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Meet Anglia Motor Sport Club's Laura Cooledge, 23 - a rally co-driver who is changing gear on gender representation in motorsport



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‘It’s a man’s sport’ and ‘with an arse like that all you should be doing is being a grid girl’.

These shocking negative and sexualised comments were reported to rally co-driver and Women in Motorsport Ambassador Laura Cooledge, 23, when she decided to investigate why women are so under-represented in motorsport as part of her undergraduate dissertation.

A statistic that only five per cent of Motorsport UK licence holders are female had resonated with her, and Laura, Anglia Motor Sport Club (AMSC) development officer, also had first-hand experience of inappropriate comments.

Laura Cooledge is a Women in Motorsport Ambassador, affiliated with Anglia Motor Sport Club
Laura Cooledge is a Women in Motorsport Ambassador, affiliated with Anglia Motor Sport Club

She said the worst ones that stuck in her head included when she was aged around 15 or 16 and she received sexualised comments online after an event, and also that people would give her tips, but not her brother, even though she was beating him.

From an early age, Laura attended motorsport events where she watched her parents John and Louise rally together, so she said it was ‘natural’ that she got involved.

When she was 14 she began competing in Production Car Trials, or Car Trials, which is grassroots level and where competitors use normal road cars, ‘in a little Citroën Saxo’ and then at 16 she became a rally co-driver.

She joked that she kicked her mum out of the seat and started competing with her dad, at first at single venue stage rallies and then multi-stage, going all round the country, and also taking part in forest rallies.

Laura, from Ipswich, said when she first started taking part in events at 14 not only was she the youngest participant, but generally the only female competing – however, having her family and friends around made her feel more comfortable.

Laura Cooledge is a rally co-driver. She is pictured here with her dad John
Laura Cooledge is a rally co-driver. She is pictured here with her dad John

“It was always a little bit intimidating,” she said. “I was lucky because I had those role models.

“Things weren’t as bad for me because I had my mum and dad and they were with me at events and that was great, but certainly I remember facing negative comments at some events – something probably that a man wouldn’t have thought was a bad thing, they might have thought it was banter or a joke, but they wouldn’t say that to anyone else.

“It was like, you would get treated differently or people wouldn’t see you as being serious. They would sometimes be a bit condescending or they wouldn’t treat you like a serious competitor when I was equally good.

“It was just a case I was young and female and that was a double whammy – people don’t see you in the same light when we want to be there and seen as any other competitor.”

Laura launched the Better Together initiative, leading on from her dissertation about the under-representation of women in motorsport
Laura launched the Better Together initiative, leading on from her dissertation about the under-representation of women in motorsport

Because of her experiences and driven by a desire to get more women involved in the sport, she made under-representation the focus her University of East Anglia dissertation in 2019.

She spoke with more than 150 women in the environment across the UK in a range of disciplines, including right up to elite-level motorsport, and there were some ‘really shocking’ findings, with key ones including:

n 47 per cent of women have felt uncomfortable while competing, volunteering or working within motorsport.

n One in four women have felt excluded from competing, volunteering or working in motorsport because of their gender.

Laura Cooledge with her friend Laura Christmas, who she teams up with for some events
Laura Cooledge with her friend Laura Christmas, who she teams up with for some events

Her research also unearthed that women felt really uncatered for in terms of facilities, like toilets at events, and racewear. Laura knew her experiences, but her work revealed the extent it was going on.

She gave her findings to AMSC clubs and enlisted other female role models in the area, including Laura Christmas who she's in an all-female crew with for some events, and they set up a group – made up of men and women – to make the environment safer and more inclusive.

This led to the Better Together initiative, featuring a social media campaign video that achieved 17,000 views on Facebook and went international.

Laura is now seeing ‘big differences’ in the motorsport environment: clubs across the country have adopted their code of conduct; clubs and event organisers are now ensuring there is a female toilet at every event; clubs understand to take down derogatory social media comments straight away and the initiative has helped clubs to establish better safeguarding procedures.

Better Together was featured in the Women in Motorsport exhibition at Coventry Transport Museum
Better Together was featured in the Women in Motorsport exhibition at Coventry Transport Museum

Better Together, which aims to make club motorsport more inclusive and accessible for all, also ‘somehow’ ended up in the Women in Motorsport exhibition at Coventry Transport Museum.

“That was really, really amazing,” said Laura, a community engagement officer with Ipswich Borough Council. “We had known small changes were happening, but that was just a real milestone to have our work featured there.”

Motorsport has certainly turned a corner, but accepting her work is not done, Laura will continue to steer change.

Motorsport East event

People have the chance to meet Laura at the Motorsport East event in Bury St Edmunds town centre on July 24.

Laura Cooledge at Snetterton
Laura Cooledge at Snetterton

She will be commentating and chatting to attendees alongside Bury Free Press motorsport columnist Arthur Debenham, as well as being part of the Anglia Motor Sport Club (AMSC) stand.

In her role as an ambassador for AMSC, which includes West Suffolk, Laura will be promoting grassroots motorsport to try to encourage more people – particularly women – to get involved. She feels visibility is an important part of girls and women even seeing the sport as an option.

Former world champion rally driver Michèle Mouton is a high-profile female role model in the sport, but Laura said in her lifetime ‘I haven’t really seen any real strong women [on the world stage] showing the men how to do it’.

Laura began competing in motorsport, aged 14, in Production Car Trials in a 'little Citroën Saxo'
Laura began competing in motorsport, aged 14, in Production Car Trials in a 'little Citroën Saxo'

Laura, who takes part in rallies as a hobby, said people don’t need lots of money or equipment to get involved.