Sunday, 1 August 2010

Shelly Taunt



Shelly (left) and Julie

After years spent rallying small cars, Shelly Taunt finally graduated to something bigger - a Subaru Impreza - in 2004. She took some time in the lower echelons of British national competition to learn the car, and allow her new navigator Julie Cole to get some experience and returned to the British Rally Championship.

Shelly has encountered many difficulties in her career; for a long while, financial constraints stopped her from competing at all. However, she never lets them get the better of her.

Back in 1995, Shelly won Silverstone Rally School's Find A Lady Rally Driver competition. She had been interested in motorsport since the age of nineteen, but lacked the funds until then. Her prize was a start on the RAC Rally, in a Ford Escort Cosworth. It was only Shelly's fifth-ever event, and she retired with a broken fuel pump. She fared better on the Bulldog Midland Rally, in a Toyota Corolla, coming second in class.

For 1996 she began her adventures in small cars, with a Peugeot 205, contesting the Mintex National Rally Championship. She acquitted herself well, finishing the season second in Group N1. Her best finishes were on the Bournemouth Winter Rally and the Granite City Rally, where she was runner-up in class. That year she collected her first outright championship, her motor club's Rally Championship.

The following year she competed in the Autosport Ford Motorsport Challenge, mixing racing and rallying. She came second overall in the final standings. Shelly has a number of karting wins under her belt as well as her rallying achievements, proving herself to be a bit of an all-rounder.

Her car of choice for 1998 was a 1300cc Suzuki Swift. With Gemma Price as her co-driver, she won the Ladies' Award on the ACSMC Tarmac Rally Championship.

Staying with the Japanese theme, Shelly went even smaller in 1999, when she earned a works drive in a tiny Daihatsu 660. She proved it could keep up with bigger opposition when she was second in the under-1400cc class on the Tour of Cornwall, one of her happier hunting grounds.

The new millennium saw her back in the Swift, and another year of good class finishes. She was second in A5 on the Rallye Sunseeker.

For the 2001 season she purchased a Ford Ka and entered some rounds of the British Championship-supporting Ka one-make series. Her best finish was third on the Bulldog Rally, with Kevin Plunkett on the notes. She also entered the car for the ANCRO National Championship and won class A5 and a number of Ladies' awards.

Now partnered by Bob Stokoe, Shelly entered many rallies up and down the country in 2002. Her forays in the Ka Championship netted her two Ladies' Cups and a couple of good finishes, on the Trackrod and Welsh rallies. In the BTRDA series, she was third in class A5. Again, her best finish of the year was class A5 runner-up, this time on the Northumberside Rally.

After a good couple of years in the Ka, Shelly switched to a Nissan Micra in 2003, and was instantly rewarded with good midfield places in early-season club rallies. She and Bob Stokoe entered the BRC and finished the year as champions of the Formula 1400 class. Shelly herself was British Ladies' Champion, beating defending Coupe des Dames holder Kate Heath. Her best overall finish was nineteenth on the Scottish Rally, against British and Irish competition with much more horsepower.

However, in 2004 Shelly had decided that she had learnt enough from small cars and wanted to prove herself in the Impreza, having secured enough sponsorship from Silverstone Rally School and other backers. Faced with a much bigger car to handle, her main problem did not concern horsepower, but reaching the controls. Like the even tinier Kay Petre before her, five foot one Shelly drives with blocks stuck to the Impreza's pedals, for ease of reach.

In the first season with the Subaru their best result was 23rd on the Oakington Stages. They were also third in their class, and won the Ladies' and Spirit of the Rally Awards. On the Tour of Cornwall, Shelly and Julie finished 43rd, despite multiple time penalties, and they managed a finish on the Somerset Stages too, although they had several mechanical problems. Unusually, the car behaved itself for the whole season and the pair had a 100% finishing record. They were rewarded for their consistency and teamwork with the BTRDA Gold Star Ladies' Championship.

Shelly and Julie returned to the BTRDA fold for the 2005 season. They did not take in as many events this year but still made a regular appearance, also entering a few National Championship rallies. Shelly's Subaru was somewhat problematic, and accounted for a string of non-finishes mid-season. Her best results were 34th on the Dukeries Rally and 24th on the Wyedean, with good class positions both times. Both rallies had large fields with well over a hundred cars. The pair are also proud of their finish on the Roush Manx Rally, despite limping to the finish after suffering with a broken differential and the after-effects of an off on the first day.

As well as BTRDA and National rallies, Shelly tackled the BRC Rallymasters series in 2006. Her attack started inauspiciously, with a retirement on the Astra Stages in Wales, caused by another broken diff. She fared much better on the Pirelli Masters, coming sixth in the National rally, runner-up in class N4. This rally uses the classic Kielder stages so loved by British drivers and fans. Later in the year, she won her class on the Trackrod Rally. At the end of the season, Shelly was runner-up in the Rallymasters series and winner of its Production class.

On the BTRDA side, Shelly joined forces with Jayne Auden and Amanda Cornforth to form the Babes In The Wood rally team. They contested the Holpak Team Challenge and were among the leading groups. Their best combined result was on the Dukeries Rally, where Shelly was 24th overall and first lady. Jayne and Amanda were 75th and 82nd respectively.

She continued to improve in 2007. After a long string of Ladies’ awards and good class finishes, she and Julie were Rallymasters champions, as well as retaining their Production crown. On the BTRDA side, she was third in the Rally Challenge, and second in class in the English Championship.

Still with the Impreza, Shelly returned to the stages in 2008. She was only competing in BTRDA events this year. Her best finish came on the Robin Hood Stages, where she was third in class and seventh overall. She also won three Coupes des Dames, and was ninth on the Trackrod Rally. Her other strong finishes were a twelfth in the Premier Rally, and an eleventh in the Suzuki South of England Tempest Rally. This was despite receiving delivery of a new Impreza midway through the season. She ended the year as her club’s Ladies’ Champion, and third in their overall driver standings.

2009 started well, with entries in the Sunseeker and Manx rallies which yielded finishes and Ladies’ awards. However, part-way through the season, Julie suffered a knee injury which required surgery, causing the team to miss some events. Before Julie’s problems, their best finish was 19th, on the Rallye Sunseeker. They were sixth in class on the Manx Rally and seventh in class on the Dukeries event.

She continued rallying the Impreza in 2010, still assisted by Julie. They entered five rallies, finished four of them, and had a best finish of fifth, in the Trackrod Clubmans Rally. Another good finish was their ninth place in the South of England Tempest Rally.

This set-up carried on in 2011, with the team entering six rallies. The first part of the season was disappointing, with a retirement in the Sunseeker Rally due to clutch problems, 29th in the Dukeries Rally and only 51st in the Mewla Tarmac Stages. However, the autumn events were much more fruitful: eighth in the Trackrod Rally (a BRC event), tenth in the South of England Tempest Rally and seventh in the Premier Rally.

Shelly had a similar schedule planned for 2012. She had been planning to contest the British Production Rally Championship, but it was cancelled, so she returned to the BTRDA. Again, she began her season with the Sunseeker Rally, this time finishing eighth. A big gap then followed, until the Dukeries Rally in June. They were 16th, from a much bigger field. A rare retirement was the result of the Ulster Rally, which would have counted towards the defunct BPRC. It was back to the top ten again with a ninth in the Trackrod Rally, and they were eleventh in the Tempest Rally, their last of the season. Shelly also drove at the Goodwood Festical of Speed, on the Rally Stage.

Her season did not get started in 2013 until very late on; her first event was the Trackrod Rally in September. She and Julie were 17th, second in class N4. They returned for the Rallye Sunseeker in October, and were fifth in the National event, second in class, in the Subaru. They were also thirteenth in the Tempest Rally, with a class third, and eighth overall in the S.A. Gas Premier Rally.

In 2014, Shelly received an offer to compete in the Aïcha Rallye des Gazelles. Attempts to qualify for this rally raid event via the UK Gazelles challenge took up quite a lot of her year, and she did not enter many rallies at all. She entered the Premier Rally, but had to retire with a broken turbo. Earlier in the year, another visit to the Goodwood Festival of Speed's Rally Stage earned her a Driver of the Day award. She was 15th in the timesheets.

In 2015, Shelly's big objective was to compete in the Rally of Barbados. In May, she achieved this, driving a BMW M3, even though she did not finish. Still in Barbados, she was 41st in the LIME King of the Hill rally, out of 77 drivers, again in the BMW. She was set to appear on British TV in January, in a series showing the selection bootcamp for the UK Gazelles entry, but this does not appear to have been aired.

She went back to Barbados in 2016, in the Impreza. She and Julie were 48th in Rally Barbados itself, and 39th in the King of the Hill event.

(Image from http://www.femaledrivinginstructorsswindon.co.uk/)

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