Irish Motorsport Legend Rosemary Smith passes, aged 86
Rosemary Smith, born on 7 August 1937, has passed away peacefully today at the Beacon Hospital in Dublin.
Rosemary etched her name in the annals of motorsport history as a pioneering rally driver from Dublin, Ireland. With a career spanning decades, Smith’s journey is a testament to her skill, determination, and groundbreaking achievements on the racing circuits and rally stages.
Smith’s initiation into rallying began as a co-driver, but her love for the driver’s seat led to a pivotal role change, catching the attention of the Rootes Group’s Competition Department, which offered her a coveted works drive. Having clinched the ladies’ prize at the Circuit of Ireland Rally in 1964, the year 1965 marked a significant milestone in her career when she, alongside co-driver Valerie Domleo, secured victory in the four-day Dutch Tulip Rally, manoeuvring a factory-entered Hillman Imp through 1,800 miles of challenging terrain.
Despite facing controversy and disqualification in the 1966 Monte Carlo Rally, Smith’s resolve remained unbroken, leading to a series of triumphs, including an outright win in the 1969 Cork 20 Rally and multiple victories on renowned stages like the Scottish Rally, the Alpine Rally, the Canadian Shell 4000, the 1968 London to Sydney Marathon and the 1970 London to Mexico World Cup Rally..
Beyond the racetrack, Rosemary Smith’s life story is a narrative of resilience and passion. Born in 1937, she defied societal norms, learning to drive at 11 under her father’s guidance and obtaining a driving license at 16 through resourceful means. Her foray into fashion design, including setting up a boutique with her mother, added another layer to her diverse persona.
Smith went on to drive for many of the leading motor manufacturers of the time, including Ford, BL, Porsche, Opel, Lancia and Chrysler Talbot amongst others, showcasing her driving prowess but also as a trailblazer for Irish motorsport.
In 1978, Smith set a new land speed record in Cork, adding another achievement to her illustrious career.
In the 1990s, Smith expanded her influence by founding a driving school, imparting her wealth of knowledge to aspiring drivers. One of her crowning moments came on 10 May 2017, when, at the age of 79, she became the oldest person to drive an 800bhp F1 racing car during a test drive with the Renault F1 Team at the Circuit Paul Ricard in France, a remarkable feat that went unnoticed by the Guinness Book of Records.
In 2018, she penned her memoirs in the hugely popular “Driven by Rosemary Smith” book. In 2022 she was inducted into FIVA ( Fédération International des Véhicules Anciens) Hall of Fame.
As Rosemary Smith’s legacy continues to inspire generations, her remarkable journey stands as a testament to the enduring spirit of an Irish motorsport legend.