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Perhaps destined to become the greatest female driver in Grand Prix history, personal tragedy prompted Elizabeth Junek to retire before her talent was realised. But she was a star – the darling of the racing fraternity during her short career.
Background and marriage
The daughter of a blacksmith, she was working in a local bank when she fell in love with a rising young banker with a passion for cars – Ceněk Junek. By the time they married in 1922 they were competing – he behind the wheel with his bride as riding mechanic. She proved talented when she drove in local hillclimbs during 1924.
Promising 1927 season
The Juneks entered the 1927 Targa Florio and arrived a month early to prepare. It was typical of the commitment she gave to her sport – legend has it that they walked the 67-mile course during that time. Fourth at the end of the first lap with only the works Bugattis ahead, steering problems forced them to retire. She then drove a Bugatti in the German Grand Prix and finished fourth overall to win the 3000cc class.
1928 Targa Florio
With success came fame and ambition. Junek acquired a new Bugatti T35B for the 1928 Targa Florio and her performance confirmed a star. She took the lead on the second lap with the likes of Louis Chiron and Tazio Nuvolari in her wake. Second seemed certain before mechanical gremlins on the final lap delayed her progress and she finished in fifth position.
German Grand Prix tragedy
They then shared a Bugatti in the German GP at the Nürburgring just two months later. She started this sports car race and handed over to her husband after four laps of the combined Nordschleife and Sudschleife circuits. But he overturned at Breidscheid on his first lap and was killed. His widow was understandably devastated and retired from the sport.