Michele Mouton. Sounds possibly South African, with that characteristic French Huguenot surname. But the Michele Mouton in question is from southern France, instead of South Africa.
Born and raised close to the maritime Alps, Mouton’s agility, eye-to-hand coordination and fearlessness for going fast might have been cultivated with snow sports in her youth but it was motorsport which made her a legend.
Finished second to Walter Röhrl in '82 world rally championship
From 1976-1984 Mouton competed in the formula which tests true driving skill like no other - rallying. During her career, she would win four WRC rallies and achieve nine podiums, at a time when manufacturers were pouring Formula 1 budgets into gravel and snow motorsport.
Rallying is both forbidding and fatiguing. The early 1980s scene saw exhaustingly long events, with the complication (and risk) of night stages and cars which became progressively more powerful. Danger lurked around each corner and over every jump and by 1984 the Group B rules were so laughably open to interpretation, that both teams and observers believed the rally cars had become impossibly fast to drive.
The year 1982 showcased Mouton’s exceptional talent and bravery as she finished second overall in the championship, losing to legendary Porsche R&D driver, Walter Röhrl, after crashing on the penultimate event, the Ivory Coast rally.
A credit to her resolve was that Mouton did not dwell on her narrow loss in the championship that year (a mere 12 points), despite also losing her father in 1982, a former World War 2 prisoner who had inspired her into motorsport.
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In the early 1980s, when the concentration of driving talent in rallying arguably rivalled that of F1, Mouton was regarded as one of the very best. Racing for Peugeot, she would win the German rally championship in 1986, remaining the only woman to ever win a national rallying title.
Merely surviving the intensity of Group B rallying was an achievement but that Mouton has been one of fastest drivers in this era of all-wheel drive insanity is a testament to her raw speed and courage. During her career, no fewer than nine rivals were killed whilst racing.
Her greatest achievement and one often forgotten, happened far away from the traditional home of rallying - America. Before it was paved the Pikes Peak hill climb, held annually in Colorado, was an event which truly captured the imagination.
For a distance of nearly 20km, totalling 157 corners, many with deadly drop-offs and no guard-rails, Pikes Peak is the ultimate test of mountain pass racing courage. In 1985 Mouton arrived at the event an Audi S1 rally car. It had 450kW and looked like nothing the organisers had ever seen before – Pikes Peak being traditionally dominated by supercharged V8 single seaters with crazy wings.
Mouton is the reason why being told that ‘you drive like a girl’ is more compliment than a criticism
The organisers took exception to Mouton and her Audi, continuously seeking to invoke ridiculous regulations and sub-clauses in the rule book to slow her down. She showed her resolve and met each challenge by merely going faster until she shattered the Pikes Peak record by 13 seconds, to claim overall victory.
After her motorsport career ended in the late 1980s, Mouton gravitated to a role she seemed exceptionally skilled at administrating: overseeing parts of the world rally championship’s management for the FIA. She occasionally still drives Audi S1 Quattros at select heritage events.
Most importantly, she is the reason why being told that ‘you drive like a girl’, is more compliment than a criticism. Because everyone wishes they could drive like Michele Mouton.
Mouton tackles Pikes Peak