Women and motor racing.
Adventurous and passionate.
She embodied the modern, affluent woman of the Twenties – adventurous and with a passion for motorcars. In a time when women had just gained suffrage, riding a motor sport car was still considered thoroughly unladylike and scandalous for women. Ernes Merck was born as a daughter of a Darmstadt industrialist, and it was her husband Wilhelm Merck, a factory owner, who would later introduce her to the world of motorsport. His passion for fast cars soon became hers as well. She would soon also get behind the wheel and drive cars at a high speed. In 1922, Ernes Merck participated in a race for the first time and came in on an “honorable position”. Then she gradually improved her racing skills and worked her way right up to the top. In many contests, the Mercedes factory woman driver beat a number of proud racing drivers.
In 1927 she ran twice at the Swiss Klausen race which at that time was by far the most popular but also most difficult hill climbing track. There, she did not only challenge her husband Wilhelm, but also the legendary Rudolf Caracciola – the most successful German racing car driver before World War II. On the weekend of July 13th and 14th 1927, Ernes ran the Klausen race in her 180-hp Mercedes-Benz Type S in the racing car class with the biggest cars ranging from a 5000 to 8000ccm. Ernes Merck remained under the magical mark of 20 minutes and came in second. As a surprise to many, she repeated her success on the next day, outracing her husband, as well as several other renowned racing car drivers. The only one she got defeated by was Caracciola and his Mercedes-Benz. Even though she didn’t win, Ernes Merck became a celebrity in the racing world.
“A sensation!” declared the international press in November 1962. The subject for their euphoric headlines was Swedish born Ewy Rosqvist. After having completed 4626 kilometres with their Mercedes-Benz 220 SE she and her co-driver Ursula Wirth emerged victorious in the VI Touring Car Grand Prix of Argentina.
It was the first time ever that two women had won one of the toughest distance rallies in the world. In addition to an appreciation of their sporting achievement, there was also amazement at the fact that two women were able to succeed in this exceptionally gruelling contest against a field of competitors made up exclusively of men.
200 kilometres a day.
By the beginning of the 1960s, top international female athletes were still very rare in many disciplines. Ewy Rosqvist was certainly no novice in the sport of motor racing when she set off on behalf of Mercedes-Benz in the 1962 Grand Prix of Argentina. Born in 1929 in Ystad in southern Sweden, the daughter of a farmer learned to drive at an early age. She had worked as a veterinary assistant, and so Ewy Rosqvist gained a great deal of experience driving on long, poorly built roads – sometimes up to 200 kilometres daily. Her husband used to race and after watching him competing, she decided to try on her own in 1956. Only two years later, she found herself at the starting line of her first rally, the Midnight Sun Rally. It was in 1959, when Rosqvist, driving in a Volvo, won the European Rally Championship Women’s Cup.
Then the Daimler-Benz AG subsequently took on the successful female driver in the spring of 1962, as part of the Mercedes-Benz works team. This very year, she was scheduled to compete in the Grand Prix of Argentina.
The winning duo.
286 cars had registered for the race, only 43 would make it to the finish line. Ewy Rosqvist was one of them – but not only that: before the start of the contest, newspapers would ridicule the fact that a women’s team was setting out on the marathon rally through Argentina. But when Rosqvist and her co-driver Wirth chalked up a victory on the first stage, their success was soon praised as a respectable achievement. When the duo also won the second stage, the two Swedish ladies were greatly celebrated by the country’s media. By the end of the Grand Prix, Ewy Rosqvist and Ursula Wirth had won all six stages of the rally. The pair topped the overall rankings with a time of 34:51:03 hours, more than three hours faster than the second-placed Boris Stipic. The average speed of the winners was 126.87 km/h, which marked a new record.
One of Germany’s most accomplished female drivers was Ellen Lohr. In contrast to some of her friends, she spent a lot of her time on a Kart racing circuit. Just like many other racing drivers, Ellen Lohr gained her first experiences behind a wheel in the world of go-kart racing. She soon made the jump to the Formula 3 – an important step for many prospective Formula One drivers. But eventually it was the DTM -the German touring car championship – that established Ellen Lohr in the racing sport as an accomplished female driver.
Behind the wheel.
Between 1990 and 1995 she drove successfully for the AMG-Mercedes team in the DTM, in which production based streetcars are modified to compete against each other. On 24th May 1992, on Germany’s legendary circuit “Hockenheimring”, Ellen Lohr outperformed all of her competitors in a Mercedes-Benz DTM racing car , and came in first after a long and exciting race. It was the first time in history that a woman would win a German Touring Car race. In 1996 Lohr tried something new again. She began racing trucks and competed in the DTC – the German touring car challenge. Plus, in 2004, she also started participating in the Dakar Rallye – the famous off-road race on the African continent. Today, after more than 20 years of racing and rallying, Ellen Lohr is a media expert for DTM races. In a business still dominated by men, she has become an idol for many – just as Ernes Merck and Ewy Rosqvist.