Part of our Women in Motorsport series by guest writer Lara Platman
In the third part of this series on lady racing drivers, may I present to you Madame Elizabeth Junek, (Eliška Junková), born in 1900 and raised in Olomouc on the outskirts of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, with a passion for world languages and travel. Elizabeth met her future husband Cenek Junek, a Prague banker who competed in motor racing, and it was in Paris at the age of 21 where Elizabeth fell in love with Cenek and motor racing, taking racing lessons whilst acting as her husband’s riding mechanic. By 1924 she started racing herself.
The pair bought a Mercedes and a Bugatti Type 30, in 1922, and painted the Bugatti yellow (said to be because of the buttercups in front of the Chateau Saint-Jean in Molsheim, seen when taking delivery of the car). Her first race was at Pilsen (Western Czech Republic) resulting in a win in the touring car class. She continued in 1925, to compete in the Bugatti Type 30, known as ‘Babushka’. Her achievements on the track soon began to eclipse her husband’s. She won her first race in an ex-Strasbourg Grand Prix 2-litre Bugatti, at Zbraslav-Jiloviste, near Prague, later that year.
Between 1924 and 1926, Elizabeth competed in several Czech events. In 1926, she took part in the Klausen hill-climb in Switzerland, achieving second place in her class and coming 11th overall, after driving through wet, changing conditions for the duration of the twenty-minute climb. In 1927, Junek entered the treacherous Targa Florio in Sicily. After a heated discussion about the inferior roadholding of her Type 30B which had an aerofoil-section bodywork, Ettore Bugatti agreed that the Juneks could choose a works car after one his race cars had completed the 1924 Lyon Grand Prix, so Elizabeth entered the Targa Florio with a supercharged Type 35B Bugatti.
Here is where I begin my fascination with Madame Junek. I am always keen to discover the trailblazers who set new standards and inventions for what we have come to know as an everyday piece of equipment on the car.
Elizabeth Junek was one of the first drivers to make a reconnaissance along the roads of the sixty-seven-mile route, taking note of the terrain, creating pace notes, memorising the corners, and noting any hazards with white chalk marks on the rocks, pavements and building edges. The Juneks spent a month preceding the race, practicing daily the twists and turns both on foot and in the Bugatti. She was the first-ever driver to “walk the course.”
In the event the 1927 Florio race itself was short-lived for the Juneks. At the end of the first lap, Elizabeth was lying fourth, 34 seconds behind the leader Minoia, who was closely followed by Dubonnet and Materassi. However, a steering failure developed, and on the second lap she retired from the race. Withdrawal notwithstanding, the Targa Florio inspired Junek for her next race later that year, and her fourth place at the German Grand Prix at the new Nürburgring circuit was a super result. She won the 2-litre class, being the first woman to win in a Grand Prix event.