Michèle Mouton’s team secures road safety in the World Rally Championship series: “Virve is convenient, quick and reliable”
The legendary rally driver Michèle Mouton, 70, a female pioneer in motorsport, tours the World Rally Championship series as a representative of the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile, FIA, safety delegation, checking the organisation of the special stages of rallies and ensuring road safety. In this capacity, she also attended Secto Rally Finland in Jyväskylä, which is known as the world’s fastest rally.
Reviewing the special stages and the entire rally route in advance is extremely important, because the speeds are high during the special stages, the roads are demanding, and roadsides are full of spectators.
“We drive through each special stage just 30 minutes before the first contestant. My job is to observe the routes and the environment. I follow the routes in line with the safety plan and report the conditions to the rest of the safety team. This means that I’m not driving myself, but I have a driver.”
In Jyväskylä, her driver was Miikka Anttila, a former co-driver who had a long and successful career in the World Rally Championship series.
Virve is very convenient and handy, and works like mobile phone.
Mouton and the other testers of the special stages used Virve, the Finnish authorities’ public safety network, and Virve device for internal safety communication in Jyväskylä. Mouton is full of praise for the Finnish communication system.
“Virve is very convenient and handy, and the terminal works like a mobile phone. The reception was also good. This is usually not a problem in Finland, unlike in Corsica and Argentina, for example, where the high mountains may block signals,” Mouton explains.
“Safety is the FIA’s top priority”
Mouton also has previous experiences of using Virve. Last winter, she attended the Arctic Lapland Rally in Rovaniemi in Finland as a tester of the special stages. In her feedback after the rally, she highlighted the importance of Virve in ensuring overall safety.
Virve enables the organisers of rallies and other major events and the authorities to communicate across organisational boundaries.
Situations in a rally change quickly, and the entire safety team must be informed about any changes immediately.
Mouton travels around the world as a representative of the FIA safety delegation at World Rally Championship events, so she has a good understanding of the level of radio communications expertise in various countries.
“The devices aren’t usually as handy as a mobile phone. The device used in France, for example, is huge and therefore not very convenient. I think it works on the VHF frequency,” says Mouton.
“The safety of rallies is a top priority for the FIA. It’s impossible to organise safe rallies if the radio communications are not working well. Situations change quickly, and the entire safety team must be informed of any changes immediately.”
Enthusiastic fans plan dangerous surprise
Mouton is the only female driver who has reached the top level in the World Rally Championship (WRC) series. She is currently working as President of the FIA Women in Motorsport Commission. She also chairs the delegation responsible for safety at the WRC rallies, prepares safety plans and participates in testing the special stages.
In her work, she must be prepared for risks caused by both the weather and people, such as enthusiastic fans. During the first weekend of October, an incident occurred during the Jämsä special stage in which a group of spectators were hiding behind the trees and also partly under the road.
“These fans had hidden themselves so well that neither I nor the two other people in the test car could see them. I detected some movement, so I asked Anttila to back up. I took a photo of the place and asked a steward to check the situation.”
It was a group of Irish rally fans. The situation was dangerous, because the enthusiastic fans were not planning to remain hidden. Instead, they were going to jump into view with their green flags when their favourite driver arrived at the location.
“The fans wanted to be seen. Virve enabled us to inform others about our observation, and the group of fans had been escorted safely to the spectator area by the time that the rally cars arrived,” says Mouton.
- Former rally driver and a female pioneer in motorsport. The only woman who has won World Rally Championship events.
- Mouton became a rally driver by chance. As a law student in 1973, she participated in a WRC event as a co-driver. She immediately fell in love with rallying. Her father was concerned about her new hobby, but they agreed that she could get a rally car of her own if she became a driver instead of being a co-driver. Her first WRC event was the Tour de Corse, the French round of the World Rally Championship, in Corsica in 1974.
- She participated in WRC events until 1986. She competed in 50 events, winning four of them. She placed second in the WRC drivers’ championship in 1982.
- She had a 12-year career as a rally driver. Her last event was the Rallye Deutschland in 1986, when she became the first female driver to win the event.
- Mouton chairs the FIA safety delegation. She prepares safety guidelines for WRC events and checks special stages.
- Mouton is President of the FIA Women in Motorsport Commission.
- Mouton, 70, comes from and continues to live in Grasse, France.