Sunday, 8 March 2015

Louise Cook


Louise in 2012


Louise Cook was the 2011 British Ladies’ Rally Champion, driving a Ford Fiesta.

Although her father worked in the automotive industry on the design side, there is not history of motorsport in Louise’s family. She did inherit her father’s interest in cars, and studied automotive design at Coventry University.

Her start in rallying came from a “Find a Lady Rally Driver” contest in 2006, when she was 19 and an undergraduate. She was second in the challenge, out of 1000 potential drivers. It was a while before she could afford to compete, and her father, despite his background, did not really like the idea of his daughter as a rally driver.

Her first rally was the Rockingham Stages, at the end of 2006. She drove a Peugeot 205 with Stefan Davis, and was 51st overall. She had put together the money needed to enter by selling small spaces on her car for sponsorship, some of which was provided by her fellow students for a few pounds a square.

After that, she was absent from the competition scene for some time, owing to a lack of major sponsors. She also had to contend with the death of her father, Robert, in 2008.

She made her proper start in competitive rallying in 2010, taking part in the Challenge section of the British Rally Championship. Her car was a Ford Fiesta, and she was partnered again by Stefan Davis. In order to fund her season, Louise revived her idea of selling little advertising squares on her car, this time promoting them to local businesses. She also held raffles for potential sponsors at rallies themselves. This seemed to pay off; she drove in rallies around the UK, and after a slow start, with twelfth in the Pirelli Rally, 16th in the Jim Clark Rally and a retirement from the first Isle of Man Challenge Rally, she really got going. She was fourth in the second part of the Isle of Man event, then fourth again in the first part of the Ulster Rally, and sixth in the second part. Both of the Ulster rounds gave her class wins, which was enough to secure the RC4 class for her.

Having more than held her own in the Challenge, she graduated to the British Rally Championship in 2011, tackling five rounds of the series in the Fiesta. She was second in the Fiesta Sport Trophy, out of thirteen drivers, 26th overall and tenth in the Formula Two championship. Her best overall result was fifteenth, in the Trackrod Rally, her last event of the season. She finished in the top twenty in all five rallies.

In 2012, she entered the Production World Rally Championship in the Fiesta, eager to push her career as far as she could. She contested the Monte Carlo, Acropolis, New Zealand, German and Italian rallies. As her budget was very tightly planned, extra expenses threatened her campaign by Rally New Zealand. To be eligible for FIA WRC awards, drivers must enter at least one non-European round, so it was important that Louise managed to get to New Zealand. One of the ways she raised money was auctioning off her trophies from previous years. This paid off, and she not only started, but finished a non-European round. This was despite only just fighting off an illness in time.

Her best result was 27th, in New Zealand, from an overall point of view, but she was also very impressive in Monte Carlo, despite problems with spectators and a broken intercom on the first day. She won Stage 15 in the PWRC class, and was second in the PWRC class overall, although she was only 54th in the final leaderboard. There was a high rate of attrition in this rally, partly due to changing weather conditions. She was sixth PWRC finisher in the Acropolis and New Zealand rallies, and tenth in the Rally of Italy, and was eighth in the PWRC at the end of the year. The Rally of Germany ended in retirement.

At the end of the year, Louise was awarded a trophy for the best two-wheel-drive entry in the WRC. This was the first time a female driver had won an official FIA rally trophy, other than the Ladies’ Cup, outright.

She did not compete then for a while, due to funding problems, but aimed to return. Pictures on Twitter showed a newly re-liveried Fiesta, and it appeared that Louise would be back on the stages soon. In the interim, she did some media work. The most high-profile job she did was to act as driving coach to actor Idris Elba, for his “King of Speed” programme. This meant that she got to drive a works Mini WRC with Idris and Paddy Hopkirk, becoming one of only a handful of drivers to gain WRC experience.

In 2016, she made a surprise one-off return to the WRC, driving a Fiesta in the Rally Finland. She was 53rd overall, and eleventh in class. At the end of the year, she announced she was auctioning her WRC 2WD trophy, in a last-ditch effort to salvage her WRC3 campaign for 2017. At the time of writing, she is on the entry list for Rally Sweden, so it looks as if she will complete at least some of the rounds.

(Image from www.sunrisesoftware.com)

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