Louise Cook: The First Woman To Gain A World Rally Championship Title

Polyester spoke to the champion few days before the beginning of the World Rally Championship season.

In many countries, the road ahead is long and full of obstacles for a woman who wants to drive or to get involved in a Motorsport environment. Until September 2017, women weren’t allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia. At the beginning of the year, Formula 1 decided to no longer use grid girls. Someone could see it as progress. These glamorous women were mainly hired for their looks and had to tolerate exhibited inappropriate behavior. Others see it as a backward step in women’s right to control their own body. This debate also questions women’s position in Motorsport. Where are they? Where are their opportunities in Motorsport? Furthermore, in western countries, it is not uncommon to hear jokes about women who don’t know how to drive or to park. Breaking news for people who doubt it: women are actually able to drive and they can even win Motorsport competitions!

In 2012, Louise Cook was the first female who won a non-gender World Rally Championship title. I think there is not enough female who have been in the sport. If there was more female, that would have been done years ago, she said. I asked her the reason why she would have this thought, and according to her, there is a low number of women who are into this sport. She added, “for young girls, to even think about becoming a rally driver, they need to be able to see it.” You can’t imagine anything you hadn’t seen, so if you could see it, then you could be it. The lack of role models could explain the lack of female rally drivers. Maybe, with her impressive career, she could be one of these role models…

When she was a kid, Louise Cook attended many rally competitions with her dad. In 2006, she took part in her first competition. I ended-up becoming runner-up over a thousand women and that gave me the confidence to get my license, as she recalled. She finished her first full season in 2010 in the British Rally Championship Challenge and ended up in the top 10. Two years later, she participated for the first time in the World Rally Championship competition and won the non-gender World Rally Championship title.

She loves the feeling when you’re fully in control of the car as fast as it can goand particularly enjoys jumping with the rally cars. The hardest part of her job is finding sponsorship. I found it really really tough: 95 % of the time I spend finding sponsorship and 5 % in the car, she affirmed. In 2012, she had to sell her trophies to finance her participation in the Production Car World Rally Championship

I pointed out that this episode reflected her determination and adaptability, which are also necessary skills to drive a rally car. She claimed: you paste note everything but of course sometimes there are things around the corner that you don’t have in your paste notes so yeah you do have to adapt very quickly.

Louise Cook recalled her rally in Sweden in 2017. During a jump her bonnet came out, it smashed  and blocked her view. We landed okay. She explained: you make all the work before to make sure your landing is fine so even if I couldn’t see I knew it would be okay. When we hit the ground I just had to look through a tiny gap where the bonnet ended to drive to the end of the stage.

She highlighted the importance of having good paste notes and engineering knowledge. For people who wish to become a professional rally driver she suggested: do as much work behind the scene as you can, outside of the sport, because it is so expensive to keep doing event after event. There is a lot of things you can learn without having to be on the rally or in the car.  She added: you could study other drivers, look what they do, or you could not be in a rally car but in a road car, you could go out and learn the roads and paste note it.

Furthermore, if you wish to start driving rally cars or if you are already driving and want to connect with other girls and women who are involved in this sport you can look up the association ‘Dare To Be Different’, created by the female professional rally driver: Susie Wolff.

With Louise Cook, we talked about the role of FIA Women in Motorsport Commission. On its website, a citation of the President Michèle Mouton says: the mission of the Women in Motorsport Commission is to encourage, support and promote more women in all aspects of the sport, and our objective for the next three years is to concentrate on competition. Louise Cook wish it could also help with the equipment for female being more suitable for their bodies. The companies can’t really afford to homologate one seat for female because it so expensive and there is not so much female doing it. According to her, reducing the homologation fees would be really helpful.

She was really excited about the Word Championship season and she wanted to be able to get into a more competitive car. That’s one of the challenges of this year, she claimed.

And you ladies, would you start a career as a professional rally driver?

Words: Marie Verger, Illustrations: Chiara Girimonti