Fiona Brothers - Fast On Water 2017

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Fiona Brothers

Circuit > Driver Profiles (UK)
Born: 20.7.54
Started racing: 1979
Retired: 1983

First woman ever to compete in Formula Grand Prix/ON internationally.
1982 – 4th overall in FONDA 2 litre World Series
1983 – 5th in Paris six-hour (FGP/ON); Vienna Grand Prix – first woman ever to win a class ON race; achieved fastest woman on water record at 116.279mph
1983 – She suffered serious injuries in a Rolatruc National event and did not race again.
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The following is based on an article first published in Powerboat 83 Yearbook. (Author credit needed).
 
Fiona Brothers started competing in the two litre series two years ago amid much scepticism. Few people believed she would be able to hold her own against those aggressive males. How wrong they were – Fiona has already proved herself as capable of walking away with the world title as any other competitor – her fourth place in the 1982 Two Litre World Series showed that.
 
The only woman racing in the FONDA World Series, she has already made an impression on the sport in the five short years she has been involved. We asked her to describe the traumas and triumphs of those five years and what it really is like being a woman in a ‘man’s’ sport.
 
‘If I had known then what I know now I wonder if I would ever had gone to Paris in 1978? An odd question many will say, but one I sometimes ask myself when ‘walking on water’ at over 125 mph with only a gust of wind between safety and the ever-threatening ‘flip’. The rash decision to enter into inshore circuit powerboat racing was made at the Six Hour endurance race on the Seine that year. Imagine the scene: Eiffel Tower overlooking the pits; the warm sun shining down on us; the gentle lapping of the Seine’s waters against the Left Bank; the bustle of powerboat people in their friendly camaraderie, and the excitement of over sixty sleek powerboats speeding along at breakneck speeds. My whole family was there, and I am sure that my father got carried away with the emotion of a weekend off from the family business in the Cotswolds, because suddenly he turned to my brother, Chris, and myself and said, ‘How do you fancy having a go at this?’ 
 
‘Never able to turn down a good offer, we jumped at the chance of doing something different and back home that winter we talked things over and scraped the funds together to ‘go racing’. It is not a difficult sport to become involved  in – the people are friendly and the costs no too great to be able to compete in the small engine classes. Drivers have started with only a few hundred pounds in a monohull and then worked their way up the classes to the money-guzzling Formula 1 boats in not too many years. We began in the spring of 1979 in Formula 3 (the OE class), with Chris and I competing at the club events on the course only two miles from my parent’s home at Fairford in Gloucestershire. We bought an old hull and a second hand engine, with fewer horsepower than it should have had!’
 
‘It was great fun and invaluable experience as you really have to strive to use all the necessary guile to keep the boat ‘floating’ on a cushion of air. That year certainly taught me a lot, not least on how to stand on my own two  feet with the other drivers! Slowly but surely I showed the others that I could drive competitively as Chris and I gradually crept closer to the speed of similar boats. By the end of the season I had gained my national licence and took part in the August  Bank Holiday meeting at Fairford – an eye opener for someone who until then had only taken part in relatively easy handicap races – now it was different story. Dead engine starts with each boat backed onto the pontoon waiting in silence for the flag to be raised and then – BANG! You’re off! In the mad scramble to the first buoy you pray that your engine fires up straight away and that you can trim the boat correctly to avoid wasting time and losing precious lift as you accelerate from 0-60 mph in ten seconds. Not quick by turbo standards but not bad for a 750cc engine with 75 bhp.’
 
‘The fear of being left behind at the start and having to drive blind into the first buoy turn through the spray of other competitors is something I never look forward to and the first time was certainly the worst. But there were less than a dozen boats in that race and I did not finish last. That first season did not end too well for us; in a club event a fortnight after my first national I was speeding past an island when the next thing I knew I was wet and pushing my way up to the surface through boat debris. I had flown, and a none too pleasant experience that was either. Unfortunately, as I had landed the boat disintegrated and I had been jettisoned through the bottom of the boat caching a broken stringer as I went down. Treading water whilst waiting for the Dory Rescue Team to pick me up I was conscious that my right leg was not feeling right – they pulled me out and realised that the stringer had gone through my calf muscle and was stuck there. Recovery was slow and I still have trouble with a swollen ankle if I get tired or the weather is cold or damp – the symptoms of rheumatism and me not yet over thirty!’
 
‘Strangely this did not dull my enthusiasm for racing as the next season we obtained sponsorship from Book Club Associates, bought a better hull, got in touch with a wizard in engineering, Steve West who did miracles with my engine, and I started to extend into the National Circuit. Chris at this point decided to concentrate on his other sports and thankfully avoided a family confrontation. It is not possible to share a boat at National races and the sponsorship would not have stretched to two rigs. That year was the first time I had raced at Bristol Docks in the Embassy Grand Prix. My first international and another big jump, or should I say series of jumps, as racing on the water is like being subjected to a bone rattler for half hour sessions.  Not to be recommended for the faint hearted or weak. I ended seventh of fifteen starters and had a ball. The sense of elation at having nursed you rig around that course is real and, I believe, well and truly deserved.’
 
‘My racing since that first year in national competition certainly moved forward quicker than I had ever anticipated: the next year, 1981, saw me jumping up into two litre, a totally different world, and with it came my first major sponsor, Colt Cars of Cirencester. There is a big difference between Formula 3 (850cc) and two litre, insofar as power and speed, but the ability to drive faster boats is really no more than that requires to drive the smaller catamarans, in fact the additional power behind you makes floating on water easier in some respects, although faster, almost instinctive reactions are required to ensure you don’t ‘fly’ too often.’
 
‘The quicker turns have given me a lot of trouble with my back and neck as the boat can turn 180 degrees and return to speeds of over 100 mph in less than ten seconds, producing high G forces as the boat tries to throw you through the side. This is the only physical disadvantage of being a woman; sheer strength and stamina can be built up through training and the cunning required to race competitively is not determined by sex.’
 
‘Inshore powerboat racing is a sport I am glad I was given the opportunity to enter, and I hope I have enough sense to realise that when my reactions are not quite as quick as they were, then is the time to hang up my racing gloves and return to a normal family life – I wonder what that is like…’
Fiona became the fastest woman on water. 
She achieved 116.279 mph. 1st September 1981

Bristol 1981
Nottingham 1981
Bristol 1982. Fiona on the limit
Nottingham 1981. Fiona with Bill Seebold and 
Bill's mechanic (in cap), Leo Molendyke
Bristol 1983. Fiona spectating the event
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Below is a magazine article looking at Fiona's accident at Bodymoor Heath, May 8, 1983.
 
 
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