I hate Catie Munnings.
Okay, I don’t hate her, not even a little bit, but I was fully expecting to before I met her. She’s so successful, she’s travelling around Europe, she’s Peugeot’s brand ambassador, she’s completed her A Levels and she’s the FIA Ladies European Rally Champion… all before the age of 20. How the hell did that happen? How has she jumped ahead so quickly? Why the hell aren’t I a rally champion? Feeling sick with envy, I needed to find out. Over pizza and pasta, I need to understand how Catie Munnings has accomplished so much so quickly, how this young woman had found her feet in motorsport while I’m still driving around in a Honda Jazz dreaming about it; and if she’s really a horrible person too so I can justify hating her (I really hoped she would be nasty/Cruella de Ville).
Catie arrives for lunch and is immediately friendly and lovely, and I start to ask how she got started.
‘I grew up on our family farm, so I first sat on a quad bike at the age of 2,’ she explains. ‘At full speed, I put it straight through the garden wall and straight into the neighbour’s garage, so that was my first experience. And then I would go out on Saturdays and teach quad biking. I’ve always been around cars, my first was a mini cooper. My dad was a rally driver and instructor at the London Rally school and Brands Hatch race school so I was always involved. I had never thought about rallying as something I could do before, just because there aren’t that many girls involved.’
And how did you get from falling off quadbikes to a championship title?
‘Somehow, we got in touch with Peugeot in France who run the French racing team who I now race for, and they offered me a test drive, which was incredible. It was like being thrown into the deep end, in the French alps, driving round a steep mountain. It was amazing. They said they were impressed by my driving, and that I didn’t go full speed trying to impress them, but stayed safe and level headed and they liked that. So that was how it started, it progressed from there. They asked me how I felt about running in the championships in Europe, and there’s a great atmosphere out there. Rallying is much bigger in Europe than it is in the UK, so in terms of sponsors and media it’s a lot better out there.’
Amazingly, Catie couldn’t just focus on the driving, she was also juggling her A Levels.
‘So, normally the way it goes with a rally… the week before, you’re out in whichever country testing the car, talking to the media and preparing. So, I was out in Belgium the week before the rally with the car while revising whenever I could, and then at one point I had a biology exam at 9 am in the UK, which just so happened to be the same day as qualifying in Belgium. I did both! It was a lot of pressure, and looking back at it now I was absolutely mad, but it’s one of my favourite memories.’
‘University just isn’t for me. I could go back in a few years but I doubt I will. I never really knew what I wanted to do. At one point I really wanted to be a vet! But as soon as I sat in a rally car for the first time I thought this is what I wanted to do. By the time it came to choosing between University and cars, I didn’t even log into UCAS.’
As an advocate for women in motorsport, I wanted to know what Catie’s experience has been as a woman thriving in a male dominated sport.
‘Do you know what, I haven’t really found any struggles with it in terms of being in competition. Everyone’s really supportive, at the end of the day you’re all just drivers in the car. I get a lot of help from other drivers, I’m in the category of under 27s, so a lot of the other drivers are about 26 so they’ve got nearly 10 years on me. I’m 19 now and I was 18 when I started so I’m a lot younger. I was a complete novice coming into it, and they’ve all been doing it for 10 years so they helped me a lot. I have lots of tuition as well which is great. So in terms of competition I haven’t felt any oppression. I think you get more attention from the media because you are a girl. People expect you to improve faster because you’re a girl, but I think everyone has people who do like you and people who don’t like you.’
I was surprised by Catie’s response, and the lack of sexism she has come across in the sport.
What about outside of the competition?
‘When I tell people what I do, they don’t believe it and sometimes people will comment on it but it’s all light hearted, I think they just don’t know what to say. In terms of sponsorship, some people would say it’s easier for a girl to get sponsored but I wouldn’t agree with that. I think there are different brands you can approach because you are a girl, but i wouldn’t say sealing deals is any easier. At the end of the day, yes you might get more exposure which sponsors like but you’ve got to be fast and you have to get the results to get sponsors. So in that sense it’s an even playing field, but of course… the ultimate goal is to beat the boys.’
So how does it feel knowing that you might be record breaking, role model material rally driver?
‘I’ve never really thought about it to be honest. At the beginning I was pushing myself too hard too soon, so we decided that I wasn’t going to look at times, not going to compare myself to other drivers and just improve what I know I need to improve. It can be overwhelming if you compare yourself to other drivers and their times, it becomes a dangerous way of driving. I know what I’m doing and I know what I need to personally improve. I’m quite hard on myself sometimes, unfortunately it’s a sport where you don’t get to be in the car as much as you would like. It’s a slow learning process and I can be impatient, I want to be the best now! But it takes time and my co driver is really good at calming me down. Life surprises me every day, I’ve learnt to just go with it. You never know what’s around the corner. When you leave school, everyone stresses about what they’re going to do. But I’ve learnt to just let it go, and I believe that the best things come to you when you’re relaxed and not stressing. You can want something too much and you can just get desperate and stress yourself out. I’ve had so many opportunities and I really wanted to map out what I was going to do and my goals but you just can’t do that in this sport. You can have goals and ambitions but it’s not a career where everything is guarantied. I remember being a teenager and wanting to be really successful, but not knowing how to get there. It was very frustrating, and I had no idea I’d be where I am.’
So what’s next for Catie Munnings?
‘I would like to progress in my driving and keep improving and winning, like any driver does. But I’m taking it step by step.’
After meeting Catie and getting to know her journey to where she is now, I was incredibly impressed. I was impressed by Catie’s professional, calm and matter-of-fact attitude towards her crazy, 100 mph life. I was impressed by the lack of sexism within the field, and wondered whether that was the case in Rallying or motorsport in general. Either way, Catie Munnings might just become your daughter’s next role model. Watch this space.