Beating the Boys
PAT MOSS IS PROBABLY THE MOST FAMOUS LADY RALLY DRIVER OF ALL JOHN DAVENPORT TALKS TO HER ABOUT HER CAREER, AND ASKS WHERE HER SUCCESSORS ARE THEY SAY THAT IF YOU HAVE AN ITCH, YOU SHOULD
scratch it. My particular irritant was to try and understand where all the lady rally drivers had gone. Circumstances had conspired to make me wait for two hours at a small French airport. My fifteenth reading of the only English language newspaper available revealed that, miles above my head, a billion dollar’s worth of space shuttle was being flown by a young lady. Shortly after that, the Chanel model in a chic boiler suit who had been consuming a café creme on the other side of the snack bar got up to leave. She donned her helmet and flew off at the controls of a Gazelle twin-engined helicopter. The final twitch to my itch was discovering that my flight had a lady co-pilot. Evidently, the efforts of Amelia Earhart and Amy Johnson had not been in vain.
But what about rallying? When I first started, there were lots of lady competitors and they often did extremely well. Why were there-not so many around today? Could there be some factor at work that was allowing les girls to rule in aviation but not fly high closer to the ground? Could there be a ‘glass ceiling’ preventing their rise? To find out I went to see the most famous lady rally driver of them all, Pat Moss-Carlsson.
I asked her first of all how she got started in rallying. Was it the shining example of brother Stirling or the keenness of her parents, both of whom were avid motorsport competitors?
“My whole interest was in horses and show jumping. Mum and Dad never encouraged me to start with cars and Stirling positively discouraged me. He kept his cars in the same yard as my horses and he was always revving them up and making noise and smells.” How then did she get drawn into rallying? “Well, I had been driving ever since I was 15 when I used to drive a Land Rover round file fields at the farm. Sometimes with a trailer on the bkk, getting all sideways. But I only saw driving as a useful thing in cormection with horse trailers and horse boxes. So did take my test in a Morris Ten that Dad bought me for my 17th birthday. Stirling’s manager, Ken Gregory, used to come around a lot and one day he invited me to come on a rally with him. It was one of those hunt-the-marshal event; the Night Experts or something. I got us lost on the way to the start. And my first attempt to find one of the hidden marshals a
only succeeded when I was investigating a notice pinned inside a hollow tree and this voice suddenly whispered loudly ‘Give me the card’.”
Despite all the ups and downs, the young Pat had discovered something that was good fun. The next step was to replace the Oxford with a Minor convertible and to switch to the driving seat “Alf Francis was Stirling’s mechanic and he very kindly and without my understanding at all what he was going to do tuned the engine. It was a real little racer.”
Pat did rallies only when her show jumping permitted, but the Minor got a lot of use. She did harder and harder events and eventually the Minor was replaced by a TR2, funded by winning show jumping prizes. I asked Pat whether at this stage of her career there had been any sign that lady drivers were considered to be a lesser breed than the men. There were certainly a lot of them participating in that era.
“You were not expected to beat the boys, but when you did there was no funny business about it and everyone seemed really pleased. That’s not to say that all male drivers treated you as an equal. One of the first rallies I did with the TR was the London Rally quite a big national event and this chap with the starting number behind us came up and said would I make sure to pull over when he caught me up? I can’t remember what I said to him but I know that I thought, ‘if that bugger catches me, I am going to kill myself.” As time progressed, any need for suicide faded
as Pat got offered better cars and her own abilities developed so that the list of drivers who could beat her, let alone catch her, started to be a very short one. By the start of the 1960s when Pat was still in her mid-twenties, she was winning major rallies outright. This was when rallies were evolving into the tests of sheer speed that we have today but it was still possible for anyone, male or female, to use their normal road cars for major events. There was no need for roll cages, fire extinguishers or indeed anything that we take for granted, though spot lights, sump guards and decent seats certainly helped.
It had occurred to me that the modern rally car with its sequential gearbox, power steering and servo brakes might make things easier for today’s girl trying to break into rallying. Pat confessed that she was not familiar with the latest breed of rally cars. In fact her nearest acquaintance to one had come when Michele Mouton and she had got together for a comparative test between an ex-works Healey 3000 and an Audi Sport Quattro. “Michele tried the Healey and could not believe the effort required. She said she didn’t know how we could have driven them for days on end. But when
we had to move the cars for photographs, I discovered that while you could push the Healey quite easily, there was no way that we two could move the Audi without starting it up. There was so much rolling resistance with all those chive shafts and things.”
Her experience seemed to support my contention, especially thinking of the Lancia Fulvia with its frontwheel drive and limited slip cliff. If there was ever a car that required muscle to keep it on the straight and narrow, especially with racing tyres, then the demure little Fulvia was it. At least with its modem equivalent, an F2 car, the power steering takes a lot of the kick-back out of the wheel and you don’t need a new pair of driving gloves every day.
We diverted onto the subject of other lady rally drivers and it became clear that Pat really rated Michele even though their careers only just overlapped. But both of them drove Alpine Renault A 110s, which, of all the older generation of rally cars, required the least physical effort. Of her direct contemporaries, Pat was most in awe of Anne Hall.
“She was always prepared to have a go and drove to the limit. Sometimes even a bit beyond it. I can remember one San Remo Rally [It was 1964 when they finished second overall] when I took Val Dornleo in the Saab. Val had always been with Anne before. We were on one of those little mountain stages with the drop on the co-driver’s side when I came round a corner only to discover that there was fresh gravel on the exit. I kept my foot in it and we got round but the back end went over the edge a bit. I said to Val that I was sorry and that I didn’t normally do things like that and she just said ‘Oh, it’s all right. I’m used to it’. That was what really impressed me about Anne’s driving!” My own memory of 1950s and 1960s rallying p+
was that there was always a healthy crop of lady drivers, most of whom were running at or near the front of the field. I reeled off a whole list of them starting with Greta Molander and going via Ewy Rosqvist, Claudine Trautrnann, Pauline Mayman, Therese Mathieu and Annie Soisbault to Sylvia Osterberg. And, like Pat herself, some of these ladies were in the habit of winning rallies outright, like Rosemary Smith on the 1965 Tulip Rally and, as Pat reminded me, Gilberte Thirion, the lady who had won the very first Tour de Corse in 1956. Could it be that the lady drivers of that era were more successful simply because there were more of them? It was always a puzzle that top European rally drivers competed on the East African Safari for some ten years without winning until one considered that they formed only a tiny percentage of the entry on a rally with a high attrition rate. This argument could not really be applied to lady drivers in rallies.
But of course to compete, one first has to start and this is where we came closest to understanding the problem. Pat pointed out that in her day it was a lot cheaper. “You could start driving in navigation rallies with your own road car. It didn’t need any major modifications and there certainly weren’t a whole string of compulsory accessories that you had to fit to comply with the rules. When you finished a rally provided you hadn’t dented it you had your road car again. And that was the same right up to international level.” This was certainly true. I can recall when the first roll cages started to appear in rally cars and the authorities wanted them taken out as they saw them as illegal stiffening of the body shell. Nowadays, you could almost take the shell away and just rally in the roll cage since everything of any significance is
attached to it. And there is no way that you could contemplate using your stage rally car as a general runabout. The one passenger that you could accommodate would find the ride somewhat harsh. Certainly you could not pick the kids up from school and pop them in the back amidst the array of steel tubes, oil pipes, battery boxes and fire extinguishers, that are part and parcel of the modem rally car.
Rallying has changed quite a lot in the last 40 years. The gap between performance of cars used on navigation rallies and stage rallies has widened dramatically. There are very few up and coming drivers of either sex who started out in navigation events. The first British World Rally Champion, Colin McRae, started out with autotests and went via motor cycle trials straight into stage events. Thus the young lady looking to follow in Pat’s footsteps to fame on the international rally stage really has to contemplate a starting point on stage events. And anyone wanting to do that has to have a much deeper pocket than in the past. Even the cheapest stage car is going to represent an investment several times larger than an equivalent road car, which is difficult for any young person
to find. Pat pointed out that some help was always forthcoming for all-female crews in the past. “The manufacturers were always keen to have ladies teams as the event organisers always made a big thing of the Coupe des Dames. But interest in advertising those kind of successes faded during the 1960s and with it a lot of the support.”
Certainly it is true that just being a ladies crew is no longer any guarantee of backing. What does seem to have happened is that those lady rallyists that are around have been almost seamlessly integrated into the rally scene. Perhaps one indication that this is true is the career of Fabrizia Pons, once the co-driver to Michele Mouton, who has subsequently sat alongside Piero Liatti anFl Ad Vatanen and continued her winning ways. Nobody seems to think that is remarkable and thus it is possible that the “glass ceiling” really does not exist. As I left Pat and Erik’s house, Pat was already donning waterproofs to go out into the driving rain to watch their daughter, Suzy, put a show jumper through its paces. Beforehand, the pair of them had just driven back from Holland where they had been looking at more hors. Pat regularly drives the horse transporter and the previous weekend had gone all the way from Tring to Swansea and back. Perhaps the strongest message that I carried away in my mind was how her single-minded approach to any project and her endless energy still stand out. 11
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