“If you’d said to me there'll be a championship that will bring together Carlos Sainz, Sebastien Loeb, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, I’d have said is it Race of champions?” says Extreme E driver and rally ace Catie Munnings. “I never saw this coming. It's interesting how quickly things change in motorsport and life.”
Catie Munnings - the 2016 FIA European Rally Championship Ladies Trophy winner - is on the verge of creating history by competing in the inaugural series of the electric off-road SUV championship Extreme E this season, where she will race in some of the most remote locations on the planet.
Driving for Andretti United Extreme E team, the 23-year-old will join a grid full of world champions of various disciplines and an immense amount of talent.
“I'm definitely excited,” she says, speaking to Females in Motorsport. “At first I was like, ‘oh my goodness, I'm on track’. When we were testing, it was just me and Sebastien Loeb out on a lap. It was pretty cool - we were the only ones that were on the track together.”
One of the biggest things that attracted her to the new championship was the fact that each Extreme E team has to consist of one male and one female driver. Partnering Timmy Hansen, Catie will be one of the 10 female drivers on the grid in 2021.
“I’m a hundred percent behind encouraging women in motorsport and it's fantastic that we can provide seats in whatever championship that may be, whether it's W series or Extreme E,” Catie says. “I've always wanted the seats to be available and for the interest and the budget to be put towards women racing against the fastest drivers.”
Catie believes that by Extreme E providing those seats at the highest level, it’s creating “awareness against the top names in male motorsport”.
“All the females are going to be chosen because they’re fast drivers and because the team wants them to be the ones bringing the results back,” she says. “If the female is not performing or always over-performing, it really impacts the overall team results.
“It's giving women a new credibility in motorsport and we're being chosen not just to speak to the media and to be the female at the team. This is the overall team result - this is their sponsorship, their company - so they've got to get it right.”
Before joining the Extreme E line-up, Catie’s career began in rallying where she was getting to grips with the discipline competitively alongside studying for her A Level exams.
Her dad, a well-established driver himself, supported Catie throughout her first few events and still continues to be a key figure in her career.
“He was an instructor at London Rally School and Brands Hatch, which meant that I’d go and sit next to him in the car,” she says. “ I’d be completely terrified, but really excited. He also had a motorsport entertainment company where we'd go quad biking - it was a hobby, never a career.”
Even now, motorsport is still very much a family affair for the Munnings. Her mum helps out with social media, her dad is her driver coach and her sister is writing a cookbook focusing on nutritious recipes for athletes.
Never one to shy away from a challenge, Catie was undertaking her A Levels at the same time as gaining her international license.
“I was having to do one rally every weekend to try and sign off the signatures - five rallies and it was the end of the season,” she says. “I remember literally revising in the back of the car. My dad would be driving us to do these rallies and that's how I was having to do it. It was a really tough time.”
When she was younger, Catie aspired to be a vet and has qualifications in English, biology and photography and is testament that hard work and determination pays off.
“I dropped a grade in my biology compared to what I was predicted, but that was because I'd rolled a car the day before and had to shoot back over on the Eurotunnel,” she says. “I walked into that exam glad to be alive.”
Michele Mouton, president of the FIA Women In Motorsport Commission and successful rally driver is one of Catie’s biggest inspirations.
“She's so feisty, and everything about her is awesome - what she did when she was driving was epic,” Catie says. “There were probably even fewer women in motorsport at that time, so for her to get there is really cool. She's been a safety delegate on some of the rallies that I've done as well, so I've met her a few times.
“I remember I was about to start qualifying in Rome, and she just came and chatted to me and she said we watch your results. I was thinking ‘this is so cool, you’re my hero!’”
Catie has also been a part of different women in motorsport initiatives, including Susie Wolff’s Dare To Be Different which is now FIA Girls On Track UK.
“Being a female in motorsport is a bit of a novelty still, so you almost get judged more because of that - we were very conscious of what to portray,” Catie says. “I had some sponsorship come in, also some people wanted to sponsor me, but the image wasn't quite right. It wasn't where I wanted to be portraying myself as a rally driver; I didn't want to be a girl that sits on the car bonnet and all that.
“You want to be taken seriously, because you're already fighting the battle, there's not many girls in motorsport and you're trying to build a name for that.”
As Catie gets set for the Extreme E calendar, which begins with the first event in Saudi Arabia on 3-4 March, she urges you to follow your dreams.
“If you feel like something's right for you follow it, even if it doesn't seem like a logical thing to do,” she says. “When I was at school, my teachers really wanted me to go to uni and kind of disowned me when I didn't.
“It's hard enough at that age to try and follow your instincts. They asked me to go back and speak to the girls about careers outside of uni, so I think that's cool. People are coming around to the fact there's other options out there which is awesome. It's a bit of a gamble and it doesn't always work out, but I would much rather say I tried rather than I wonder what if. Life's too short for that.”