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