Known as the ‘First Lady of Rallying’, Michèle Mouton is a former rally driver who currently works within the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA). Born on June 23, 1951, Mouton’s impact on motorsport has been truly remarkable.
Michèle’s rallying career began in 1973, when she co-drove a Peugeot 304S with her friend, Jean Taibi, in the 1973 Monte Carlo rally - the first-ever event in the World Rally Championship. After this, she decided to compete as a rally driver herself and debuted in the Rallye Paris-Saint Raphaël Féminin in an Alpine-Renault A110. Mouton’s official debut as a driver in the World Rally Championship (WRC) came in 1974, where she finished twelfth in the Tour de Corse. The following season, she finished P7.
In the first few years of her career, she found success in multiple different races and championships. This success continued for many years after. From 1974 through to 1978, Michèle won multiple French and European Ladies Championship titles, including the Rally of Spain in 1977. In 1978, Mouton drove for Fiat France and took the win in both the Tour de France Rally and the Lyon Charbonnières Rally.
In 1981, she was announced as an official driver for Audi, a role she remained in for four years. In the same year, she became the first woman to win a round of the FIA WRC at Rallye Sanremo, Italy and she remains the only woman to win. In fact, Michèle Mouton is the only woman to have won any FIA World Rally Championship level competition. This is an amazing achievement that, to this day, still highlights that we need more female participation in motorsports.
She was the Vice-Champion in 1982 and continued to compete during the years leading up to her retirement from rallying in 1986. Group B machinery was introduced in 1982 and these cars were known as the ‘most spectacular rally cars’. Manufacturers assumed they were too complicated and could not be competitive until Audi introduced the Quattro, which gained immediate success. Mouton was behind the wheel of a Quattro during her time with Audi, however, Finnish driver Henri Toivonen was the title favourite as a result of his dominance in 1986. That all changed during the Tour de Corse in Corsica, the seventeenth stage of the WRC.
Mouton was forced to retire from the Tour de Corse 1986 due to a technical problem with the gearshift in her Peugeot 205 T16 despite running in third and knowing that this round would be her last. One day later, championship favourite Toivonen and his co-driver, Sergio Cresta, were killed in an accident. As a result, the FIA banned all Group B machinery.
About her participation in the Tour de Corse, Mouton said “for me, it was the best rally”, although she knew she had to stop. Michèle retired at the age of thirty-five, but not before dominating the 1986 German Championship, which led her to become the first female to win a major rally title at the peak of its most challenging era.
The Race of Champions was formed in 1988. Created by Michèle Mouton and Fredrik Johnsson, the first edition of the event was held in celebration of the tenth anniversary of the inaugural World Rally Drivers Championship. The event was also held in memory of the late Henri Toivonen, with a trophy in his memory awarded to the ROC winner each year. Rally champions are given identical cars with the challenge of discovering who is the very best. Clearly, after retiring from rallying herself, Mouton’s love and passion for the sport was something she wanted to continue pursuing and doing so in memory of a driver she competed against until his death. Although Mouton and Johnsson initially created ROC to unite rally drivers, experts from other motor racing categories developed an interest in taking part. Notable Formula 1 drivers have entered into the Race of Champions, and Romain Grosjean won the race in 2012. There has even been a virtual event, in 2020, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mouton’s passion for motorsport and rallying does not stop there. She now holds roles of importance within the FIA and has implemented vital programmes which remain prominent today. As a female working so hard in a male-dominated industry, she is an inspiration to so many young girls and young women in the world of motorsport. As President of the FIA’s Women in Motorsport Commission, Mouton works as an ambassador for the popular Girls on Track programme, which, according to the FIA, is “a competition model for the promotion and development of young women in motorsport at grassroots level”.
This type of visibility is something women need so desperately in motorsport, to show them that diversity is possible and is necessary for this industry. Mouton herself described the FIA’s partnership with Formula E in their shared commitment to the programme as being a “great step towards driving diversity and inclusion” (fiaformulae.com).
Michèle Mouton also takes on the role of a Safety Delegate in WRC. After everything that occurred at the final WRC rally stage in her career, it is important to recognise how she continues to drive the relevance of safety in such a fast-paced sport. She is a woman working hard to make motorsport a better place and determined to make it a safer place, too.
Not only is Michèle’s position in the FIA important for young females aspiring to work in the world of motorsport, but her physical participation in the WRC highlights how it is very much possible for women to be successful behind the wheel.
Women can compete in motorsport.
Women will compete in motorsport.
Michèle’s dominance in rallying shows her talent, and how hard work can make anything possible, while also completely contradicting that typical stereotype of motorsport being a man’s sport. Motorsport is for anyone; Michèle Mouton helped us to realise that.
The FIA Women in Motorsport initiative has already endured great success after its implementation only a few years ago. Not only does it inspire young women to get involved within motorsport, but it also gives them the opportunity to get involved, whether that be in the actual racing side of things, or a role more behind the scenes.
The power of the female role in motorsport is amazing. Women can do it because it is possible. Michèle Mouton is one of the many women who has proved that.