accident. A considerable disappointment to Desiré was the failure to qualify for the 1980 British Grand Prix at Brands Hatch in the RAM Racing Williams FW07, a car which was not fully competitive. Ken Tyrrell offered a drive in his Fl team for 1981, but 'bad luck' was to affect Desiré, the South African Grand Prix was subject to dispute between FISA and FOCA, and was subsequently stripped of its championship status. Desiré had qualified 16th, moving through the field to 11th before spinning out. Her position in the team had been subject to a sponsorship deal, which failed due to the political situation and Desiré's place was taken by Michele Albereto. The remainder of the season then consisted of Formula Atlantic and Porsche sportscar drives.

1982 brought a Ford Cl00 drive alongside Jonathan Palmer to fourth place at Brands Hatch, and over in the USA she drove a Porsche, a Ferrari and single-seaters in a selection of events. At Le Mans in 1983 she drove an Obermeyer Porsche into seventh position. She competed in eight Indycar events with a best finish of tenth, despite driving with a broken leg for three races, caused by suspension failure accident in a GTP car, while in second place at Brainerd. In the following years Desiré continued to drive a variety of cars in different categories including; a Mustang to win at Sears Point, another victory with Scott Pruett at the Sebring 6-hour race, bringing the championship to the Saleen/Ford Team. Drives in a Porsche 962 and F3000 Lola in 1989, a Spice C2 all-female team at Le Mans in 1991, Mustang in the 1993 Daytona 24-hour race, a Mazda RX7 to second overall at Willow Springs, and pole position and victory in the Detroit GP 'Neon' challenge race, all showed she was still very much on the pace. At the Goodwood Festival in 1999 she drove a De Cadenet to a class and ladies win, and at the Revival meeting in an Aston Martin DB4 Zagato gained eighth spot with Gillian Goldsmith. Back at Goodwood for the 2000 event she drove a Ferrari GTO with Gary Pearson into 12th spot.

In 2002, she drove a Tyrrell F1 car at the Goodwood Festival of Speed. At the Goodwood revival meeting, she drove a Jaguar Mk VII. Lotus Elite with Robin Longdon and a Cooper-Jaguar with John Pearson, setting fastest race lap before electrical problems ended a great drive.

'Lady Luck' has not always shone on Desiré and despite her obvious great talent as the very pinnacle of female racing drivers, her name is not recorded in World Championship F1 results due to most unfortunate circumstances. She would not want, and does not need, any excuses, her record speaks for itself; there is no doubt whatsoever Desiré Wilson is a really exceptional driver and sportswoman. How many drivers would love to be able to claim 23 wins, 16 second places, 42 third places, 17 lap records and 28 fastest laps, all in major international events.

Today Desiré and Alan (a former Director of Brands Hatch) run a motorsport consultancy business and are the leading race track design company in the United States. She also takes in the occasional Historic race, continuing to delight her many fans with her performances. Being a woman in a male-dominated sport has not always been easy for Desiré, and there were many down moments, when situations were not always what they seemed. Despite this she believes that many of the opportunities that were afforded to her would not have been available to a man, and with great pride she recalls the many famous names in the sport who have helped and become true friends, including John Webb, Nick Challis, Teddy Yip, Lord March, Ken Tyrrell, Alain de Cadenet and Herband Rose Wysard.
Truly one of the greatest women drivers of our time.

Article used with permission from
"Women in Motorsports from 1945"
by: Susan TP-Jamieson and Peter Tutthill
Courtesy of: www.bwrdc.co.uk

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