We’ve spoken before of our admiration for anyone insane brave enough to take on the challenge of rally racing; but there is a certain, higher level of admiration that is reserved for anyone who was willing to leap head-first into the old, legendary “Group B” racing class.
It was a world that was so heavily laden with one-upmanship that the boundaries were not only pushed, but breached, patched, and breached again, over and over. There was little doubt in anyone’s mind that eventually something had to give, but until that time, the automakers, drivers, sponsors and engineers were determined to enjoy a feeding-frenzy of competition. It was into this maelstrom that Michèle Mouton confidently waded, and in so doing, earned herself guaranteed standing as a Hooniversal Dream Girl.
For those unfamiliar with the infamous history of Group B, allow me to spare you the hassle of a few Google and Wikipedia searches with a brief refresher. In 1982, the WRC’s organizing body FIA re-vamped the rules to allow for more competition, and to recognize the dramatic difference in budgets allowed by manufacturer-backed teams and privateers. This allowed for separate, distinct, categories for mildly-modified production cars, heavily-modified standard production cars, and what they called “Limited-Production” models. This category was intended for high performance sports cars which may not have been produced in numbers sufficient to allow them to compete in the other categories, such as the Porsche 911. It quickly became, instead, an “unlimited” category. The rules only required a production run of 300 cars. As such, manufacturers – most notably Ford, but also Audi, Citroen and Renault – began to produce custom built race-cars, and producing 300 “production car” variants to fulfill the rule requirements. These cars seldom featured such luxuries as completed interiors or road-usable suspension, but that was of no concern. They were usually sold at a significant loss, so there was little effort made to sell them.
The cars that arose out of this category were nothing short of high-strung, fire-breathing technological marvels. It’s hard to truly wrap your head around them, but imagine taking a NASCAR “Car of Tomorrow”, removing all of its restrictions and bureaucracy, and allowing them to use whatever technology they could develop to make it go faster within a particular engine category. Then, take that car, and drive it at oval-track speeds along tiny dirt roads carved between very large trees in some of the most remote locations anyone could find. Then you’re starting to get an idea of what was going on here. Factor in 0-60 times as low as 2.1 seconds, with engines producing horsepower figures rumoured to be ranging from 450 to 800, and you have a race league which was well and truly anchored in the insane.
The WRC’s Group B, then, could be easily said to be one of the most demanding series in the history of motor racing; Michèle Mouton not only accepted the challenge, but excelled at it.
To say that she raised a few eyebrows in the Group B segment would be an understatement. While already an established racer, she catapulted into legendary status due to a fortunate — or possibly planned — correlation of events. The rise of Group B, a female driver, and a new four-wheel-drive racing platform from Audi, known as “quattro”. This combination proved quite dominant, and would have been unstoppable save for the unreliability of the Audi platform. In 1982, she came in a close second in the season’s points championship.
She is currently the only woman to have ever won a round of the World Rally Championship, and one of the very few people to be able to claim a victory under the notorious Group B specifications. She was also the first woman to win a round of the Pike’s Peak tournament, and did so with such decisive force that she effectively changed the face of the tournament for years to come.
When Group B was canceled a few years later, she retired from rally racing; as such, her legend is short-lived, but certainly well earned. Still not convinced? In interviews following Group B’s cancellation, she was reported to have said that she couldn’t be bothered to race in any other league, as everything else out there was too slow, too safe, and too boring.
For her devil-may-care attitude, her “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” spirit, and her huge set of brass… uh… courages?… we warmly welcome Michèle Mouton as one of our first Hooniversal Dream Girls.