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Rally the Girls

I went down to the L’Étacq Attack – a special stage rally hosted annually by the Jersey Motorcycle & Light Car Club. It is a day where spectators from all corners of the island join together to hope no cars drive off a cliff. When I arrived, I expected to find one female face surrounded by a sea of men. What I found was a community of women united under “rally mum” Sue Fossey. I spoke with the women behind/navigating the wheel to understand more about the JMC&LCC, as well as how a novice like me can get involved.

I don’t know much about cars, so I expected to feel pretty out of place at a rally. By some fluke I passed my driving test after doing a hill start for the second time ever. This luck didn’t carry through to my driving career, and there have been a few times where random strangers have had to take over for me. One of these was when I was approached by a Land Rover on a steep narrow road. Even my skinny Chevrolet Matiz was not getting through that gap. Despite my efforts, nothing worked. I revved. I made the passengers get out. I was convinced even Lewis Hamilton couldn’t get my car up that green lane. Eventually I just stuck my head out of the window and asked the woman in the Land Rover if she was any good at driving. Somehow (?) she saved the day. After hopping into Rory (yes, Rory the racing car) she took him further than I could, all the way up the hill. My little red toaster was practically purring from being in the hands of a competent driver for a change.

The worst was yet to come for poor Rory. I ran him into walls, poles and sometimes other people’s cars. My wing mirror was hanging on by duct tape and the engine was (literally) held together by string. The brake pads should have been changed 30,000 miles ago, and the battery frequently disconnected when it was jolted over pot holes at Splash. Honestly, Rory was the poster car for making MOTs a legal necessity in Jersey. One fateful night, he gave his last chug as the alternator finally gave up on us. He has since been released from any and all service, and has spent the last eight months rotting on my drive.

I’m glad I couldn’t drive Rory to L’Étacq on Saturday, for he would have felt completely inferior next to the other cars. If all automobiles are somehow related, Rory is a rally car’s fourth-removed, cousin-in-law’s, dog’s, mum’s, brother. I was surrounded by very cool looking machines which I couldn’t tell you anything about aside from the colour. I have since been informed that these were BMW e30s, Ford Escort mk2s, Subaru Imprezas and even a Ford Anglia. The last of which was Katie Le Noa’s car, the very woman I had come down to interview. I don’t know anything about it’s ‘how many seconds to how many mph’ statistics, but I can tell you it is very fast and I bet it feels very quick when you’re in it.

When I imagined the person under the helmet I pictured a thirty year old male with facial hair and probably some variation of a mullet. What I found was a beautiful down-to-earth brunette with a banging sense of humour. She competes with her husband Simon, and they’ve been in the rallying scene for as long as they can remember. With 15 years together, and 10 years in a car, the Le Noa’s have had their fair share of “husband and wife moments”. Whilst most of the time communication across the dashboard is impeccable, Katie let me know that occasionally messages get lost in transit. She laughed as she recalled one of these times: “I think it was last year, we were in the car and I was saying ‘hairpin left, hairpin left, hairpin left’, and he was going faster and faster towards the barriers… I was thinking, ‘are you listening to me?’ He wasn’t. He got an earful for that.” 

Fortunately everyone emerged unscathed – aside from Simon’s left ear and the barriers they bulldozed. She assured me that he is usually a fantastic driver, and that she has a whale of a time navigating their car.

The influx of female members at the JMC&LCC in recent years means they’ve earned themselves their very own female portaloo. I stopped Emma Falle (aka Ms Wizzy) on her way out of one of these. She’s a teacher at Grainville, and has seen around five students join the club after advertising it at school. Goretie Luis and Ashyanna Ball (23 and 24 respectively), are two young girls who went from spectator to navigator in a matter of days. Ashyanna bought all her gear within a month, and recently qualified to get behind the wheel. The dream is to drive with Goretie as the navigator, bringing a fully female crew to Jersey’s rallying scene.

Aside from the amazing women diversifying the sport, what really stuck out to me was the rallying community. It genuinely felt like one big family. People welcomed me with open arms, despite the fact I didn’t know what a navigator was and I hadn’t a clue about cars. The safety officers drove me to the best photo spots, and one of the marshals asked if I wanted a go at navigating. There are no egos, no conflict, just people who live and breathe cars. It’s an attitude that extends across borders – after Romany Stephens crashed, UK drivers offered a helping hand. When something goes wrong, it’s Mi Auto Su Auto – tools, parts and mechanics are shared. 

Why not give it a shot? Drivers are forgiving of newbies learning the ropes, an attitude that was confirmed by Kay Taylor: “everybody makes mistakes, you’re only human”. It doesn’t matter if you’re a guy or a girl, or even a total novice. Katie admitted she had no idea her first time, with her only navigation being a slightly hesitant ‘go?’. Now she whips round corners with Simon in a dazzling Ford Anglia. Everyone is always learning, and everyone is always getting better – on Saturday the Le Noas made an excellent hairpin left.

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