This weekend was the start of Louise Cook’s World Rally Championship campaign, on Rally Italia Sardegna based in Alghero. Louise is the only female driver in the entirety of the World Rally Championship and is a close friend of the Duckhams team.
A team problem meant Louise had to change car last minute and to hire a different car; a 208 R2 from a Spanish team, Mavisa Sport. Louise only had a short 30 km test in the car before the rally.
“It was a short test, we changed a few things on the car and the feeling was getting better. There was just not enough time to set up the car properly and get the confidence from it. It is such a different chassis to the Fiesta” Louise
Louise’s problems started before the competitive section began. The recce car, which is a normal road car used to drive the stages at a restricted speed for the 2 passes to write a description of the road in the form of pacenotes, sadly broke down with an engine problem, meaning Louise did not manage to complete all of the 2 passes of the stages on the recce.
At scrutineering for the rally car the 2” of padding installed in the base of the seat to allow Louise to see the road was deemed not allowed. This meant that Louise had a very difficult task to see the road ahead and led to a difficult view point on the tight and undulated stages.
The first full day on Friday, the rally’s 2nd leg, involved extremely rough stages. The 2WD cars are far from the strength of the £600,000 main WRC cars, it was very important for Louise to save the car.
“I don’t think any rally driver likes slowing down on a rally, it goes against the main reason that you are there, but you have to be grown up and manage the pace for the result.”
On the 2nd loop on of Leg 2 a thunderstorm broke out, this made the stages treacherous on the narrow tracks. Louise kept out of trouble and ended the day 3rd from 8 drivers in RC4 class and 3rd in WRC3.
On the 3rd leg, the stages were much wider allowing Louise a chance to explore the car more.
“We had a good run through the Coiluna stage. I like the stage, despite retiring on the stage back in 2012 when a driveshaft broke and also my collar bone”.
Louise set a 3rd fastest time through the Coiluna stage.
On the 2nd stage of Saturday Louise lost a little time when catching the car in front that started with a 2 minute gap. Louise was having difficulty seeing the road with all the dust from the car in front and trying to find a way past.
2nd loop of leg 3 Louise had a hard landing on the man-made jump in Coiluna.
“For the rally I naturally judged the pace of the jumps and the car jumped well but the landings felt a little too harsh. So for the second loop, to save the car a little, I would take a little pace out of the car, but it ended up being worse and landed badly, nose first despite being flat out on the throttle over the jumps, exactly what I did not want to happen. It was frustrating as I was trying to look after the car.”
The last day was purely about managing the pace for Louise. The 2 stages that were run twice on the Sunday are notoriously rough stages and with a 15 minute gap to 4th place, Louise steadied the pace to capture the 3rd place that had been held since Stage 6 of the 20 stage rally.
“I am happy with the result, there is so much more to learn and get used to but it is hard to make too many changes to the car on the rally because it can really damage your confidence if you go the wrong way with things. It was better to keep the car as it was and try some changes on a test after the rally”
Louise managed 8 x 3rd fastest times from the 20 stages on her debut in the new car and gained 15 points to start her WRC3 Championship campaign.
“Points were key for this weekend, 15 points is a good amount on the leaderboard. The pace was hot and the reality is the guy just ahead in 2nd has 45 rallies under his belt in the 208, 4 years of driving it, which is a nice amount of experience. In our first rally there is no way we were going to catch him on pace, it takes time to get really comfortable with a car and things just how you want them.”
Louise looks ahead now to Rally Finland and the fund raising challenge to be on the start line for the next round.