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Wed 08 Mar 2023

The driving force behind Mouton’s Pikes Peak record

When Michèle Mouton arrived at Pikes Peak in 1985, the four-time WRC winner quickly learned that setting the record for the quickest time to the top was not the only barrier she would have to break through.

Throughout the early eighties, the steely glare of Mouton behind the wheel of an Audi Quattro became a familiar sight in the world of rallying – as familiar as her winning pedigree.

But in a recent chat with Becs Williams on Backstories – the official podcast of the WRC – Mouton revealed that when she embarked on her maiden journey to Colorado in 1984, there were several challenges she would need to overcome if she were to succeed on the United States’ second-oldest race.

“When I went there, it was the first time the Americans could see a rally car with a turbo engine. It was also the first time a European and on top of that a woman.

“It was the first time I could see the macho side of people. Why is this woman coming here in the middle of our country with a car to do this? They couldn’t accept.”

It became even more difficult to accept when she finished second overall, whetting her appetite to come back and not only victor, but also to set a track record. When she returned the following June to do exactly that, wet weather conditions quickly became the least of her concerns.

Caught going approximately 10kph over the speed limit on the recce, Mouton’s team received a bulletin, stating that come race day, the then 34-year-old would need to start the race standing next to her car. Shocked by the ruling, in which the organisers argued someone could have been killed by her speeding, Mouton took it upon herself to call a press conference.

“I said to them: ‘Okay, maybe it is important for you I don’t kill any child but what happens to me if I kill myself, because I am not in the right condition to start a race like this?’”

The PR stunt rustled the organisers who came back to Mouton with a compromise: she would be able to start the race the next day inside the car, but in neutral with her mechanics pushing her off the start line.

“I thought to myself: I will show that this is not the thing to do. I will be even faster.

“I was so motivated. In the middle of the stage, you have four corners on the left side where you have the big drop to the right.

“On the middle one you have to lift a little bit. When I was there, I decided not to lift, I was so motivated. I could feel the car pulling towards the drop. I thought I was going off and I accelerated even more, trying in my mind to go out with the back of the car and not with the front.

“I was accelerating so much I managed to stay on the road and the next corner was a hairpin right –  I braked even later than during the recce. I was so motivated. I wanted to show them that anything they could do they would never stop me.

Current-record holder Al Unser Jr could only watch on as his 1982 record of 11min 38.30sec was slashed by nearly 13sec by Mouton and her Audi Sport Quattro.

“I think it was one of my best events because I realised how strong I could be at that time. I was really strong in my mind.”

The Pikes Peak faithful were left stunned, with some suggesting it an unfair advantage due to her turbocharged Audi with one driver in particular, Al Unser Jr’s brother Bobby, coming into the crosshairs of Mouton.

“I said to the journalists, you can tell him (Bobby Unser), if he has the balls, we can start the race from the top to the bottom if he wants.

“I was so mad, I was crazy. But I did it and I had the record.”

Michèle Mouton - FIA WRC Safety Delegate

Over the years, Mouton’s record has been overtaken on a number of occasions, notably by fellow WRC alumni Ari Vatanen and Sébastien Loeb. It currently stands at 7min 57sec, set by Frenchman Romain Dumas in 2018. One constant remains the same however: Mouton remains the only female to hold the record on the famed mountain.

These days, Mouton remains a familiar sight on WRC rallies, albeit at a more conservative pace in her role as FIA Safety Delegate, taking the passenger seat (reluctantly) to ensure fans are safely positioned ahead of every stage in the championship.

You can listen to more incredible stories from Mouton’s remarkable career here, including contesting Ivory Coast in 1982 just hours after learning of her father’s passing and how an opportune meeting at a rock’n’roll dance off sparked her rallying passion.

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