It’s not often that you get the chance to be flown out to Germany, drive a race car and be flown back in time for supper that evening. In fact, much to everyone’s disappointment, it never happens. So when my editor asked whether I wanted to go and drive the Race of Champions buggy, I don’t think he had even finished explaining the details before I had found my racing licence, dusted off my (now quite tight) race overalls and packed.
Of course the car was quite astounding. But more on that in the 1000th issue along with how Fredrik Johnsson and Michèle Mouton set about organising one of the highlights of the motor sport calendar in the shape of the Race of Champions. One of the great surprises of the day was as I arrived I spotted an Audi Quattro S1 WRC car going hammer and tongs around the car park. If anyone has seen a Quattro in action, you’ll know just what an awesome machine this is. The turbo noise and the shape are just so iconic, even if it looks like the design department gave a small child 10 cardboard boxes and a pot of UHU glue. The phrase ‘box-like’ really doesn’t cover it.
Anyway, onto the point of all this… When I made it out there, who did I spot behind the wheel of the car? None other than Michèle Mouton herself. Not only that but I was offered a quick spin in the passenger seat. It was certainly an eye opening few minutes.
Once I was strapped into the seat I asked Michèle what it was like being back behind the wheel of the car that took her to victory in the Rallye Sanremo in 1981. “Hard,” she says smiling at me while adjusting her five-point harness. “The muscles are not the same.” As she says this she nails it out of the ‘pits’ and unleashes the five-cylinder engine. Blimey it’s fast, and if her muscles aren’t what they were back in the ‘80s, I certainly didn’t notice.
“It is so understeering that you have to make the car be oversteering,” she says to me. “You have to play with the steering and the power, the throttle. Sometimes you can do it, sometimes, you know, and of course if it was competition you have to have the right tyres, this is just one set of tyres I don’t know how old they are. So you do what you can, it’s not really the same. You have always to work and the car is more for the gravel than for asphalt.”
After a few minutes we drew back into the pits and I managed to question her a little more about the car and whether that competitive spirit is still there. It turns out that rallying isn’t the one and only driving force behind her.
“What I like is travelling and if there is a rally far away. For example I went to do a rally in New Zealand this year just because of the trip to New Zealand. I didn’t know the South Island.
“I did Kenya again, a few years ago. I travel and if there is a race then, OK, I will do it. To do the Monte Carlo special stage historic rally, it is no fun for me. I just don’t miss competition at all.”
Don’t get her wrong she still loves driving and indeed being part of Audi history. “It was fantastic. The car was really nice to drive. Still today, the young drivers, they like to come and see. When the car is on the track they all come for the noise, they just really like the car.”
“I still get excitement when I get in the car. You need a little. I mean here, the first lap that you do you feel as though you aren’t ‘in’ anymore. But it’s coming back, the reflexes are coming back. And then you have the concentration and then everything is coming back a little bit. But I like it, of course I like it. I don’t know how to say… if it’s something I did, I don’t miss, you remember, you can enjoy, but I don’t miss it.
“It’s sometimes better that way,” I comment.
“Yes, I think so!”