Our Bloody heroes editorials celebrate the icons in motorsport who have, against the odds, risked their lives to display their immense skill, bravery and ( possibly) insanity behind a steering wheel.
You may have heard the saying “WRC is for boys, Group B was for men.”. At The Mechanists, we beg to differ. Our case in point: Michèle Mouton. With 162 stage wins spanning a 12-year rally career and being nicknamed “Superwoman” by Niki Lauda – she will go down in history as one the greatest drivers in motorsport history.
Michèle Mouton had plans to be a Lawyer until she had the opportunity to rally her father’s Citroën 2CV at the age of 14. It was that moment that had sparked her passion for motorsport. She began her career as a co-pilot but that was to change very quickly. Her father had dreams of driving competitively but after being a prisoner of war for 5 years, he never had the opportunity to pursue it. Seeing his daughter be so passionately active in motorsport, he gave her the opportunity he never had, providing Michèle with an Alpine A110 to prove herself within a year or go back to a life of law.
Rise to glory
Michèle wasted no time in proving her abilities and went on to win the French Ladies’ Championship, French GT class championship and even more impressively – the 2-litre prototype class of 24 Hour LeMans (1975) aged only 24.
With her skills on display to the rest of the World, Michèle quickly grabbed the attention of Fiat, whom she made her WRC debut with (in 1977). Despite the car driving “like a big truck” she pulled off respectable finishing positions in the three years with Fiat and would move on to drive for Audi’s new factory team in 1980.
The decision for Audi to choose Michèle as their driver over the more established, male drivers was a shock to the media. Any concerns about her ability were quickly put to rest when she won 7 stages in 1981 in the equally legendary S1 Quattro. This was the first rally car to have a turbocharger, 4-wheel drive system and exceed 300bhp. At the time, it was uncharted territory in the rally world and required an immense amount of bravery, grit and skill to tame the wild monster of a car. It tested Michèle’s abilities to the limit and, as a result, she had an accident at 70mph in her first stage of 1982.
Despite her knee injury, Michèle bounced back and clocked world record times. She eventually put herself in 2nd place behind Walter Röhrl before the final race, poised to take the win. However, Mouton damaged her Quattro in a hard landing resulting in a retirement from the race and conceding the manufacturers title to Röhrl.
In her 1993 entry in WRC Group B, Michèle would give it her best efforts but would be often let down by mechanical issues that would see her Quattros engine failing, catching on fire and even needing a lengthy repair period due to an Audi mechanic pouring water into the fuel tank.
After a part-time role in the 1984 WRC Group B championship, Michèle joined Peugeot in the 205 Turbo 16 and drove it to victory in the German championship (Rallye Deutschland) to become the first female driver to win a major championship in rallying. Two weeks later, Mouton announced her retirement from rallying.
Post racing career
Even though Michèle had retired from Rallying, she remained an important part of it by taking an ambassadorial role in the FIA, founding the Race of Champions motorsport event, becoming the president of the FIA Women & Motorsport Commission and, eventually, the FIA WRC manager in 2011.
Throughout her career, Michèle Mouton would constantly be facing hurdles because of being a woman in motorsport. Her skill daring demeanour not only broke gender norms and stereotypes but proved to her male rivals that women could have the balls to drive harder than them.