Sunday, 3 April 2016

Charlotte Berton


Charlotte (right) and Sabrina de Castelli with the Porsche 997 in 2015


Charlotte Berton has been French ladies’ rally champion four times, between 2010 and 2012, and in 2014.

Her rally career began in earnest in 2005, when she was one of the winning young drivers selected for the Rally Jeunes competition, alongside Sebastien Ogier. The following year, she was supported by the Peugeot factory, and competed in the Volant Peugeot one-make cup. Her car was a 206. It was a tough year for the whole Volant Peugeot field, as that season was marred by a series of accidents, involving both participants and spectators. It proved a steep learning curve for Charlotte, who was 26th in the Volant Peugeot standings. Her best result was thirteenth in class, in the Antibes-Azur National Rally. She was 30th overall, which was another personal best. Away from the championship, she had the honour of driving her Peugeot as a course car, in her “home” event, the Rouergue-Aveyron Rally.

A second season in the Volant Peugeot series seemed to suggest that the 206 did not really suit Charlotte. She could only manage a class fifteenth in the Le Touquet-Pas de Calais event, and 40th overall, as her best result. She was 30th in the championship.

A final year in the 206, in 2008, gave her a fifth in class in the Critérium des Cévennes, but she was only 97th overall. Her second attempt at her home rally sadly ended in a crash. She was not registered for Volant Peugeot points this year.

It was time for a change in 2009. She took a sideways step into the Suzuki Rally Cup, driving a Swift. Her new regular navigator was Cécile Pagès, the beginning of a partnership that still occasionally competes together. It was a decent debut in the Swift, and Charlotte improved steadily as the season progressed. Her best Cup finish was fifth, in the Rallye Le Touquet-Pas de Calais. She was 53rd overall. Her best rally, in terms of outright results, was her home event of Rouergue-Aveyron. She was 43rd, and sixth in class. At the end of the season, she was eighth in the Suzuki series.

2010 continued in a similar fashion, with Charlotte continuing to inch her way up the Suzuki standings. This year, at the Critérium des Cévennes, she scored her first Suzuki podium, finishing third. Her overall position was 45th. She also managed three more fifth places, and was fourth in the championship. This was enough to secure the first of her French Ladies’ titles.

In 2011, she mainly competed in the French Tarmac championship, mostly in the Swift and the Suzuki Cup, although she switched to a Ford Fiesta later in the season. This year, she won her first Cup rally, the Lyon-Charbonnières. She was 73rd overall. Two more Suzuki podiums gave her second in the championship. One of these was a third in the Rallye Antibes Côte d’Azur, in which she was also 23rd in the combined standings. She used the Fiesta in the Rallye du Var, and was 43rd.

At the start of 2012, she entered her first WRC round: Monte Carlo. She was 48th, ninth in class, in the Swift. That year, Charlotte moved away from one-make competition, although she continued to rally the Swift. In it, she won her class in the Rouergue-Aveyron Rally, and was 56th overall. Her other car this year was a Peugeot 207, which she did not get to drive much, although she finished the Lyon-Charbonnières Rally in it, in 57th place. She won a third Ladies’ title, and was 19th in the French Tarmac Championship.

A works drive beckoned for her in 2013, albeit not for one of the championship teams. GM were  using their new Opel Adam model to promote environmentally sound rallying, and picked Charlotte as one of their faces of eco-motorsport.. Her first outing was running as course car in the Rallye Le Touquet, but she was soon in action at the Lyon-Charbonnières. Her best overall finish was 27th in the Criterium des Cévennes, and she was also 28th in the Rallye National de la Plaine. Her new regular co-driver was Charlène Gallier. During the winter, she was also a guest driver in the Andros Trophy.

In 2014, she carried on rallying the Adam, and regained her French Ladies' championship, from Charlotte Dalmasso. Her best overall result was 35th, in the Limousin Regional Rally, and she was in the top twenty French Tarmac championship drivers on two more occasions. Her final position was fifteenth in the French Tarmac series.

The end of 2014 was something of a turning point in Charlotte’s career. She was becoming increasingly frustrated with one-make championships, and driving cars that had absolutely no chance of challenging for the top positions. Her Ladies’ titles were a consolation, but as her only real rival in 2014 was Charlotte Dalmasso, it was only a small one. The second factor that influenced her change of direction was one over which she had little control; a communications company pulled the plug on her sponsorship for 2015, and left her seriously lacking in funds, as well as some of her own money. Her deal with Opel France also ended abruptly.

For much of 2015, she did not rally at all, but the Yacco 2B team gave her a chance in September, offering her a seat in their Porsche 997 for the Mont Blanc-Morzine Rally. GT rallying in France was still quite new, but growing, and she relished the opportunity to drive a powerful car. In between, as preparation, she entered the Rouergue-Aveyron Rally in May. Her car was a Renault Clio. Although she liked the car, a mechanical problem meant that she could not finish the rally. She had set at least one top-ten stage time.
The Mont Blanc Rally was a worthwhile exercise. It was overshadowed by the death of a driver, but was allowed to finish. Charlotte won the GT10 class from six other drivers. She picked up another Coupe des Dames for her collection, and was 31st overall.

The Porsche drive did not lead to any more rally entries, but in October, Charlotte went back to the Clio. She was also reunited with Cécile Pagès as co-driver. The Clio suited Charlotte’s driving style, and she was 25th in the Criterium des Cévennes, seventh in class. At the end of the season, she was 30th in the Amateur Trophy, and 38th in the French Tarmac championship.

Since then, she seems to have made a move into the world of rally raids. In November 2015, she travelled to Qatar to take part in the FIA Women in Motorsport Cross Country Selection. The winner would receive a supported drive in the 2016 Sealine Cross-Country Rally. Initially, she was not one of the three winners, but Molly Taylor dropped out, and Charlotte will take her place, co-driven by Yasmeen Elmajed. She also plans to do some French tarmac rallies, and make her annual appearance in the Rouergue-Aveyron Rally.

She returned to that event in 2016, driving the Clio, and won the Coupe des Dames. She was sixteenth overall. 

(Image copyright DDM)

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