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Lotus 79

Photo: Jim Williams
Photo: Jim Williams

One of the greatest racecars that I didn’t drive during my professional career, but now have the opportunity to race is the Lotus 79. Years ago, when I was driving for Hesketh in Formula One, Mario Andretti and Ronnie Peterson were driving the 78 at the beginning of the 1978 season and then in Belgium, I think it was, they got the Lotus 79. After Ronnie died at Monza, I actually rang the Lotus team and spoke to Colin Chapman, who I did know. I asked him if I might drive at Watkins Glen in that particular car. Surprisingly, he didn’t say, “You must be joking!” He actually said, “Divina, thanks for the offer but actually we’ve already engaged Jean-Pierre Jarrier, and I hope your career continues successfully in motor racing. You’ve done a lot of work.” Of course, they already had my sponsors. My sponsors [Olympus], when Hesketh collapsed, went to that car if you remember. They went on the 79s, which of course Ronnie and Mario carried to 1st and 2nd in the championship. However, recently, I have been given the opportunity to drive one of these cars in vintage race events, thanks to Joel Finn.

I have never driven such a well-balanced car. To think that I tried to qualify that hateful Hesketh—well not hateful, but cumbersome, I think the word is—against something as magnificent as the Lotus 79, makes me want to laugh because it is one of the most beautifully balanced cars. It is not only one of the most beautifully balanced cars, it is also one of the most beautiful looking cars. To me, the Lotus 79 will always be the car that changed Formula One. Let’s face it. It was the first ground effects car—everyone copied it. Not only was it the most beautiful car, but it was a groundbreaking car and I’m privileged enough, even though I had to wait 28 years, to drive it. Ironically, I’m finally going to get my chance to drive it at Watkins Glen this year, 28 years after I originally wanted to drive it there!

It’s amazing really, because Joel Finn had no idea when he asked me to drive his car, that I had this past association with that particular car. He just saw I was a good driver, watched me in vintage and, you know, thought it would be fun to have a woman drive his Lotus. It was only later that I told him of the association I had with that car and how long I’d waited to drive it. Actually, it almost gives me chills when I think about it because it’s so unique and, not only that, his car is the very chassis I would have driven had I driven Watkins Glen all those years ago. This particular example was the Lotus 79 prototype that had a fuel tank that was too small to do a full Grand Prix. That’s why Jarier, who was running in 3rd at Watkins Glen, and was about to take over 2nd, coughed to a stop about three laps from the end and didn’t finish. But that would have been the car that I would have driven all those years ago.

Divina Galica is one of the few female drivers to have competed in Formula One. Her long racing resume also includes F5000, Atlantic and F2. For a full Interview with Galica see the June 2006 issue of VR.