Motor-sport world mourns female pioneer

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Annie Soisbault – one of the stars of 1950s and ’60s rallying – has died at the age of 78.

Remembered for her motto, “Au danger, mon plaisir” (oh, to live dangerously), Soisbault was born in Paris, to a doctor mother and lawyer father.

By the time she was 14, she could drive her mother’s electric car and, at 16, had a scooter.

While studying for a degree in English, Annie sold fridges to fund her need for speed, ploughing the earnings she made into a Delahaye Grand Sport.

A seven-times junior and intermediate tennis champion of France, Soisbault also reached the final of Wimbledon in ’53. Much of her winnings went towards maintaining her Delahaye, before a Triumph TR3 replaced it.  

In 1956 she was a passenger in a car competing in the Rallye Monte-Carlo, under the proviso that she was only allowed to “belt up”. But, with the rally slipping away amid a snowstorm, Soisbault pestered driver Germaine Rouault for a turn at the wheel. When the latter finally relented, Annie powered up the field, catching all but a handful of competitors.

The die had been cast and Soisbault went on to finish fourth behind two Porsches and an Alfa at the 1957 Tour de Corse in her TR3, winning the Ladies’ Cup.

The rising star was soon spotted by Ken Richardson – boss of Triumph’s competition department – who signed her as a works driver in 1958.

In ’59 she became joint European Female Rally Champion, a title she shared with Swede Ewy Rosqvist.

Soisbault married the Marquis de Montaigu – he was attracted to a girl “who ran on white wine and bacon omelettes when everyone else was taking coffee.”

In 1966, Annie became the first women to average more than 100km/h at Mont Ventoux at the wheel of a Porsche 906, having crashed her Ferrari GTO at the famous hillclimb six years earlier.

The Gallic racer would hang up her gloves in ’69 to become MD at the Garage Mirabeau, which imported Aston Martins, Jaguars and Triumphs.

She was buried in Pere Lachaise in Paris on 24 September.

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