The Boston Red Sox, the Green Bay Packers and the Kentucky Derby all have rich, remarkable histories, but one of the greatest storied events of all time is the annual 24 Heures Du Mans. The racing tradition took hold of France in 1923, with women playing a key role since its start. While Danica Patrick is the most well-known woman in racing today, gearhead girls racing is profiling her predecessors in a series of articles about those who paved the road to the present, beginning with the 24 Heures Du Mans’ own original queens of speed, Odette Siko and Marguerite Mareuse.
Siko and Mareuse were the first women to compete as team drivers in the 1930 LeMans. Wielding Mareuse’s Bugatti Type 40, model 1500cc, the team placed seventh among the 16 competing teams and first among the French drivers, with 132 laps. Nine of the 16 didn’t even finish the race.
Both ladies raced again in later years, though not as a team. The 1931 LeMans was Mareuse’s last before she left the sport, but Siko continued to a fourth-place finish in the 1932 LeMans, with Louis “Jean Sabipa” Charaval in her Alfa Romeo 6C 1750. Siko and Charaval placed fourth overall and won the two-liter class, setting a record for women that is still in place today, but her road to success was hardly smooth. That same year, she won the Picardie Grand Prix sports car class in a Bugatti T43.
A veteran of sorts by 1933, Siko hit a bit of a road block when her Alfa slid off the track in her 120th lap. The car went directly into a tree, throwing her from the vehicle, and caught on fire. Siko, amazingly, was unhurt and her immediate reaction was to try to put out the fire. It’s said that she was still determined to continue the race, even after the scorching ordeal.
Her fame reached its heigh at the Yacco Oil speed trials at Monlhery, where she was captain of her team of women competitors. The group, which included the infamous Hellé Nice, Simone des Forest and Claire Descollas, spent ten days breaking speed records – 25 of them, to be exact. A few of these records have not been broken to this day.
Unfortunately, Siko falls off the radar around the beginning of World War II. It is unknown whether or not she managed to find her way back to motorsports after 1945. However, her relentless pursuit of speed proved, in a time when women’s lives were still relatively constricted, that a woman behind the wheel is a force of nature not to be trifled with.