In the rain, at Brands Hatch in 1962, Carlisle fought hard to battle back from last place and ultimately finish 8th with her Mini.
Photo: Christabel Carlisle Archive
I didn’t think it was a very good thing for a woman to drive those open and powerful cars of the 1960s. I was quite happy in my Mini—a great car for both road and racing. I felt it gave better protection from a safety point of view. Colin Chapman was always trying to get me behind the wheel of one of his Lotus single-seater cars, but I resisted these offers, and even his desire to have me simply sitting behind the wheel for photographic purposes.
In the 1960s, the Mini was the car to have and my parents had given me one as a present for my 21st birthday. I’d been dragged along to a motor race at Brands Hatch as a spectator, but I must admit I found the whole thing incredibly boring, the smell of burning rubber when the tires squealed and the aroma of burning oil was quite unpleasant. Although it was so boring for me to watch, it looked rather fun to do.
In those days, you could pay something like £5 and you could drive around Silverstone. On the day I went, Jack Sears was testing the BMC Abingdon Healey with BMC Competitions manager Marcus Chambers. Marcus was quite surprised with the way I drove my car, I impressed him with my consistent lap times. Toward the end of the day he asked if I’d like Jack to show me around the circuit, the different lines to take, all of which which would help me improve. I found it an incredibly useful exercise.
In my first proper race, I found something I hadn’t come across before—understeer. I couldn’t understand why when I turned the wheel of my car it went straight on. The club circuit at Silverstone, at that time, was an airfield—just three corners and three straights. So, instead of taking the corner I ended up in the straw bales. I didn’t get my license signed for that race. I hadn’t any real knowledge of how a car handles, I was extremely annoyed, but soon learned. I try, as far as possible, in anything I do “to get it right.” In motor racing I always tried to be in the right gear, at the right revs, on the right line both on the straights and especially in the corners. Sometimes that was impossible, either when surrounded by other cars or trying to pass on a different line.
Steve McQueen was a good friend of John Whitmore, and wanted to race in England, so John loaned Steve his Mini for a meeting at Brands Hatch. In the race, there were five of us in Minis dicing and changing places all the time, Vic Elford, Steve, Mick Clare, another competitor and me. Vic Elford took the lead at the end and won, but I managed 2nd in front of Steve, it was tremendous. We all stood on the podium together, we were all thrilled and it was such a great race.
If there was one circuit I really enjoyed it was the Nürburgring. It was much more demanding and far more challenging. I mean the circuits I’d driven on prior to this were a few straights and a few corners driven at a “hell for leather” pace for ten laps. There was a certain art in getting the best out of the Nürburgring. One could really appreciate the track and it was so fulfilling to know you had linked certain sections and found the correct lines. In 1962, I was invited to drive a Mini with Peter Galliford and we finished 2nd in class, but in 1963 with my uncle, Christopher McLaren, came victory! Thanks to Don Moore’s care in preparing the Mini, we won our class. It was a wonderfully proud experience to stand on the podium and have “God Save the Queen” played in honor of our win with victory garlands around our necks.