In a comparatively short career, Lady Watson impressed with her natural talent competing on equal terms with her male counterparts in saloon car and sports car racing as well as rallying.
Christabel Mary Carlisle was born on 1 March 1939, the daughter of Kenneth Ralph Malcolm Peter Carlisle and the Hon. Elizabeth Mary McLaren.
Christabel lived at the time in The Little Boltons in South Kensington and was a piano teacher with no great racing ambitions. Her family bought her a Mini for her 21st birthday in 1960 and she competed in a few rallies with it just for fun. However, after going to Brands Hatch with friends and being decidedly unimpressed, she announced that the only way she would ever go racing again would be if she was driving.
Thus she entered her 850 Mini (CMC 77) in the NSCC meeting at Silverstone on June 18th. However before the race a friend, Tony Covill, took her to a test day at Silverstone. As luck would have it, she caught the eye of Marcus Chambers, the competitions manager at BMC, with her consistency. He was there with Jack Sears testing a works Healey and he put Christabel in the car and got Jack to show her the correct lines around the track.
Come June 18th, her race did not last long as she slid off at the Becketts' hairpin (the old circuit) into the straw bales. She had another outing at the circuit the next week but it was not until the following year that she decided to take on a full season of racing.
After spending the early part of 1961 collecting the requisite number of signatures to upgrade her licence to a National/International one, she entered the British Empire Trophy Meeting at Silverstone on July 8th. Unfortunately on the first practice day she rolled at Copse having been told by a fellow competitor (John Whitmore) that it could be taken flat out! Fortunately BMC came to her rescue and repaired the car overnight. The race was held in wet conditions which Christabel had not previously encountered but still managed a respectable 6th in class.
Her next outing was at Snetterton on the 28th July for the Archie Scott Brown Memorial Race where she posted a class second, being pipped by half a wheel by Mick Clare, who had slipstreamed her up the final straight.
She followed this up with a 4th in class at the International Redex Trophy meeting at Brands Hatch at the beginning of August. This led to an invitation to join the Don Moore team for the 6 Hour race at Silverstone on 12th August. Partnering John Whitmore, John Alley, Frank Hamlin and Andrew Hedges, they came 4th overall. She took a win at Brands at the end of the month in the Ladies Invitation race before joining up with John Whitmore again, this time in her first race overseas, the Nurburgring 6 Hours. Unfortunately the Mini developed gearbox trouble after two hours and retired.
At the Oulton Park Gold Cup Meeting on the 23rd Sept, John Whitmore dominated the 1000 cc class, while Christabel and Vic Elford had a race-long battle for second, which was finally won by Elford two laps from the end. A week later she was at Snetterton where once again John Whitmore took the lead, however Christabel pushed him all the way to the finish.
At Brand Hatch on October 1st she once again showed her class with the first five Minis changing places throughout the 10 lap race. At the finish Vic Elford just managed to take the win, Christabel finished second pushing a certain Steve McQueen into third. She finished the year with another class podium at Brands Hatch on Boxing Day. For 1962 she was given a 997cc Mini Cooper by the factory and, though she was not part of the works team, BMC also arranged for Don Moore to run the car with works support.
She started 1962 in the Monte Carlo Rally navigating for John Sprinzel in an MG Midget. On the circuits, in a very competitive season, she was the main competition to the official works team.
In the first round of the British Saloon Car Championship the Lombank Trophy at Snetterton on the 14th April, the 1000 cc class was won by John Love with John Whitmore in second. Christabel limped across the line in third with a sick car. Round two was the St. Mary’s Trophy at Goodwood later in the month. In the race all three works Coopers had tyre trouble with their new Dunlop SP tires and retired. Don Moore had shrewdly put Christabel out on road tyres that came from a car in the car park! Taking full advantage of the works team's misfortune, she came home the class winner.
At Aintree in round three she split the works Coopers finishing third behind John Love and John Whitmore but ahead of Tony Maggs, having slip-streamed him up the back straight and overtaken him on the inside at the Melling Crossing.
She posted a DNF in the Bowmaker Trophy at Silverstone in May and failed to finish again on June 11th in the Crystal Palace Trophy. John Whitmore was leading the class from John Love who came under severe attack from Christabel. She passed Love on lap three, Whitmore on lap four and was pulling away when her clutch failed on the penultimate corner and she was forced to retire after a magnificent drive. She then travelled to Germany for the Six Hour Touring Car race on the Nürburgring Nordschleife on the 17th June. Driving with Peter Galliford they drove well to finish second in the 1 litre class.
At the Aintree British Grand Prix Support Race on the 21st July, John Love won the Mini class, but Christabel once again split the works cars, this time finishing second ahead of John Whitmore. During the race she set the equal fastest lap with John Love. At the Molyslip Trophy at Brands Hatch early in August she was lucky to survive a first lap incident when she was hit by Nicky Byrne in his 220 SE on the way down Paddock Hill. In very wet conditions she set about making up for lost time. From twentieth place on lap two, she was up to eighth overall by lap 11 and in touch with Bill Blydenstein in the works Cooper which was second in the class behind John Love. Blydenstein had to work hard to keep Christabel behind him and set a number of fastest laps in the process. In the end she had to settle of a 3rd in class.
In August she travelled to Denmark with Ken Tyrrell to race at Roskilde. She took two class wins, taking both the 1000cc and 1300cc titles, setting a new lap record in the process.
At the Gold Cup Meeting at Oulton Park in September, John Love led the class with Christabel close on his heels however she soon retired with another clutch failure. In October she entered The Motor 6 hour race on the Brands Hatch International Circuit. Once again she teamed up with Peter Galliford and together they drove to a fine 6th overall and 2nd in class behind John Aley and Denny Hulme in the works Cooper. She finished the year with an invitation race for Morris 1100s at Snetterton. In a field that included Graham Hill, Jack Brabham, John Surtees, Jim Clark, Roy Salvadori, Trevor Taylor, Mike Parkes, Tony Maggs, Jon Whitmore, Alan Hutcheson and Don Morley, Christabel finished 5th.
In 1963 she drove in the Monte Carlo Rally again, this time as navigator for Timo Makinen in an Austin Healy 3000. They finished 13th overall and 1st in class. From there she travelled to America to race an MGB in the 12 Hours at Sebring with Denise McCluggage, though they retired before she had a chance to drive.
Back in a Mini, she finished with a class 2nd in the Lombank Trophy at Snetterton at the end of March and at the Oulton Park Spring Meeting on April 1st, she held off a spirited attack from Paddy Hopkirk to finish second again behind John Whitmore.
Round three of the British Saloon Car Championship was the St. Mary’s Trophy at Goodwood on the 15th April. Once again John Whitmore led the Mini-Coopers away. However on lap five he was passed by John Fenning's Cooper who then led for a couple of laps until Whitmore re-took the lead. Christabel was chasing hard and was lying 11th overall and 3rd in class at the start of the final lap. Fenning managed to nose ahead of Whitmore at Woodcote but as the two cars went through the chicane, Fenning hit the brickwork and spun. By the time he had recovered and crossed the line, Christabel had taken second. After a disappointing race at the Aintree 200 Meeting she had an accident on the opening lap on the International Trophy Meeting at Silverstone on the 11th May when Peter Harper's works Sunbeam Rapier was nudged in the back at Becketts. He got sideways, rolled and was mounted by Christabel's Cooper which came to rest perched on top of the Rapier.
On the 19th May she drove an Austin-Healey Sebring Sprite with Clive Baker in the Nürburgring 1000Km race. They finished 17th overall and second in class, loosing out to 'Lucky' Casner and José Rosinski in a works Alpine M63 Renault. Back in the saloons for Round 6 of the BSCC at Crystal Palace in early June, John Whitmore led from start to finish followed by Paddy Hopkirk and John Rhodes, however the works once again failed to make it a 1-2-3 as Christabel managed to get past Rhodes on the last lap to finish 3rd.
She entered the Six Hours at the Nurburgring on 16th June, the first round of the new European Touring Car Challenge, with her uncle, Chris McLaren, and took a class win. And, though they finished second behind the larger engined Alfa Giulia of Fernand Masoero, they took the class win as Masoero was not entered in the Challenge.
The second round of the ETCC was a hill climb at Mont Ventoux in France. Masoero, now entered in the Challenge, took the class win with Christabel second just eight seconds behind the 1300cc Alfa Romeo Giulietta TI.
The third round was held at Brands Hatch on the 6th July. Christabel teamed up with Denise McLuggage for the Motor 6 hour race. John Whitmore and Paddy Hopkirk took the class win with John Rhodes and Rob Slotemaker second. Christabel and Denise finished third and took the Ladies prize.
The ETCC then moved to Mallory Park on 13th July for The Motor 3 hour race. Unfortunately Christabel lost a wheel and retired. The same day she also raced in the Molyslip Trophy, one of the support races. The race was dominated by the works Coopers, despite the efforts of Christabel. She stayed alongside Hopkirk on the first lap until the Esses where there was then a slight altercation. Hopkirk disappeared into a ditch only to emerge still travelling flat. Paddy eventually won from Tim Mayer with Christabel some 6 seconds behind.
The final round of the BSCC was on 20th July at Silverstone as a support race to the British Grand Prix. Paddy Hopkirk, John Whitmore and Christabel all took turns to lead, however in the end Christabel dropped back, finishing third in class. She also entered the GT support race with an Austin Healey Sprite. Unfortunately exiting Woodcote in a close race with two other cars, she spun and hit the pit wall just as a marshal was walking in front of it with his back to the oncoming cars. Tragically he received fatal injuries. Christabel suffered concussion and remembers nothing about the crash until waking up in the medical facility. Entirely absolved of any blame it was still all too much for her and she never raced again.
In January 1965 she married Sir James Andrew Watson, 5th baronet and became Lady Watson.
At 50 Lady Christabel Watson climbed Mount Gondogora in the Himalayas and celebrated her 60th birthday by walking from one end of the UK to the other. To mark her 65th birthday she walked across Spain from south to north and then to celebrate her 70th birthday this year, she walked from the south of France to the north.
historicracing.com with thanks to Christabel Watson.