Thursday 17 August 2017

Family's farewell to racing ace Gabriel (71)



YOU COULD enjoy a lifetime of stories in a matter of minutes in the company of Gabriel Montgomery De Freitas.

Her death last Tuesday at the age of 71 ended another generation at Beaulieu House, another curtain down on a wonderful episode of Drogheda's past.

Gabriel De Freitas (née Waddington), was a tenth generation descendant of Sir Henry Titchbourne, who built the house between 1660 and 1666 and defended Drogheda from the Irish insurgents during the siege of Drogheda, the family name having changed from Titchbourne to Aston, to Tipping, Montgomery, Waddington and then De Freitas.

But it was as Gabriel Konig that she drew her personal fame.

As a racing driver there were few who could match her, never mind catch her, man or woman.

Under her racing name, Gabriel Konig, she began competing on the British track circuit in the early 1960s and continued for over four decades, and was recognised as the best female racer in the UK.

She actually began driving a tractor at the age of 10 and got her driving licence seven years later.

'When I was younger my mother used to take us to the races in the Curragh, the Phoenix Park and Dundrod,' she said once. 'I remember those days so well because the smells, the noise and the excitement of the day had such an impact on me and from that time on I was hooked.'

Within four years of getting her licence she was on the racing circuit out of her then home in Hammersmith, where she was married to Mark Konig, himself a noted competitor.

Her early cars were a Lotus Elite and a Elan, before moving to an Imp in 1966, when she was the first woman to win a race at Lydden in England.

But it was at Brands Hatch and later in Spa in Belgium where she was something of a real celebrity, one of the few top women racers, matching the men week after week.

She said at the time: 'I have never experienced any animosity from the men. I think they enjoy competing with women. I am just treated like everyone else'.

She never had any fears when racing but got'' keyed up' before the start, keen to always do well. Gabriel also raced at Thruxton, Oulton Park and the Nurburging in an illustrious career.

She spent some years in South America before coming home and running Beaulieu, along with another great racer in his day, Malcolm Clarke.

She found it hard to give the time to competing in more recent years but did manage the odd trip out in her vintage cars.

She opened a superb racing museum in Beaulieu House and there was nothing better than getting the rundown from Gabriel on her amazing career.

Gabriel is sadly missed by her family and all at Beaulieu. Her funeral was on Tuesday, January 15, at Beaulieu Church, amid her little piece of heaven.