While the headlines might naturally gravitate towards Sébastien Loeb’s stunning victory for the M-Sport Ford team on last weekend’s Monte Carlo Rally, it is the success achieved by co-driver Isabelle Galmiche that should be underlined. At a time when there is so much increased focus on improving gender diversity across motorsport, Isabelle’s success in winning a World Rally Championship event could not have been better timed.
The 51 year old French maths teacher has co-driven in over 230 events during the course of her career, winning several of them, but this was her first event at the pinnacle of the rallying. She has previously been part of the support crew for 9-times champion Loeb but following the retirement of his co-driver Daniel Elena last year Isabelle stepped up to partner him on the iconic Monte Carlo event.
With the event also heralding the start of the new hybrid-era of World Rally cars, Galmiche’s achievement is notable in being the first World Championship success for a female co-driver since 1997. This was Loeb’s 80th WRC victory, making Isabelle’s achievement in partnering her fellow countryman to a nail biting win over the Toyota of Sebastien Ogier and Benjamin Veillas all the more significant.
The role of co-driver is a complex one – a combination of precise planning and logistics coordination combined with reading the pre-planned pace notes to a driver whilst ignoring the speed and violence of riding in the cockpit of a WRC car. Having had the pleasure of sitting alongside a number of world class rally drivers during my career, the thought of having the read and communicate notes during each special stage is not for the faint hearted.
The role of co-driver is akin to an orchestral conductor working with a world class opera singer. It requires a degree of communication, team work and synchronicity few can imagine.
Isabelle’s success will hopefully spur more women and girls to consider a career in top-flight motorsport. Initiatives such as F1 in Schools and Formula Student have already helped to fill the pipeline of talent in motorsport with women than ever, while the FIA’s Girls on Track programme provides girls aged 8-18 with the opportunity to consider a wide range of careers across the sport.
In single seater racing the success of W Series in promoting female racing drivers is now well established while the FIA’s Girls on Track – Rising Stars programme sees women being given the opportunity to join the Ferrari Driver Academy.
There is nothing quite like seeing an example of what can be achieved to inspire the next generation. In partnering Loeb to success in Monte Carlo, Isabelle Galmiche has achieved a great deal more than scoring a memorable World Rally Championship win.