Louise Aitken-walker MBE talks about her big break and how she got to be­come the high­est-achiev­ing Bri­ton in mo­tor sport

Classic Cars (UK) - - Specialists & Services -

‘When they an­nounced the win­ner of the rally test, it wasn’t me. I felt sick, as I thought I’d done a good job. In fact Ford thought I was too young. Roger Clark stepped in and said I should be given a chance’

Back in 1978 I en­tered the Ford-spon­sored ‘Find a Lady Rally Driver’ com­pe­ti­tion. I was 18 years old and one of 2000 women en­trants – I had no idea what was go­ing to be in­volved. But the prize was the op­por­tu­nity to drive a Ford works rally car and, nat­u­rally, com­pe­ti­tion was fierce. I loved ev­ery minute of it. I was born in Duns, Ber­wick­shire, which is fa­mous for its links with Sir Jackie Ste­wart and long-dis­tance rally driver An­drew Cowan. Up un­til then my back­ground had been bound up with horses. But my broth­ers had seen an ad­vert in Mo­tor Sport invit­ing ap­pli­cants for the Find a Lady tests. They put my name for­ward with­out telling me, only warn­ing me later that a let­ter of ac­cep­tance might ar­rive from Ford days be­fore the event.

My only ex­pe­ri­ence of driv­ing had been limited to my fa­ther’s hard-used farm­yard Land Rover, but my whole at­ti­tude was, ‘I’ll give it a go, I’ve got noth­ing to lose.’ In prepa­ra­tion I per­suaded An­drew Cowan to give me a few hours’ driv­ing tu­ition us­ing my brother’s Ford Es­cort. Even­tu­ally I met up with 66 other ladies at a gravel car park in Hamil­ton near Glas­gow. For the test I was given an RS Es­cort pro­vided by Ford. Oh how I wished I could have kept it. I put on a rid­ing hat and climbed in. My heart was pound­ing. First we had to drive round a tri­an­gle fol­lowed by a square, both marked out with posts, to demon­strate car con­trol and ap­ti­tude for han­dling the car.

This was where An­drew’s ad­vice proved cru­cial. He said, ‘Do your best and don’t over­drive the car.’ When they an­nounced the win­ner of the test, it wasn’t me. I felt sick, as I thought I’d done a good job. In fact the Ford se­lec­tion board be­lieved I was too young. Then Roger Clark stepped in and said I should be given a chance.

Next, I en­tered six races and ral­lies in the Fabergé Fi­esta Chal­lenge series for women in 1979 driv­ing a works car, win­ning Scar­bor­ough and Hale­wood and fin­ish­ing fourth over­all. As a re­sult I com­peted in the RAC Rally that year, but failed to fin­ish.

I went down to Ford’s com­pe­ti­tion HQ at Bore­ham where I met di­rec­tor of Ford Mo­tor­sport Stu­art Turner and en­gi­neer Peter Ashcroft. It just con­tin­ued and I was given the op­por­tu­nity to drive in the Bri­tish Rally Cham­pi­onship in 1981. Af­ter a very full ca­reer I re­tired in 1992, the high­est-achiev­ing Bri­ton in mo­tor sport, and won the Jim Clark and Se­grave tro­phies as well as be­ing awarded the MBE in the Queen’s New Year Hon­ours list that year. All from that won­der­ful day in Hamil­ton.

Louise was signed to GM Eurosport for the World Rally Cham­pi­onship in 1991

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