Only running one American Rally Association event a year, Frog Racing might not be the highest team on your radar. That said, the duo of Emmanuel Cecchet and Margaret Sharron are extremely well known in the New England region, and their story is one worth knowing.
From ice racing, to hill climb, to stage rallying to anything else you might imagine, Cecchet and Sharron are ready and willing to tackle it in their PrincesSTI and FrogSTIr Imprezas, and they’ll make sure to bring others with them along the way.
But let’s start at the beginning because, as Sharron told DirtFish after a class win on the New England Forest rally this year, “the story of Frog Racing is a story of love!”
A story of love
“I had mentioned that our racing started as a love story,” Sharron explained, “that’s because I met Emmanuel by chance when I was on vacation in Switzerland, and it was pretty much love at first sight.
“After meeting him, he contacted me and came to visit me, then a month later and we basically saw each other every month for that first year until he moved here permanently.
“And so it was a long distance relationship, and he always signed his emails, ‘ta grenouille,’ which means ‘your frog’ in French. So he always called me ‘my princess.’
“So when it came to what we were going to name our team it was pretty clear that we would be Frog Racing.
“We kept the theme with the cars, my car is the ‘PrincesSTI’ and his car is ‘FrogSTIr’ with the STI in the middle.”
But where does the frog connection originate?
“The frog thing is, obviously I’m French, so the Brits call the French ‘the frogs.’ So that’s how I became ‘The Frog’ originally because I’m just French.”
“Well, when I was a kid in France, the only two motorsport things that you can see on TV are F1 and stage rally.”
“Having been born close to where Sébastien Loeb was born, Cecchet was surrounded by a strong fanbase.
“I did a little bit of regional rally back in Europe when I was younger, but it’s extremely expensive, and when you are young you don’t have that much money.
“That was a just a little bit of experience there and I when I moved here to the US I didn’t even know that rally was a thing in the US, because there was nothing really, no coverage of anything here.”
Autocross therefore became the original motorsport of choice for Frog Racing.
Every summer their region holds a fundraiser known as Racing Against Leukemia, which includes something called double cross.
Double cross combines multiple runs of autocross, and multiple runs of rallycross. There was a class to run one car in both, as well as a class to have a rallycross car and autocross car separate.
“At the time I was racing a Corvette C4, and there was a guy from the rallycross program who had a Golf, a rallycross Golf, and he was like, ‘if you let me drive the Corvette for the autocross I’ll let you drive the Golf for the rallycross,’ and I said ‘sure! Let’s do this,’ and yeah, that was a big mistake.
“I got hooked right away.”
Hillclimbs and stage rally
Frog Racing began working its way into the world of rallycross, and hillclimbing not long after.
In 2015 it bought a 2004 Subaru Impreza WRX STI from a fellow hillclimb racer, who kept it stock apart from a cage, and Sharron began racing the car.
“He wanted the car, so he bought it and then said it was for me, so buy your wife a race car!” Sharron added.
Cecchet was still racing Corvettes, this time a C5, and when he ran into mechanical issues on one hillclimb, the two shared the Subaru, and immediately Cecchet loved it.
“I was impressed, this car is super slow, but it’s so much fun because there’s so much grip everywhere,” he said.
When saw the videos I was like, ‘that is what I want to do, so you’re going to have to buy your own car because I’m going to race this one!'Margaret Sharron on where her love for rallying stemmed from
“The Corvette was super hard to drive, especially on the looping hills.”
Cecchet then took the still stock STI, minus upgraded suspension, to its first stage rally, Empire State Performance Rally, “where all the fast Irish guys were,” Cecchet explained.
“The stages were so rough I thought, ‘I’m not driving that fast on those stages, I’m going to break the car!’
“So I just drove my own race at my own pace and all the fast Irish guys broke down, and I ended up third overall in my first rally!”
“I didn’t go with him,” Sharron explained, “I didn’t know what stage rally was. My kids were teenagers, and that weekend was a rainy weekend and I was like ‘there’s no way I can leave the kids, and I don’t want to go camping in the rain.’
“And growing up I didn’t have TV, so I never saw any type of racing, I was used to going four-wheeling in the woods.
“But when he came back and I saw the videos I was like, ‘that is what I want to do, so you’re going to have to buy your own car because I’m going to race this one.’”
At the time however, Rally America didn’t allow rookies to drive turbo four-wheel-drive cars, so focusing on promotors like NASA in the US if they wanted to race the car they had was a must, but the rule also encouraged them to travel to the Canadian rallies not far from where they live.
While Cecchet was all in on racing immediately, when he moved to the US as a hobby and a way to meet people, Sharron took a bit of time as she still had her own hobby, Olympic weightlifting.
“I didn’t do a lot of the races because I was lifting or working out until I was injured,” she explained, “but once I realized I couldn’t really lift anymore, I was doing more and more racing.
“I think now we’re both equal on our passion for it, it just took me a little bit longer.”
Cecchet also explained that Sharron would “never be in the passenger seat,” as she only wanted in if she could be the one driving.
“I have my own motorcycle, you know?” Sharron added. “I’m not one to just sit on the back.”
The fastest woman on Mt. Washington
While the story of Frog Racing is a story of all of the team players coming together, we have to take a quick detour to discuss one of the teams most notable accomplishments – Margaret Sharron being the fastest woman at the Mt. Washington ‘Climb to the Cloud’” hillclimb, one of the oldest auto racing events in the country with a history dating back to 1904.
Travis Pastrana is known as the fastest overall with his record set last year in the AirSlayer Subaru WRX STI, but Sharron was able to set her record in the same stock 2004 WRX STI she’s been rallying for years.
“When I heard my score I was like jumping up and down, I was so excited because I had beat my time from the previous event by I think a minute,” she recalled.
“I came in third in class that race, but I didn’t know at the time that I was going to podium, I just was super excited to have such a really good time.”
And a good time it was, for a 15-year-old WRX STI to be only about 10 seconds off of class winner Dave Wallingford in his Fiesta R5 on a 7.4-mile hill climb is truly impressive.
At the time, while she was only just figuring out that she had podiumed, she had no idea that she had broken the record for the fastest woman at the event.
In fact, that would be research that she would have to do on her own in the following month.
It was a big effort for us, it was probably over a year of prep with our resources to be able to do thatEmmanuel Cecchet on his wife's Mt Washington record
“It wasn’t until after the event that I had to do my own research, which was really hard, contacting some of the old timers to ask, ‘where can I find this information’, but it took me a while to find it.
“Then, to find out that I actually broke the record, which probably was a couple of weeks later, so I didn’t know at the time, it was it was cool, but it was disappointing too, because there’s not a lot of women in motorsports.
Cecchet chimed in: “It was a big effort for us, I mean, Mt. Washington was really the event of the year for us. It was probably over a year of prep with our resources to be able to do that.”
Sponsors pitched in for the effort and helped get the team ready for a strong attempt, and clearly, it paid off.
A big help to Sharron was also her navigator, Jen Holden. Holden had responded to an ad Frog Racing put out requesting crew help, and Sharron inquired about if she’d ever want to co-drive, as Sharron had wanted an all-female team.
While Holding had never done it before, she agreed, and the two have been working well together ever since.
Sharron’s story of getting more into rally through Frog Racing isn’t necessarily a unique one. Being a two-car privateer team, Frog Racing needs all hands on deck when it comes to event weekends, and have given many people their start in the industry.
“I mean we are not doing racing to win or have an ego trip,” Cecchet said. “So it’s really about experiences, being with people and sharing the experiences with other people.”
Cecchet points to the team website, where there’s a full rally prep section explaining everything he did to prep his own car that he leaves public as a resource for others to use in their own builds.
But they also allow people to get hands on experience at events, and not just as crew.
“If it’s like a small event, like a rally sprint or a hillclimb, we also offer young co-drivers to sit with us to have an experience in a slightly faster car, I mean, by no means a ‘fast car,’ but compared to a one liter Golf or Nissan Sentra it’s a bit faster, they can get used to calling notes in a faster car,” explained Cecchet.
“I think that we’re really approachable,” Sharron added, “we’re middle-aged… we’re actually grandparents!”
Ceechet added: “I think that there’s this thing when people watch your videos, or in-car, where they think, ‘those guys aren’t much more skilled than I am, their piece-of-crap car doesn’t seem like it’s much better than my car, I could really do this!’
“It’s not like, ‘these are dreams, things like Pastrana or Block with their sponsors and fancy cars,’ it’s like, ‘look at this grandfather and grandmother with their little car, I could probably be better than this guy, or her.’
“I think Margaret is very inspiring for women because not only can she do it, but she can have great results.
“It has been tremendous. We have seen so many people start in rallycross. Dan Downey, Gabe Jacobsohn, people you see now started crewing for us, rallycrossing with us, and then rallysprint, and now stage rally.
“It’s really gratifying to see people move this way.”
Cecchet has also become an ARA scrutineer to better understand the process and assist others in building their car.
At rallysprints and rallycrosses Cecchet offers to do a more comprehensive full style tech for anyone who is wanting to start in the organization so they can make sure to have their car ready for when they arrive to their first stage rally.
But if you want a start in rally and just don’t have any mechanical, automotive, or racing skill, Frog Racing still wants to help give you your start.
“We’re all staying in the same Airbnb,” Ceechet explained, “you see the driver working on his notes after recce, how the driver and co-driver get ready with the videos, working on the notes, all the stuff that goes into rally that gives us in a much better idea of what’s going on.
“You get exposed to a lot of possibilities that are not just wrenching on the car.”
Sharron added: “It’s more of a family atmosphere, we rent a big Airbnb and all stay there, but we have evening meals together as much as we can, so we were staying in cooking.
“So somebody can come and be a crew member, but they can also be a house manager and do things like help prepare meals and help prepare lunches.
“You don’t always have to be a mechanic.”
So while it’s rare to catch the Frog Racing team on US stages, as they tend to only do one US stage rally a year, if you’re in the New England region and considering rally, rallycross, or any adjacent motorsport, the Princess and the Frog are ready to welcome you to our world with open arms.