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Women With Drive: Divina Galica

The Olympic skier turned racing driver with a need for speed

In 1993, at the age of 48, Divina Galica was clocked at 125mph… on skis. One of a select group of women to achieve such a speed down a mountain, Galica’s daredevil antics stretched back to 1964 when she first represented Great Britain in all three Alpine disciplines at the Winter Olympics in Innsbruck. Four years later, and still only 23, she was captain of the British team at the Games in Grenoble, as she was in 1972 for her third Olympics in Sapporo, Japan. Then she retired to run a shop.

But the slow lane or retail was not for Galica. The need for speed was rekindled when she finished runner-up to yachtsman Chay Blyth in a celebrity Ford Escort race at Oulton Park. She decided to become a professional racing driver and her career was set to advance at a rapid pace.

Olympian to Grand Prix driver

A year after Brands Hatch owner John Webb invited her to take a driving course at Motor Racing Stables she was competing in a Formula One car.

In 1975 she learnt the ropes in both single-seat Formula Ford racing and in Ford Escorts, finishing runner-up in the Escort Ladies Championship. The next year she won the title but her main focus was on the Shellsport International Series, an ‘open’, Formula Libre championship in which she drove a Surtees F1 car. The massive increase in power and performance didn’t prove to be beyond her and Galica finished the season fourth in the standings.

Even more remarkable was that, despite 1976 being her first full season of racing, she entered the British Grand Prix at Brands Hatch. Her choice of race number, 13, did get some attention. It was the first time since 1963 that 13 had been used in a grand prix as it had generally considered to be unlucky since Giulio Masetti had died in a Maserati carrying the number in the 1926 Targa Florio. Galica had no such superstitions and considered it to be her lucky number, pointing out that she was born on August 13th and her 21st birthday had fallen on Friday the 13th.

On the track her Surtees was outdated and therefore off the pace and, along with Lella Lombardi, she failed to qualify. That event remains the only time that two women have attempted to qualify for the same world championship grand prix.

In 1977 Galica went back to competing in the Shellsport series in a more modern Surtees and put in a number of notable performances. The car struggled with reliability but she finished on the podium four times, with second places at Snetterton and Donington Park. She led the August race at Brands Hatch comfortably before dropping to third with blistered tyres, and sixth place in the final standings was not a real representation of her true pace.

There were no more grand prix drives in 1977 but she did take part in the non-championship Race of Champions, where she came 12th in a field that included world champions James Hunt, Mario Andretti and Jody Scheckter.

The biggest little team in the world

For the following year she secured backing from Olympus cameras for the Hesketh team and the chance to compete in Formula 1 again. The team was no longer the promising outfit that had been so instrumental in the early career of James Hunt and she failed to qualify for the season-opening Argentine and Brazilian Grands Prix. Returning to Europe she took part in the non-championship International Trophy in monsoon conditions at Silverstone but soon parted company with the team.

Over the next three seasons she had the occasional outing in the British Formula 1 championship but her career headed more towards sports cars.

Recalling her time in Formula 1, she wrote a piece for iRacing. “Every day, when I returned from the track, there were several journalists waiting for an interview, all professing to be from a different women’s magazine,” she wrote.

“So three hours of every evening were given up to talking about myself. In the end I got so bored with telling the same story that I would invent a more interesting life.”

At the end of the 1980s she raced trucks and won the British Class A title in 1988 and ’89, but by 1992 she was back on skis.

Back to Olympics

At the Albertville Winter Olympics, her fourth Games, she took part in the speed skiing and posted a run in excess of 120mph. There was more to come the following year.

Galica now lives in the United States and still takes part in historic races and demonstration runs and has worked as an instructor at the Skip Barber Racing School.

Divina Galica only knows one way to live, and that’s flat out.

Read more about other women with drive such as Lella Lombardi, Desire Wilson and Lyn St James.

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