Sunday, 1 August 2010

Sophie Robinson

Sophie in 2003, with the Polo

"Petite, blonde interior design journalist" is not the standard description of a rally driver. Many Speedqueens have come from unlikely backgrounds, but few have played up to their girlie image as much as Sophie Robinson. However, behind the pastel-coloured car and the pink race suit, there was some talent.

Although Sophie's background is quite unusual, her introduction to rallying was fairly standard. She was encouraged by her father, Adrian, and started competing in navigational road rallies at twenty-one. To begin with, she used her mother's Toyota Corolla. Partnered by Adrian, she then moved on to classic navigational events, but after a while they didn't quite satisfy her need for speed.

Sticking to classic events, she began her stage rallying career in 2000. Her car was a 1965 Mini, and her co-driver was first Adrian, then the more experienced Iain Freestone. They contested the British Historic Championship. Although Sophie enjoyed driving the Mini, and appreciated it with her design eye, it was not reliable and the pair recorded few finishes. They were named as entrants in the 2000 RAC Rally, driving a Nissan Micra, but as a reserve entry, they did not get to compete.

Seeking more speed and reliability, she signed up to drive in the Volkswagen Polo Challenge the following year. It was a learning season, but she was rewarded with a third place in class, the first for a woman in the Polo series, on the Scottish Rally.

Having gained some sponsorship from Listers, she returned to the championship in 2002, and quickly established herself as a front-runner. Her consistently high finishes meant that she was top of the leaderboard for most of the season. A couple of retirements towards the end, plus her lack of a class win, dropped her to a still-respectable third. This was enough to qualify her and co-driver Claire Mole for the Gran Canaria Rally, against other Polo competitors from across Europe. A mystery engine failure put the team out, but Sophie appreciated the challenge and the change of scenery while it lasted.

For an even bigger change of scenery, she drove in the World Cup Rally, which went from Oxford to Athens via Albania and Bosnia, rally trails that hadn't been used for years. She was selected as a works driver for Daihatsu, which ruffled a few feathers. The manufacturer wanted to run an all-girl team for the event and many established drivers showed an interest. When it was announced that Sophie had secured the drive on the basis of her "presentation skills", some of the other women were put out, perhaps understandably. However, Sophie and her navigator Catriona Rings acquitted themselves well. They won the one-litre class in their Cuore, and came eleventh overall. It would have been a top-ten finish but for an off in Greece, and the pair won the first two stages outright.

In 2003 it was back to Britain and the Polo championship. Her new co-driver was Joyce Champion, the mother of her boyfriend, Ryan Champion. She was third again and broke her class-win duck on the last round of the series, the Tempest Rally. Never afraid to attempt new things, she also tried her hand at Endurance Rallying in Wales. Endurance Rallying combines elements of stage and road rallies and is open to production cars only. It relies more on driver skill, endurance and navigation than horsepower or straight speed. Unfortunately, as with any motorsport, luck is also useful and Sophie was out of that, retiring early with gearbox trouble.

The World Cup Rally, which is similar in format, brought a happier result. Paired with veteran co-driver Paul White, she drove her Polo to a magnificent third overall. The rally was based in Tunisia, and contained terrain more familiar to Dakar buggies than pink-decorated group N Volkswagens, but Sophie was unfazed by it all and held a good position throughout.

Since 2003, Sophie has concentrated on Endurance rallying and has little involvement with stage rallying, although she did try circuit racing in another Polo in 2004. She was 16th at Cadwell Park in the last race of the Volkswagen Racing Cup.

She has competed in Endurance events around the country including the Revival Rally, which follows the route of the old RAC Rally. Her car is usually her Polo. It was in this car that she contested the 2005 Lombard Rally and the 2007 Revival Rally.

(Image from

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