Australian rally driver Molly Taylor began racing at the age of 16, quickly impressing and moving up the motorsport ladder. After multiple championship victories, she moved to the UK before competing in the European and Junior World Rally Championships. After returning to Australia in 2015 and becoming a Subaru factory driver, she won the 2016 Australian Rally Championship. This year sees her take on a new electric challenge with the Rosberg Xtreme Racing team in the inaugural season of Extreme E. I spoke to her about this, her career and why sustainability is so important.
Coming from a motorsport family, Molly’s interest in sport began when she was young. Her mother was a four-time Australian Rally Champion co-driver, with her father running a rally school. Despite this, her interest in motorsport didn’t come until she was older. “My parents met through motorsport with my Mum getting into the sport through her Dad so I’m the third generation in rallying. I was actually horse-riding when I was little and I wanted to go to the Olympics. It wasn’t until I was getting my road license, that me and my sister got involved. My Dad wanted us to know how to control the car if it slid, and just be safe drivers on the road. I fell in love with it so sold my horse and bought a rally car,” she said. Having not really considered the sport until then, Molly soon adored the feeling of racing. “It was such a buzz! The feeling of driving the car and sliding around on the gravel, it was so much fun. That’s when the competitive side comes out too and it just snowballed from there,” the Australian driver explained.
The start of her competitive career came not long later, with Molly soon moving on to larger events. “I was working for my Dad and driving the cars at lunchtime, I then started doing some autocross, trying to build up to my first rally. When I did my first rally, I crashed 19 kilometres in! I began competing at a local level, then state rallies and after a couple of years, I moved to the national level,” she told me. Following in her mother’s footsteps, Molly went on to enter the Australian Rally Championship, though in the F16 category. She took the championship title in 2007, before repeating this the following year. “I was just finishing school and thought now was the time to see how good I could be,” she described. With two championships under her belt, in 2009 she turned her attention to racing in the UK. Leaving Australia wasn’t an easy decision for Molly, however there were multiple, more affordable series in the UK that gave her the opportunity to prove herself. “The beauty of the UK was that they had a lot of one-make series that were really cheap to run with everyone in the same car, so you could really benchmark yourself against the best. I remember arriving and I didn’t have any money and I didn’t know anybody. It wasn’t quite the fairy-tale I had told myself, but definitely the most worthwhile thing I did,” the rally driver said.
After two seasons in sub-series of the British Rally Championship, Molly’s success earned her a place in the Pirelli Star Driver Program in 2011, going on to secure a scholarship to compete in the FIA World Rally Championship Academy and taking her maiden stage win in the category in the Wales Rally GB. “That was really pivotal,” she said. “I had been progressing up the ladder, but I was doing it all on a shoe-string budget.” By winning the scholarship, this gave Molly a fully funded season, something that she never thought would be possible at that point in her career. “When the Academy came around, there was no way I would’ve been able to afford WRC so it was huge and really helped change everything,” she told me. The following year she raced in the European Rally Championship before winning the inaugural European Ladies Rally Championship in 2013. In 2014, she competed in the Junior WRC, taking to the podium in the notoriously difficult Rally Finland and therefore becoming the first woman to do so. “The events were longer and it was a different dynamic. There’s more pressure and competition, so it was more of a challenge in every way but then you also learn more too. When you go up to the next level, it’s like taking the next step in any career,” Molly told me.
2015 saw a change for Molly as she returned to Australia. After previous plans she had made fell through, another possibility appeared, leading her to also return to the Australian Rally Championship. “It started as quite a turbulent time, I was hoping to do a full Junior WRC season, but that didn’t happen. I got an opportunity in Australia which turned out to lead to a factory drive with Subaru. It was quite the turnaround from not being able to find sponsors to this being my actual job,” she explained. The first year was very successful for Molly and her team with them finishing second in the championship, however this success was quite unexpected. “In the first year everything was new. Race by race we were trying to learn, get some points and not focus too much on the end result and we ended up being really consistent. It was a big lesson for me about focussing on the process and not getting caught up in the pressure, because success will come,” Molly said.
Although 2015 was a great year, she bettered this the following season taking the championship title. “It was pretty surreal!” she told me. “I learnt so much from that experience, and the next year we were very close to doing back-to-back championships so the elation was followed by heartbreak. I think that makes you appreciate what goes into winning and then apply that in the future, and now with Extreme E.” As she has mentioned, Molly will take part in the inaugural season of Extreme E later this year. The all-electric championship will race in remote locations in order to highlight the effects of climate change on the environment globally. Her first involvement came when the championship was setting up a driver programme, before being approached by Rosberg Xtreme Racing (RXR). “I got an email from Nico Rosberg and thought it was a prank! I replied but I still wasn’t sure. He then facetimed me and I was a bit taken aback. You could just see how passionate he was about the racing, but also the sustainability side. It was very exciting to have that possibility,” she explained. Molly was also impressed by the team the 2016 F1 World Champion had set up, seeing an opportunity to develop her racing. “Nico knows what it takes to win. I felt his experience would help me as a driver. The team all have that same passion for the sport and with Johan (Kristoffersson) as a teammate, there will be so much I can learn. There’s also the work that Rosberg Xtreme Racing are doing outside of Extreme E which is really genuine so it’s very motivating,” Molly described.
Sustainability is an extremely important part of Extreme E, and was also a factor in Molly wanting to get involved in the championship, with her saying: “electric mobility is going to be the future; you can’t stick your head in the sand to what’s going on in the environment. As motorsport fans, we need to adapt and have a positive impact. It’s very exciting to be at the forefront and see how that takes shape. Five years ago, this opportunity didn’t exist!” This also means that testing of the cars is quite limited, and with the teams unable to test in the locations before they race there, this means that preparation will be key. “Given everything about this series is new and much of it still unknown, it will be important to adapt quickly. Putting myself in as many new environments, cars and tracks will be an important element of improving my ability to thrive in these environments, from the desert of Saudi Arabia to the arctic conditions in Greenland,” she explained. However, she is hoping that her past experience in rallying will come in useful, with Extreme E racing off-road. “A lot of rallying is adapting to changing conditions and environments. Although you have pace notes in rally, you are also always adjusting to the conditions and road as you see it. Extreme E will be my first time competing in an electric car; the RXR ODYSSEY 21 is like nothing I’ve ever driven before but with 400 kW (550bhp) it’s a whole lot of fun to drive,” she said.
With Extreme E a new experience for everyone involved, Molly is looking forward to what this year will bring. “I think it’s going to be an incredible adventure and I can’t wait to be part of such an amazing team. We have set lots of big goals on both the racing and sustainability side. Extreme E is the first sport to be built out of a social purpose, and I’m looking forward to taking on the responsibility, along with the team, to help inspire and empower people around the world to fight climate change,” the Australian driver told me. Being part of this pioneering championship is also one of her career highlights, along with some of her past championship wins. “Achieving a Junior WRC podium in Finland and taking the Australian title in 2016 would have to be some of the top moments. To be part of Rosberg Xtreme Racing and Extreme E is also something I’m incredibly proud of,” she described.
Having raced in multiple championships, won several titles and faced many challenges along the way, Molly Taylor is surely a role model for many. Speaking of her advice for those interested in getting involved in motorsport, she said: “firstly, go for it! It’s an amazing sport and community, and secondly, I would say not to be intimidated. Once you are involved you will quickly see how much support there is around you and it really is like a big family. It certainly takes a lot of hard work too, so be ready for that, but also remember to always keep it fun!”
Heading Photo Credit: Rosberg Xtreme Racing