October Shift Points

Michèle Mouton

Active years: 1974–1986
Teams: Fiat, Audi
World rallies: 50
Championships: 0
Wins: 4
Podium finishes: 9
Stage wins: 160
Points: 229
First world rally: 1974 Tour de Corse
First win: 1981 San Remo Rally
Last win: 1982 Rally Brazil

Mouton is the only woman to EVER win a World Rally Championship event let alone four of them. She almost won the World Title Race in 1982, finishing an agonizing second place. I see her as one of the most influential women in Motorsports.

When she was younger she never envisioned herself as a rally driver, she just loved cars. To her cars meant freedom and independence. At age 14 Mouton took it upon herself to learn to drive by "borrowing" her father’s Citroen for trips around the family’s property. This sparked her passion for driving that would later formulate her career path.

In 1972 Mouton's friend, Jean Taibi, was to participate in a rally race in Corsica. She went along with him during practice and he ask her to be his co-driver because he didn't like his current one. She said yes, so in 1973 Mounton was Taibi's co-driver in Monte Carlo. She did a few races with him but not long after her father gave her an ultimatum. He told her, “If you want to continue rallying I would like you to drive, I know you like driving. Why don’t you try yourself. I will buy you a car and give you one year to see how good you are. Look, I give you one year.” Mouton took this very seriously and decided she needed to be good enough to get good results.

She immediately showed a natural talent for rallying. Driving an Alpine-Renault A110, she debuted at the Critérium Féminin Paris-Saint-Raphaël and then tackled the Tour de France Automobile. In the Île de Beauté, a complementary event to the Tour de Corse at the end of 1973, Mouton finished eighth overall. In 1974, Mouton made her debut as a driver in the World Rally Championship, finishing 12th in the Tour de Corse in her Alpine. Her car was checked up on because it was rumored her good performance was the result of a special engine. Nonetheless, her car passed inspection by WRC scrutineers. A similar thing happened to me. It was during my Labor Day race this year. One of the racers came up to me after my runs and couldn't believe I was running the numbers I was. He told me "You can't drive that fast! Your car can't be stock! What's the Horsepower? What does the SPT Tuned stickers mean on your car?" I assured him that this car is all stock with the exception of the brakes, rotors, rear sway bar, wheels, and tires (which is all legal to change in my class).  Haters be hatin'!

With all that attention it caught the eye of a French Oil company called Elf. After this her career blew up she signed with Fiat in 1977. She was consistent over the next few years finishing 8th in some races and 2nd place in others. In 1980 Audi called her up and ask her to join their team. They signed her up for the World Rally Championship program for the 1981 season.She got to drive the one, the only, Audi Quattro, it was the 1st rally car to have over 300 HP, turbo, and AWD. At the Rallye Sanremo Race, Mouton took the win! It was first time a female driver had won a world championship event in rallying. Mouton's male rivals were left speechless. Earlier during the weekend,  Ari Vatanen had been confident he commented, "Never can nor will I lose to a woman."

In 1982, Mouton raced in the Rallye Côte d'Ivoire due to Audi and Opel title rivals. She received bad news that her father had succumbed to cancer. His last wish was that Mouton start the rally. As a driver's seven best results counted towards the championship at the time, Mouton would only need a third place in the Rally to take the title. With only 373 mi to go, Mouton went off the road and rolled her car. She drove the severely damaged Quattro for three more miles before giving up. Walter Röhrl got the win and became the first two-time world champion in rallying. Having lost her father, Mouton did not dwell on losing the title.

Mouton continued with Audi until 1986 where she joined Peugeot. But before joining Peugeot she took her WRC car, a short wheelbase Group B Audi S1 modified to Pikes Peak Hillclimb Race. It takes place in Colorado, course starts at 4921 ft above sea level and ends up at 14763 ft above sea level. People race to the top under 12 minutes! That is one heck of an elevation change in such a short time, back then it was all gravel, but now it is all paved. Mouton got the fastest time overall and still the only female to hold the fastest time of 11:25.39.

In 1986 Mouton announced her retirement from rallying. In 1988, Mouton co-founded the international motorsport event Race of Champions with Fredrik Johnsson, in memory of Toivonen and to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the world championship for rally drivers. The event originally included the world's top rally drivers, but now features stars also from other disciplines, such as Formula One, NASCAR, Le Mans and MotoGP.

In 2010, Mouton became the first president of the FIA's Women & Motor Sport Commission. She stated that "For many years people have asked me why there have been no women following in my footsteps. I really hope the Commission can help answer that question and that we can attract and support women in all areas of our sport." Having already headed a working group on the future of rallying, Mouton was appointed FIA's manager in the World Rally Championship in 2011. In one interview she was asked why there’s been nobody that has ever come close to her success.

"I have no answer…. I think maybe because not enough women try. Is it more difficult today? Maybe, but there are always different formula to come up through. But there are not enough trying to find one who is good enough at the right time, in the right team and everything. I am not special, except maybe that I am quite a strong character, and when I decide to do something I never give up. I try everything I can, working hard and with lots of motivation. But in 30 years, nobody. Not enough are trying!"

This makes me want to work even harder to achieve my dream. I hope Mouton can serve as an inspiration for so many girls and women out there as she did for me. Don't let your dreams die, no matter how negative some people can be about a woman's ability to race.