It won’t be only the big international stars of the FIA World Rally Championship who pull the fans’ attention at Kennards Hire Rally Australia. A little down the field in a bright blue Subaru, Australian Molly Taylor hopes she’ll be driving away with her second CAMS Australian Rally Championship …
The first came at last year’s event when Taylor, then 27, became the first woman to win the title. This historic achievement catapulted the Sydneysider into the ranks of elite Australian sportswomen, but it wasn’t her first success in the sport.
Subaru Australia appointed Molly to the coveted role of “works” driver in 2016 after she had established a record as the world’s most successful female rally driver, winning the European and British ladies’ championships, among a string of other trophies.
Molly leads the 2017 Australian Rally Championship standings going into the final round on the Coffs Coast. Here, she explains what winning the first title meant and how she’ll approach the next potential milestone. She also pays tribute to her mum, Coral, who has pioneered the path to success with four co-driving championships of her own.
From your current leading position, how are you feeling about going into a three-way showdown for the 2017 Australian Rally Championship at Rally Australia?
I’m feeling excited! Of course, there will be nerves and anticipation, as we have a lot riding on the event. But mostly I’m just looking forward to getting stuck into it and having a good fight with the other guys. Regardless of the Championship scenario, the atmosphere at Rally Australia is always electric.
From your current leading position, how are you feeling about going as defending champion; will you be changing anything you normally do before or in the rally? For instance, your physical and mental fitness training?
I think what has been our strength over the past year and a half is that we put in a lot of effort to be as prepared as possible before every event. I’m always making sure that I am doing everything I can from my side to be able to perform at my best. From that point of view, no one rally is different from another. Coffs Harbour in November will be quite hot, so I guess one thing I like to physically prepare for in particular is dealing with the heat. I’m actually doing my first Ironman in a few weeks after the rally, so I’m hoping my fitness will be at its peak come November.
Becoming the 2016 Australian Rally Champion at Coffs Harbour last time was a huge achievement – how did it feel for you after so many years’ of hard graft here and overseas?
It felt and still feels surreal. I don’t feel as though it has sunk in. Rally is a tough sport, with incredible highs and lows. When you’ve been on the rally rollercoaster for so long and been through so much, when it all comes together it’s a pretty amazing feeling. It makes it all worthwhile.
How has your year been as Australian Rally Champion driver? What has changed in your life as a result?
We’ve definitely received more interest and exposure from the mainstream media, which is great for the sport and Subaru. I think we have been able to share rallying with more people who may not have otherwise known much about the sport, which is a huge positive. The good thing about rallying too, is that it keeps you grounded. Competing this year, my results last year are irrelevant. We have to keep working hard and keep earning every stage time out there. So from that point of view, we are very much focused on the future and continuing to improve. There’s always room for improvement.
How much of your achievement is due to hard work, how much to natural ability, how much to the influence of family and rally friends, how much to other factors?
I suppose there’s a whole combination of things you need to put together in rallying. For sure you have to have the ability; however, driving is a learnt skill, so no matter how much “natural” talent you may have, you still need to work at it. I feel like I’ve really had to work a lot over the past 10 or so years to become a better driver, and I am still learning all the time. There’s certainly a lot I have learnt from family and friends within the sport, which has been a huge help. But, at the end of the day you are still the one behind the wheel and you have to drive the car. I don’t think anyone can achieve much in rallying without hard work from the whole team being the biggest factor. Every person in our team has worked incredibly hard, and it’s a combination of that all coming together which is what get the results.
What was the most difficult time or experience over the years during your journey to the championship?
There have been a few tough times. When I first moved to the UK alone, that was really tough, but it was also an exciting adventure and a bit of a whirlwind. In 2012 and 2014 I only competed in part programs, and that was probably the biggest challenge – trying to put together the budget to compete and prove myself, but also not having enough to compete regularly to stay fresh in the car, or do the right preparation etc. Then you are putting yourself out there in the World Championship after having four or so months out of the car against people who have been in the car all year with regular testing. It was a challenge, but you’ve got to try with whatever resources you have, don’t you! It was still better than admitting defeat. It also forced me to look more closely at how I could prepare myself better outside of the car for rallies.
Although you have always strived to keep gender out of your achievements and compete on equal terms with male drivers, what were the particular challenges for you as a woman in the career you chose?
Going to new places where you don’t know people was sometimes a challenge, because I felt like I had to prove myself all over again each time. At the end of the day, it’s always about the job you’re doing. No-one can argue with that. When you get to a rally, there are enough challenges during the rally to keep you occupied and focused on the task at hand. I think I have also been lucky to have received so much support from the rally community.
Are you aware of the example you have set for other sportswomen, and how do you feel about that?
Initially no, but it’s something I’m becoming more aware of. I feel like I have such a long way to go; it’s strange to think of someone looking to me. Although, I must say it’s pretty heartwarming to meet young girls who are inspired to get involved in motorsport and humbling to be a part of that journey for them.
Who have been your mentors and inspirations in your career?
My mum and (champion driver) Neal Bates have probably been my biggest mentors throughout my whole career and two people I really look up to. I also admire Michele Mouton and Fabrizia Pons and have been fortunate enough to be able to work with them. I admire them not only for their results, but their attitude and determination.
With one championship behind you and the potential for another in Rally Australia this year, what are your longer-term professional goals?
Firstly, to go back to back with the Australian Rally Championship titles! It’s been such a fantastic opportunity to work with Subaru as a factory driver, and I’m excited about the future building on what we have started. Mum has four ARC trophies at home, so I still have some work to do before I can claim bragging rights in our family. I’d love to compete overseas again also, so always working on new ideas. The Subaru Rally Team USA is hugely successful, and I’d love to give that a crack if there was ever the opportunity.