Interview with Ashleigh Morris

Guest blog by Thiemo Albers-Daly

Ashleigh Morris is a Scottish Rally driver who’s been a motorsport fan for as long as she can remember. But despite watching Formula 1 growing up, it was rallying that was going to win her over and give her the racing bug. From starting out at Knockhill to competing in the Jim Clark rally, Ashleigh’s making sure she gets everything ticked off her bucket list while also being rather successful at it.

We caught up recently for an in-depth chat about all this and more and by the end of it, I’m sure you’ll agree that there’s plenty of room for future installments too. Ashleigh is definitely a driver to keep an eye out for in the rally scene so just remember that you saw her here first on Is It Fast!

I hope you enjoy our conversation.

What first got you interested in motorsport?

I’ve been a motorsport fan since I was a child and watched F1 with my Dad but I didn’t know much about rallying. Then when I was a teenager my Dad sponsored a friend who rallied and I got a passenger ride with him in his rally car one day at Knockhill Racing Circuit and knew I wanted to give it a go. I sat my BARS test at Knockhill to get my rally license and started out in the co-driver’s seat for a few years before I turned to driving in 2016. I hired a car for the first year or so to see how I got on then bought my Fiesta in 2017. I had no idea quite how addictive it would be or how it would take over my life!

There’s so many different forms of motorsport out there – why did you choose rallying?

I felt drawn to rallying after that passenger ride at Knockhill – I just loved it. I have thought about trying racing and even went as far as sitting my ARDS test as we came out of lockdown – racing started up again more quickly than rallying and I thought about taking to the track for my motorsport fix. I also entered the Formula Woman competition last year for a chance to win a seat in the GT Cup which seemed like too good an opportunity to pass up. I got to the finals but then the dates clashed with a rally and I had to make a decision. My heart lies with rallying and I’ve worked too hard on it for the last few years to compromise that.

For me there’s nothing like rallying – nothing compares to the adrenaline of competing in the forests or on closed roads and I just don’t think I’d get the same buzz on a racetrack. I also love that rallying is a team sport – you’re out there as a driver and co-driver working together as part of a team and you win or lose together.

You go racing in your trusty Ford – any reason you’ve stuck with this car in particular and not switched vehicles?

Many reasons! I compete in a Ford Fiesta R200 and I absolutely love it! It’s based on the M-Sport Fiesta R2 and is a fantastic car. I’m also a huge ‘Fast Ford’ fan – my road car is a Mk3 Focus RS. My first few years rallying were spent competing in circuit rallying and I finished 2nd in class in the Motorsport News Circuit Rally Championship. If I’d stuck with that route I think I would have wanted to change to a car that’s a bit quicker and lighter by now. But I wanted to challenge myself so last year I made the jump to forest and closed road rallies in the Scottish Rally Championship. My car (affectionately known as JIG) is perfect for these events and it’s quick enough for me as I make that step up. There’s definitely more to come from my driving until I extract the most from the car.

That being said, it’s an older car now so it will get more difficult to get parts for. I think the next step for me would be a Rally 4 car in the next couple of years – I need to get used to left hand drive and driving a turbo car so that would be the logical next step.

At some point in the future I would also love to compete in an Evo or a Subaru – when I first got into rallying and went along to spectate they were at the top of the field, and I feel really nostalgic about them so I’d love to own one in future.

You’ve been a racing driver for a few years now – does that ever feel surreal to you?

All the time! It’s something I dreamt of for so long so I feel very lucky. Sometimes I put too much pressure on myself to do well and I need to remind myself just to enjoy it!

I had a ‘pinch me’ moment recently when I competed in the McRae Rally Challenge at Knockhill Racing Circuit. The rally commemorates Colin McRae becoming the youngest ever World Rally Champion and last took place in 2015. At that point I was co-driving in the event in a Metro 6R4 and it was before I started driving myself so I never could have imagined that the next time the event ran I would be invited to take part as a driver.

It was such an honor to take part in such a special event, with Jimmy, Alister and Max McRae also competing, and at my home circuit – I grew up 10 miles from Knockhill. A lot of my friends and family were able to come along too so it was an incredible weekend.

You were then SRC Ladies’ Champion in 2021 – how did it feel to achieve this?

I was really proud to win the Ladies’ title in my first year in the championship. I did a couple of gravel rallies in a different car when I started out but last year was my first closed road rally, first gravel rally in JIG and the first time I’d used pacenotes in years after years of circuit rallying.

We could only drop one score last year and I missed the Scottish Rally due to catching covid so I did feel the pressure on the last round to get a finish. The last rally was Carlisle Stages in Kielder Forest which are such iconic stages to compete on but they are referred to as ‘Killer Kielder’ and have some big ditches so I was very conscious of the fact that I needed to have a clean run to take the title. It was very special to win the title and great to be able to celebrate at the awards in January after so many years of cancelled events due to covid.

How is 2022 going for you so far?

It’s been a more challenging season this year! Last year we had a pretty uneventful season other than a couple of punctures, and finished every rally we entered.

We had a great start to the year this season at the Snowman Rally – it was my first time competing in that event and I was delighted to finish 3rd in class. We then moved on to the Speyside Stages and we were sitting 4th in class after stage 5 before we had to retire due to a mechanical issue.

I loved the Jim Clark Rally – it’s been on my bucket list for years so to be able to finally compete on such an iconic event was incredible. I was pleased with our pace but unfortunately we lost a lot of time on one stage due to a puncture after clipping a rock. Argyll went really well, I was pleased with how much I’d progressed versus my times last year but unfortunately we did end up in a ditch on stage 10! We were very fortunate to get pulled out by some spectators but it did mean a stage maximum for that stage.

Our most recent rally was the Scottish Rally where we returned to gravel. It was a tough event – very slippy and rough in places and a puncture cost us a lot of time. We’re on gravel for the rest of the season (three more rallies) and we did all three of those last year so it will be helpful to have last year’s onboard footage to watch back. Most of the rallies we’ve done so far this year were new to me.

I’m currently sitting third in class in the championship and if I could maintain that I’d be delighted.

Can you share a fun racing related story with us?

I can’t think of anything specific but there’s usually some funny moments when I watch back my onboard Go-Pro footage.  I had one stage on a circuit rally when I couldn’t see where I was going as the screen misted up so badly, and I was basing my braking points on the brake lights of the car ahead so I could only see his car when he braked!

I also make some interesting facial expressions when I’m competing and you can see it in the rear view mirror – from the expression on my face you can tell when we’ve had a bit of a moment!

If you could do your dream rally stage in your dream car, what would they both be and why?

It would have to be Vargåsen on Rally Sweden so I could experience Colin’s Crest. And it would be wrong to attempt it in anything but a Subaru!

If you could take any other motorsport driver for a trip in a rally stage, who would you love to accompany you? (Not as a co-driver, more of a joy ride).

I’d take Valentino Rossi! He’s such a legend and it would be incredible to meet him. He’d definitely be good fun to have in the car and he’s pretty handy in a rally car so hopefully I’d pick up some pointers!

If you could have another arm or another leg, which would you choose and why?

That’s a tough one to answer! I guess an extra arm so I could use the handbrake or change gear while still having two hands on the wheel. It could come in handy when trying to fix any mechanical issues or change a wheel too. I don’t have much use for an extra leg – with driving a sequential with flat shift I only use the clutch at the start of each stage.

Thanks again to Ashleigh for taking the time to chat and wishing you the best of luck for the rest of 2022 and beyond!

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