Wed 06 Dec 2023

Trailblazer and ERC event winner Rosemary Smith remembered

Tributes have been paid to Rosemary Smith, a trailblazing driver and FIA European Rally Championship event winner, who passed away on Tuesday after a long illness.

Smith, who was 86 and from Ireland, famously triumphed on the ERC-counting Tulip Rally in the Netherlands in 1965.  

Initially a co-driver before she switched to driving, Smith secured a works seat after impressing bosses at the Rootes Group’s Competition Department.   

After clinching the ladies’ prize on the Circuit of Ireland Rally in 1964, she was handed an ERC programme for 1965 at the wheel of a Hillman Imp and was a regular on ERC events for the next three years.   Smith expanded her competitive horizons beyond the ERC by contesting the Shell 4000 event in Canada, the London to Sydney Marathon in 1968 and the London to Mexico World Cup Rally in 1970.  

An obituary prepared on behalf of her family and published at, reads: “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 licence 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, British Leyland, 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 before she was inducted into FIVA ( Fédération International des Véhicules Anciens) Hall of Fame in 2022”.

Michael D Higgins, the President of Ireland, paid tribute to Smith in a statement.  

“Rosemary Smith should be remembered as one of the most fearless and remarkable Irish sportspeople to have graced the international stage.  

“In an extraordinary motorsport career, she defied all expectations of her time in becoming a renowned force in a sport then, as now, so heavily dominated by men. Her remarkable career, including her 1965 victory in the Tulip Rally, where Rosemary remains the only woman ever to win the race, and so many more victories and achievements besides, stands as a shining example of the great impact which women can have in every area of sport.  

“Rosemary’s achievements continued up to very recent years when she became, at the age of 79, the oldest person ever to drive a Formula 1 car.  

“Rosemary Smith’s induction into the FIVA Heritage Hall of Fame in 2022, the first Irish person to be honoured in this way, was a fitting recognition of a truly distinguished contribution to Irish and global sporting life.   

“I was pleased, as President of Ireland, to write to her upon that occasion and to pay tribute to the invaluable and generous contribution which Rosemary made to the life and reputation of Irish motorsport.  

“May I extend my deepest sympathies to Rosemary’s family, colleagues and friends on her passing.”  

Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy driver Aoife Raftery, a points scorer during her debut FIA Junior ERC season in 2023, said that following in Smith’s wheel tracks was a “proud moment” ahead of her maiden European championship outing on ORLEN 79th Rally Poland in May.  

At the time, the 22-year-old, said: “It is a proud moment for me and also for my family and for everyone in Ireland. It’s great I can follow [Rosemary’s] footsteps and hopefully be as successful as she was one day.”

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