Barbara Armstrong 2009
June 2001 PowerTour programme interview
Ask Barbara Armstrong if she wants to be the best female racing driver and you'll get a pretty short answer. She wants to be the best racing driver. Gender is not an issue.
Those of you who know your motorsport will probably recognise Barbara as a rally driver, and you'd be right. But, never one to pass up a challenge, she has changed sides for 2001 and joined the ranks of the Michelin Porsche Cup racers. She is finding the roundy-roundy stuff an interesting experience.
"I got a phone call from Porsche last year asking if I'd be interested in going racing", she explains. "Rallying has been my life, and I'd never thought about racing. But we had a few meetings and got on well", she says. Porsche Cars GB wanted to promote a lady racer in the GT3 Cup cars that now dominate the Porsche Cup, and Barbara fitted the bill in several ways. Promotable, articulate and good with potential customers. Oh, and don't forget to add fiercly competitive and more determined than a Labour politician with an egg-thrower in his sights!
Havig rallied extensively both on tarmac and gravel, Barbara was contracted to SEAT last year, but it was a relatively quiet season. The chance to race for Porsche was attractive enough to tempt her away from her beloved rally stages.
"When I did the Peugeot Challenge we did a race and a rallycross, and I quite liked the rallycross because it was on gravel and tarmac, I thought that was excellent." she says. "Last August I knew I needed to get a deal together to carry on rallying and I needed a four-wheel drive car for the British Rally Championship. But I'd done the British CHampionships for 4 years so I thought a change was as good as a rest".
But this is a very different discipline, and the British racetracks are very different places to the forest tracks and tarmac lanes upon which Barbara has honder her driving skills.
"The transition has been quite difficult. You've got to be perfect every lap. I look at the moment Pete Chambers is a second a mile faster than I am, that's how you'd look at it rallying", she says with customary honesty. "What I'm not used to is going through log fast corners at high speeds. I don't want to be a loony and put myself in the barriers. I'm not on the limit yet on dry tarmac".
Fortunately, the tracks are familiar, even if the concept of racing is at odds with rallying, where it is the driver against the clock. "I've done track days for different manufacturers, so I know the way most of the tracks go. I knew the car and the team would be good, and everyone at Parr Motorsport has been great".
The fact that there is no one in the passenger seat during the race is another new sensation. "With racing, it's my driving ability. In rallying you and the co-driver are a team. All of a sudden when you're out there racing, it's your mistakes, unless someone drives into you! I'm not used to all of that". So, how is she finding the people in the Championship? "You can't ask me that", she says with a laugh. "I get on with most of them" she says carefully. "But when I go out and race, they are only cars. When I come back to the pits, they are people. But some of the men don't see it that way!
In rallying, we're all friends. We compete against the clock, not eachother, and if you go off whilst rallying either the car's broken or you've made a mistake. It's not as a result of someone else running into you. That's the bit I've suffered with over the opening races" reckons Barbara.
Of course, there is one question that just has to be asked. Is she conscious of being a woman racing against men?
"That gender thing doesn't bother me," she says without a moment of hesitation. "I'm out there to win. I don't want to win the ladies prize, I want to win".
So is this the start of a new career on the circuits, or does her love of rallying driver her to get back to that side of motorsport? In truth, it is a question that cannot be answered right now. What matters most for Barbara is to be driving competitively for a manufacturer and winning. Whichever discipline. "I'm very lucky because this is giving me two avenues. I can go back to rallying or I can stay in racing. Not a lot of people have that opportunity", she reckons. But just to show her new rivals what it can be like away from racing, she would love the chance to take all the Porsche drivers out in a rally car! Firmly strapped into the passenger seat, of course...........
So what about the prospect of Porsche Cup drivers tackling a rally stage? She just laughs out loud.