Elizabeth Skerritt takes the hot seat and burns rubber for a women-only rally

"Oh, please let me come! I'll wear a dress!" Are my ears deceiving me? A male friend has just pleaded with me to let him dress up as a woman. Amazing what the lure of rally driving can do, but the Women in the HotSeat Rally Challenge is exclusively for women.

"Oh, please let me come! I'll wear a dress!" Are my ears deceiving me? A male friend has just pleaded with me to let him dress up as a woman. Amazing what the lure of rally driving can do, but the Women in the HotSeat Rally Challenge is exclusively for women.

I had been invited to Newark for the first day, and Round 1, in a series of racing events organised by the professional rally driver Kate Heath. Along with her enthusiastic team, she hopes to encourage more women to take to the rally circuit, and to find the most talented female driver in the country, whose prize will be a fully prepared rally car.

What became clear from my day out was that I am not going to be that lucky chick. The last time a person with a clipboard sat in the passenger seat of a car I was driving was during my test. I shook then, and I was shaking again now as I held the clutch at biting point for my countdown. I revved the engine, too much the instructor told me. I let it go slightly but gravel was still flying in all directions as I pulled off the start.

To my surprise, I got a pretty quick time round the course, which involves ducking in and out of cones, improving from 52 seconds on my first attempt to 39 seconds on my last. Certainly, this is down to the patient and clear advice from the instructor, and perhaps a sugar rush from the chocolate biscuits laid on.

Next was a lesson in how to master handbrake turns, which, as I found out, can come quite easily when turning in one direction, but completely baffled me when turning anticlockwise. Thankfully, on the final course, which put into practice the various elements we had learnt, the instructor applied the handbrake at the hairpin, which, says Kate, she has her co-driver do in all her races.

I was let down by my speed, which caused me to spin off course into a row of tyres, each resulting in a five-second penalty. The lesson I learnt is that rally driving is not sheer speed but adaptability, team work and fitness. Real races go on for an average of 40 miles, which is both mentally and physically exhausting. Some participants had done rally driving before, which was taken into account in the scoring. Only 20 per cent will be invited back, for the second of three rounds, after the first rounds finish in September, and even winning on the day doesn't guarantee getting through.

For the chance to win a Women in the HotSeat Rally training session, worth £169, e-mail your details to motoring@independent.co.uk by 8 April. On 14, 15 or 29 April, The Showground, Newark, Nottinghamshire

Search for used cars

Comments