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One of the most talented drivers of the '50s had a nice little message for those she overtook...
Ada Sayonara was one of the most talented drivers of the 1950s. With Maria Teresa De Filippis, she was one of the first women to impress in motor racing, often leaving men behind her.
A plate with the message “Sayonara” was fixed on the rear of her cars, dedicated to male colleagues overtaken.
She was born Ada Pace in Turin on February 16, 1924, but entered the racing world only in 1947, on two wheels rather than four, starting in a one-make series Vespa and soon became part of Piaggio works team.
Victories on motorcycles fuelled Pace’s passion for four-wheels, and she took part in some minor races that exposed the flaws in the uncompetitive cars she drove. Ada Pace, however, was a combative person and always kept smiling.
A year later she entered the Turin-San Remo rally driving a Fiat 1500 6C, an outdated, uncompetitive vehicle. She prevailed and won the event, causing chaos as victory of a female driver wasn’t prescribed in the regulations. Even her family was not at all happy about the victory.
Ada appeared in the parade for the podium behind the wheel of the Fiat sitting beside her mother in a dress suit, with a pearl necklace and her elegant bag on her legs.
She began signing up for more races, winning them, and drawing the hatred and envy of men who often refused to get on the podium behind her, and kept lodging official complaints about her car. In an event at the Circuit Lumezzane, held by patron of the Mille Miglia Renzo Castagneto, they requested an investigation of Ada’s car which turned out to be compliant, unlike those of two others that were disqualified.
Ada Pace victories became more frequent, being left alone on the podium by the men protesting her victory. She gained the esteem of racing personalities such as Enzo Ferrari, the Maserati brothers and Elio Zagato, becoming known as Ada ‘Sayonara’ because of the Japanese farewell message on her rear number plate.
Ada Sayonara also used another ploy to anger fellow men and impose her dominance in an increasing number of races. At the Aosta-Pila, for example, a hill-climb race, she submitted in two different categories, as Ada Sayonara in the GT driving an Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint Veloce, and as Ada Pace in Sport class, which she won on a OSCA Sport 1100, returning to the valley floor between the start of the races on board a tractor carrying wood.
In 1957 she attended the last Mille Miglia, alone, without a co-driver, in an Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint Veloce. During the return from Rome, she crashed into a tree losing a door. To restart she needed approval from a race official, who was on the other side of the river. To save time Ada Sayonara decided to swim across the river, but she didn’t gain permission to restart.
In her career Ada Sayonara was the subject of two other accidents. The first at the Monza 12 Hours, At 125 mph at the exit of the parabolica, she overturned, but managed to exit through the rear window a few seconds before the car caught fire, while in 1965 she hit a truck in another event.
She retired aged 41, but continuing to participate in non-competitive events and visiting schools to inspire children with her stories. Ada Sayonara died last November, some months before to blow out 93 candles.
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