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Claire Williams: “I kept telling myself, you do belong here” 

Prior to 2007, Claire Williams had never been to a rally race, and she’d never even considered getting behind the wheel of a rally car. Fast forward to 2024 and she has a 14-year racing career under her belt, but just exactly how did she start her journey?

Rally co-driver and current British Rally National Champion, Claire told us about how one race changed her life, how she recovered from a broken back, and how she’s mentoring other girls to enter the sport she loves so much.

“I went to watch Wales Rally GB and you know when you think back to one moment that changed everything, it was that shakedown on the Thursday morning for me,” she says. “It changed everything. I was buzzing.

“It was the smell, the atmosphere, everything. All of a sudden, I had an interest, and had the post-rally blues afterwards.” 

Whilst she’s always had a competitive nature, Claire never imagined that she’d be a rally co-driver one day. 

“I’ve got a competitive nature anyway,” she says. “But, I always want to get better at things, and so it’s been a natural course into this.” 

Claire carried on going to rallies and after visiting Finland in 2009, her partner said ‘Claire, can I buy you a rally car and you can navigate for me?’

“It went from there,” she says. “We found a local motor club, got talking to a lot of different people and it was actually one of the girls in that club who taught me what I needed to do to get through my first event.” 

Claire first competed in 2010. 

“I don’t think I sat down for about a week after that event,” she tells Females in Motorsport. “I was buzzing and kept thinking ‘when's the next one? When’s the next one?’.”

And so Claire continued competing in more races, and gaining more opportunities. 

“I carried on navigating, and doing single venues, and in 2012, one of the guys at the motor club said ‘do you want to co-drive for me on Epynt [Wales]?’,” she says. “It was a good stepping stone from single venues to stage rallying. It was his first event on pace notes, and mine, so it was a learning experience for both of us.”

Impressively, Claire went on to win the Best Mixed Crew Award for this race, despite being her first race on pace notes. 

But Claire’s career is not one without any obstacles because back in 2012, she broke her back which put her out of racing for six months. 

“I heard the words ‘you broke your back’,” she says. “I didn’t hear anything beyond that, but my first question was will I be able to rally again? And then I asked, ‘Will I be able to walk again’?” 

Claire was fortunate that her injury didn’t have any long-term effects, and she was able to fully recover, and she was eager to get back racing. 

“I was always asking ‘when can I go back?’,” she says. “There finally came a point when they said ‘you should be ok to race’.” 

Whilst recovering, Claire was grateful for the rally community and their support. 

“That’s what got me through,” she says. “My friends would take me to watch rallies in a wheelchair. For me, it’s amazing how a simple sport can get you through such a testing point in your life.

“If I didn’t have sports, I probably wouldn’t have gotten through that period like I did. I worked closely with physiotherapists and worked as hard as I could, and without that, don’t know where my mental health would have been without it.” 

Despite her accident, Claire still won the 2012 Welsh Association of Motor Clubs Tarmac Championship, and in February 2013 was back to racing with success, doing two rallies in one weekend on her first week back. 

Claire continued racing and got speaking to more and more co-drivers, which brought more opportunities and successes and in 2014, Claire first competed in the British Championship. 

“I learned a lot that year,” she says. “My driver took me on knowing my experience level was low but he taught me everything he could.”

From then on, Claire has continued to pave her way and make a name for herself across the community, and in 2019 progressed into competing regularly in R5 specification rally cars.

2023 proved to be Claire’s biggest year to date. But she started laying the foundations for the success back in 2022 with one phone call from Mark Higgins. 

“I had an amazing opportunity in 2022, that just really empowered me as a competitor,” she says. “I got a phone call out of the blue, never spoken to this guy in my life, but Mark offered me the opportunity to co-drive for him. 

“I think that empowered me to believe, this is it, I’m on the way. I just went through 2022 accepting seats, and building my network.” 

Following a successful and empowering 2022, Claire had the confidence to take on 2023 as she stepped into the European Rally Championship. 

“I almost felt some imposter syndrome,” she says. “I kept telling myself no, you do belong here.” 

And, not long after, victory came for Claire. 

“I got my first outright rally win in an event, and it took me 125 races,” she says. “I had been so close to winning some rallies in the past, so for me, this was a real highlight.

“To then go on and take the championship, it’s a feeling you can’t top.”

When talking about her career, Claire refers to the importance of connections and taking opportunities and with that comes a lot of work in the background. 

“The more you’re out, you take these opportunities as and when they arrive,” she says. “You just say yes to rallies, you meet different drivers and co-drivers and go from there.

“You’re always speaking to people about seats and trying to get involved in Motor Clubs. I’ve organised rallies, I’ve marshalled on rallies, and I try to get involved any way I can. No experience in rallying is bad.” 

Looking at the gender diversity of rallying, Claire has always noticed a drive to get more women into the sport. 

“One thing I noticed from the very early stage was how inclusive rallying was,” she says. “Back then, and now, a lot of the male competitors didn’t necessarily see female competitors as different, they take you on as one of their own.

“I'm a very chatty person, so I've always gone out of my way to make connections, the issue with getting women into sport is maybe not believing they can do it.”

Claire’s connections and her friends amongst the community are very supportive, and she believes it’s similar connections that can help other women who want to become a rally driver or co-driver. 

“We need someone to look up to,” she says. “When I started to compete, there was Sara Williams, who was quite a prolific female driver in rally, and she took the fight to the guys.”

Claire was set to compete alongside Sara in 2021. 

“Naturally I was delighted when Sara contacted me to co-drive for her,” she tells us. “I remember thinking ‘this is the one who took the fight to the guys’. Unfortunately, it didn’t materialise at that time but sure, that’s not to say it will never happen.”

Outside of racing, Claire is helping women get into rallying and supporting those already driving.


“Last year, I did a lot of mentoring with other female rally drivers, which was fantastic,” she says. “It was quite rewarding, so if I plan to help out more this year to push the sport, and help other drivers as well.” 

Like all motorsports, rallying still has a way to go with female representation, but Claire is determined to see this change, and she believes it’s possible. 

“More women have to believe they can first,” she says. “In rallying maybe it wasn’t promoted, but it’s always been there. I get a lot of women asking me how I do this, but there’s no fixed way. You have to put yourself out there.” 

Claire is no stranger to these feelings, and was scared early on in her own career. 

“Be scared,” she says. “I was so brave back then, but now it’s second nature. I still scare myself sometimes.”

Claire pushed herself out of her comfort zone during the 2023 European Rally Championship when she competed with an all-female crew.

“We were doing it for the girls,” she says. “I said yes and figured I’d work it out as I went along.”

Reflecting back on her career, Claire never imagined she’d be where she is now and her story is truly inspirational. 

“Never in my life, when I stood in that forest in 2007, did I think that would ever be me,” she says. “What people didn’t see is Claire in 2007 standing in that forest getting inspired and then never believing that she could do it, then going on to do her first rally, and her second rally etc.

“What’s happened over the last 14-years has been a natural course of events in which I’ve said yes to doing things, and constantly giving it a go. Now I think, that is me putting that helmet on, that is me at Autosport standing on that stage, 14-years ago, I’d have said that’s not Claire.” 

With a 14-year career behind her, Claire took a moment to reflect on some of her favourite places to race, and Mexico is top of the list. 

“Mexico takes it for the fun atmosphere,” she says. “There was just an incredible atmosphere and an incredible sort of experience because I did not expect any of it, it was just totally different to anything I’d ever experienced.”

When not racing, Claire loves sports, but all roads lead back to motorsport. 

“I’d love to compete in Monte Carlo,” she says. “I tell my friends it’s football today, but next weekend, I’ll be strapped into a rally car, going 100 miles per hour in some woodlands.” 

Looking to 2024, Claire can’t wait to get back behind the wheel and is more determined than ever to win more rallies and this year she will step into the latest edition of the rally car. 

“I’m dying to get going again,” she says. “The dream for this year is to win more rallies. I just want to hit the ground running.” 

All images are courtesy of Claire Williams and Andrew Scott.


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