This is for the Muslim clerics and Saudi authorities who think women cannot drive a car: Michele Mouton was the first-ever woman to beat all the world’s top rally drivers in the World Rally Championship… and many times! Now go back to ride your camels, you primitive machos…
How the French driver beat Vatanen, Mikkola and Röhrl to rip up rallying’s gender stereotypes.
1981. The year the World Rally Championship would change forever. Group B regulations were introduced. Ari Vatanen became the first privateer to win the title. Audi introduced the first four-wheel-drive rally car, the Quattro, and a driver from the French Riviera would become the first (and so far only) woman to win a World Rally Championship event.
Michèle Mouton was born and raised in the beautiful southern French town of Grasse, and from an early age excelled in everything from skiing to ballet to academia. She was all set for a respectable career in law. That wasn’t to be.
Captivated by engine notes wafting from nearby mountain stages used for local rallies, and following a teenage go in her father’s Citroën 2CV, any thought of lawyering went out of the window.
Back in the 1970s, France was a motorsport powerhouse. Manufacturers like Ligier and Renault came to the fore across the racing spectrum, with drivers like François Cevert, Patrick Depailler and Jacques Laffite becoming grand prix winners and household names. Mouton would soon be part of that vanguard.
By her early 20s, with that first taste of 2CV still fresh, Mouton experienced rallying, initially serving as a co-driver in amateur rallies, but soon assuming driving duties. Her father saw a spark of talent and bought her a Renault Alpine A110, telling his daughter that she had a year to prove her mettle or get back to the law.
“I never wanted or planned to be a rally driver. A friend was driving at amateur level. I went to watch him in Corsica and he didn’t get on with his co-driver so he asked me. It was pure chance,” remembers Mouton. “Then my father said, ‘I know you like to drive. I will buy you a car and pay for one season. If you are good then you should get some results’.”