Michèle Mouton – a hero to anybody that knows anything about rallying.
It’s just a given.
How couldn’t she be, as the first (and so far only) female driver to ever win a round of the World Rally Championship. Several rounds, actually. In a Group B Audi quattro no less.
But they say seeing is believing. Actually in this case, it was fully realizing. Being there, witnessing the effect the queen of speed continues to have on so many people at last weekend’s DirtFish Women in Motorsport Summit, was astonishing.
Mouton means so much more to so many people than I’d ever completely appreciated.
Everywhere you turned last week, there was evidence of it.
There’s not a lot that flusters DirtFish’s head of strategy and Women in Motorsport coordinator Josie Rimmer. But the prospect of welcoming Mouton to DirtFish had her feeling justifiably nervous.
And she certainly wasn’t alone.
Leanne Junnila – an accomplished co-driver, team manager and Canadian representative for the FIA Women & Motorsport Commission – was one of Mouton’s fellow panelists on Saturday.
The WIM Summit was far from the first time she had met Mouton. She was a lot less composed on that first occasion.
“I’ve never told Michèle this story,” Junnila began, “but when I joined the commission and I was travelling to Paris for my first meeting, I was walking to the FIA building and I almost started crying because I thought ‘I don’t belong here, like what am I doing here?’
“I’m going to meet Michèle, she’s my hero!”
Heather Holler, a freelance mechanic who’s worked with Hyundai in the WRC, was the same – openly admitting she was “fangirling over Michèle” when she met her for the first time in Croatia.
I’m not one to often be dumbfounded and lost for words either, but I barely spoke to Mouton all day because I simply just did not know what to say to her.
I was, shamelessly, starstruck.
Even 40 years on from her biggest achievements behind the wheel, Mouton very clearly remains a megastar. And that’s massively impressive.
I stood and I saw the awe etched over everyone’s faces when she sat down in front of hundreds of people for the live panel at the weekend. People had travelled from far and wide to be there at DirtFish as soon as they had heard that Mouton was coming.
It was really quite remarkable to feel what it meant to so many to be in the presence of their idol. She is an inspiration for her unwavering determination to succeed – nothing has ever been out of reach, nothing has ever been impossible. She applies her mind to something, and she does it.
Heading down for breakfast the morning after the Summit, at the same time as her, I’d had a night’s sleep to pluck up the courage to tell Mouton how incredible it was to witness the love and respect everybody has for her first-hand.
“It’s too much,” she smiled, completely playing down what an inspiration she is for so many.
And that’s what makes her so utterly special – she doesn’t realize it.
I never tried to beat a man, I just wanted to be the bestMichèle Mouton
There’s no ego, there’s no pretense – Mouton doesn’t see herself as any kind of megastar. She’s completely grounded about everything she has managed to achieve – from her game-changing exploits behind the wheel to her current and tangible advancements to WRC event safety as the FIA’s safety delegate and desire for change as president of the Women & Motorsport Commission.
You could sense she was quite humbled and almost taken aback by just how much of a reception she received in Snoqualmie.
She claimed she “wasn’t very good” at giving advice, but her words throughout the entire weekend carried a huge amount of weight. And an even bigger amount of worth.
“Gender doesn’t matter,” she said. “You drive because it’s the goal that matters – it’s what you want to achieve.
“Of course you do it with all the ability that you have as a woman, but this is for people looking at the sport. For the ones that are doing it, we don’t think about [that].
“I never thought that ‘I am a woman so I have to show them how to drive’. No. I could see that next to me the guys were doing well and I wanted to do the same, that’s all.
“I think maybe [I had] too much pride or what you want to call it,” she laughed, “but for me to look ridiculous was impossible!
“I think I succeeded only because of that. I never tried to beat a man, I just wanted to be the best.”
The best she absolutely still is – and I always knew that. But having seen the power she has over people just with her presence alone, now I know it.
Mouton may not see herself as a role model – instead just somebody who had a passion for driving and made it her mission to succeed – but that’s exactly what she is.
And not just for women, for everyone.