Beyond the Driver’s Seat: Women Occupy all Realms in Rallying

The people who deserve to be seen equally in the sport have not been given the same platform they deserve, though that is slowly starting to change over the years.



Michéle Mouton and Fabrizia Ponz received flowers and praise after winning Rally San Remo on October 10, 1981, San Remo, Italy.

Riley Zalbert, Managing Editor

With the world of motorsport being historically male-dominated, I wanted to highlight and identify a plethora of women who are drivers, co-drivers, and media personnel.

Not only is it a difficult industry for men to get into, but for females, there is that extra obstacle that they have to prove that they were not only on the same level as men but to prove through hard work that they can be better than men in the sport. 

While there has not been an outright female driver’s champion in the WRC, they occupy all forms of rallying from mechanics, team managers, journalists, podcast hosts, and of course drivers and codrivers.

Though the proportion of gender equality has not been achieved in this form of motorsport, there have been immense strides in the last decades to include more females in the sport.

Media in the Sport

While there is immense talent among drivers and co-drivers, that talent can also be felt by the ones presenting you with this amazing sport. In the media aspect, the World Rally Championship and DirtFish(American rally company) have extensive coverage of each rally throughout the season.

I was able to speak with Spin, the Rally Pod host Lisa O’Sullivan about her time in the industry and what it means to work as a female journalist in the sport today. She has been working with talkSPORT for the last 20 years after leaving her position with the ITN(Independent Television News).

 At the first rally she attended as a journalist in 2003, she was able to speak with legends of the sport such as Colin McRae, Marcus Grönholm, Petter Solberg, and Tommi Mäkinen.

“ I was in my mid-20s in 2000 and knew nothing about rallying, but had seen them on the telly because they ran night stages for the RAC(Wales Rally GB) in November and that was quite exciting but I didn’t know it because I hadn’t been out for an event…After about 15 minutes of standing in thick mud, in my best coat, I thought yeah this is the sport for me, I love this, this is great.”

From 2014 through 2017, O’Sullivan came back into rallying to host the World Rally Radio (where it was commentary in just audio form) after a hiatus covering other sports like tennis, and rugby, and, most recently, working for the Olympic Broadcast Service covering the Paralympics that took place in Beijing in March 2022.

She has worked with the podcast for the last three years and has been working overall in sports journalism for the last 24 years.

Another amazing person I was able to get in contact with and interview is the Women in Motorsport Coordinator at DirtFish, Josie Rimmer.

Rimmer has been working in the role for the last 18 months and has worked for Dirtfish and this year was the second of the organized summit to be held with over 400 people in attendance. From women-owned businesses and food vendors to a band, the all-important and highlighted panels of amazing women in the sport were key to making this event a success.

 She told me that she really enjoyed having all the different women involved in rallying from across the US and the world attend the event also.

“The Summit is my favorite day of the year, and honestly, it came about by mistake. 

We sat down about 18 months ago, asking what more we could do to get women into the sport. We built a vision, and this team made it come to life. 

This year, the event absolutely took off. With legends like Michéle Mouton, Pernilla Solberg, and Rhianon Gelsomino headlining our panels, I constantly found myself wondering ‘is this real?’, ‘is this really happening?’

It was. And from the moment we walked into the tent, we could feel the power that room held. I listened to the audience as I walked the panelists to their seats. First, the room exploded into applause. Everyone was looking at their idols, and they were overwhelmed. I was overwhelmed. And next, silence. Not a single word was being whispered as our panelists took the stage. This is a day I will not soon forget. 

I consider myself the luckiest person in the world to be a part of these events. Planning them is nothing but a joy and a privilege.” Rimmer said in an email exchange back and forth with me.


WRC (World Rally Championship)

In the World Rally Championship, there were several female drivers during the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, but none were as good as French driver Michéle Mouton. She is the only female driver, along with her co-driver Italian Fabrizia Ponz, to win rounds as the only female team in the main championship.

Mouton and Ponz were competing in the toughest evolution of cars, Group B, and Mouton was driving for the Audi Factory team in an Audi Quattro, along with legends in the sport like Finnish driver Hannu Mikkola during the 1982 campaign while also battling with German driver Walter Röhrl and Fin Ari Vatanen, who were both driving Opel Ascona 400s. 

During that campaign, Mouton and Ponz won four rounds and finished runner-up in the championship, but were still able to help deliver Audi their first manufacturer title along with Mikkola and Italian Michele Cinotto.

As the seasons continued, Mouton took part as a part-time driver and would contest and set a record for the fastest time in the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in 1985. Moving to Peugeot for the 1986 season, Mouton participated in the German Rally Championship and became the first female driver to win a major championship in rallying. Soon after a fiery crash at Tour de Course that killed rival Finnish driver Henri Toivonen and American co-driver Sergio Cersto, Mouton retired from rallying.

Mouton would go on to co-found and organize the Race of Champions in 1988 in memory of  Toivonen and is currently the FIA’s president of the Women & Motorsport commission and the safety delegate for the World Rally Championship.

Mouton didn’t label herself nor ostracize herself as a woman driver, but she just saw herself as another person competing: someone who was able to fight for wins and the championship. But since her feat in 1982, no woman has managed to win a round as a driver in the main championship.

 Though there has not been a Drivers Champion since then, the co-drivers seat is where you will find a plethora of successful females in the sport.

In 2022, Sebastian Loeb contested a select number of rounds along with Isabelle Galmiche, who won a round as a co-driver with Loeb in Monte-Carlo in January.

Two Finnish co-drivers are female and are both World Champions in their respective classes. Reeta Hämäläinen is the co-driver for Emil Lindholm, and they were champions in the WRC2 in 2022, with Hämäläinen becoming the first woman to win that championship. Her story is incredible, as she overcame cancer that she was diagnosed with in December 2018. With the break brought about by the Pandemic, she could regain the strength lost and was ready with Lindholm for the 2022 season.

Another female co-driver in the sport for Sami Pajari is Enni Mälkönen. She secured the co-driver championship in WRC3 in 2022 along with Pajari, the Drivers champion. Her debut was in 2012, and she enjoyed playing as Colin McRae on PlayStation in her youth.

Both are contesting the WRC2 championship in co-driving for the Toksport World Rally Team.

There are also several other roles that females take up in the sport such as mechanic, technical director, and, more importantly, team manager. One of the most important women in the sport is Swede Pernila Solberg. 

A former driver, and co-driver, Solberg comes from a motorsport background and has been involved in the sport her whole life. After her husband’s team Subaru decided to pull out of the championship in 2008, they set up their own team with Pernila as team manager. Now after their son has grown up, she and her husband are managing his racing career as he competes in the WRC2 championship.

ERC (European Rally Championship)

In the European Rally Championship opening round of the 2023 season in Fafe, Portugal, Eight female co-drivers were there contesting the opening round along with 2021 and 2022 Spanish co-drivers champion Sara Fernández.

Fernández started her rallying career in 2005 on national rallies and paired up with fellow compatriot Efrén Llarena in 2016 where the pair won the Suzuki Swift Cup in their debut season. Driving for Team MRF tyres, the pair is looking to secure a second straight championship in a deep and talented field of rally 2 drivers.

In rallying, there is a need for funding and the ability to have that funding throughout the entire season. Logistically, it is hard for some smaller privateer and customer teams to trek to some of the races on the calendar. That is the case for Italian driver Rachele Somaschini, who is contesting the Italian Rally Championship along with 6 out of the 8 European championship rounds in an FPF sport-prepared Citroen DS3.

ARA (American Rally Association) 

In the smallest known championship globally, the American Rally Association runs three regional championships along with a national championship throughout the season. With this season having eight national rounds, there has been a buzz among fans for the return of the Hoonigan Racing Division team.

Unfortunately,  the heart and soul of that team, Ken Block passed away tragically in a snowmobile accident in Utah on January 2, 2023.

With the patriarch of the family gone, the family continues to do what he would have been doing this season.

Both his wife Lucy and 16-year-old daughter Lia were fighting for the championship in their respective classes last season. For the 2023 campaign, Lucy has opted to stay with her Ford Fiesta Rally3 working with Ken’s co-driver Alex Gelsomino, with whom the pair worked together all their rallying careers.  

This is definitely a heartfelt season for them. As they like to keep it in the family, Rhianon Gelsomino, who is from Australia, was the ARA Champion alongside Travis Pastrana in the 2021 season and has been working with him for the last three seasons. She has opted to co-drive for Block’s eldest daughter Lia, 16, who will be competing in a rear-wheel drive Subaru BRZ from a front-wheel-drive Ford Fiesta last season.

As the world of rallying aims to be open to all,  Mouton, Rimmer, and all the others involved in this initiative are working as hard as they can to include as many female drivers and co-drivers in the sport. Other media personnel including WRC all live commentator Becs Williams, and all live hosts Kiri Bloore and Molly Petit have given a voice to female audiences and fans listening at home.

They show that they are able to occupy the highest forms of commentary in the sport where they may not have even been looked at 20 or even 10 years ago, but slowly the aspect of who talks about rallying is shifting to who the fanbase is.