Patsy Burt was one of the most successful female British racing drivers of all time. She competed in the original Chateau Impney speed trials of the 1950s and 1960s, scooping the Ladies’ Award in 1958 when competing in her Cooper Climax 1500cc – narrowly missing out on the fastest time of the day.
The single-seater McLaren M3A is lovingly known as the ‘whoosh-bonk’ car, named after Bruce McLaren’s description of the development process. Only three chassis were built – Burt’s was number two – and were based on the successful M1A racers.
Burt competed in the M3A between 1966 and 1970, where she earned eight international and 21 British records for various events and distances in the car. Her first win in the M3A was at the famed Worcestershire venue Shelsley Walsh in 1967, where she set a ladies’ course record.
Burt and the M3A soon became a force to be reckoned with. In 1970, she competed in the new RAC British Sprint Championship with the car and won the title, becoming the first woman in history to win a British national motorsport title.
But perhaps Patsy’s greatest legacy to motorsport was the invention, with her husband Ron Smith, of the Burt strut or timing strut device, which is still used to this day. The Burt strut is fitted to the front of a car and breaks a timing beam at the start and end of a race to a high degree of accuracy. Previous timing devices were fitted to the rear of a car, meaning the precision of timing was limited. In a very short race, like a sprint or hill climb, with competitors’ times just hundredths of a second apart, accurate timing is essential. The strut is compulsory in most national and international timed sprint events.
Burt retired from motorsport in 1970 and the McLaren M3A was then loaned to Donington Museum for many years. At this year’s event, Julia de Baldanza will take to the wheel and hope to emulate Burt’s amazing achievements at Chateau Impney. We look forward to seeing it in action!
Photo provided courtesy of Route Nostalgie.