Byline: Rebecca Myers
"DAD won't appreciate me driving over his lawn," Catie Munnings grimaces as she pulls a handbrake turn and tears through the gate to her family home in Headcorn, Kent. Most dads don't want their teenage children driving over their lawns, but most daughters don't have their own rally track and cars in the garden.
Luckily, dad has previous. Chris Munnings was once a rally driver and ran the London Rally School at Brands Hatch so he's a little more understanding than most. His daughter has just become the FIA ladies European rally champion at the age of 18, winning her first rally in Ypres on the way to the title.
Munnings Jr fizzes with energy, all long brown hair, an enormous, bright grin and an infectious laugh. She yells at her dad to grab her driving gloves from her "rally drawer" in her bedroom and jokingly reprimands her mum for complaining that the ladies' trophy is smaller than the men's. A collection of her silverware glints on the kitchen table next to mugs of coffee.
It is only a year since she first drove a rally car.
Arriving in Morzine in the French Alps last September to do her first test with the French team Sainteloc, she was told by fellow British rally driver Chris Ingram, the 2016 ERC3 champion and runnerup to Marijan Griebel in the ERC Junior category, that she had "some balls".
She laughs at this. Of all the drivers at the Ypres stage of the European Rally Championship (ERC), she was the only woman to finish.
When she took to the wheel like a natural, her father was not surprised. "She would always be out with me if I was fixing a car, she would be out fixing it with me. One day, I was down in the woods with the quad bike ... I really went for it, slipping and sliding around. I got to the end and turned round and she was right behind me on hers. She was only about nine," he says.
He shakes his head in disbelief at the memory. "I couldn't have gone much faster myself."
Catie laughs and rolls her eyes. "I've still got a T-shirt from when I was five that says 'Outside helping Dad mend cars'. It's got holes and oil stains all over it."
It never occurred to Chris Munnings that his daughters would not want to play with cars. Women have always been integral to his own background as a rally driver: "I wanted Catie to have a female co-driver because I've always had female co-drivers and always thought they were better. I live in a house of women: they're good at multitasking, they just are."
He and his wife, Tracey, have plenty to be proud of after Catie also bagged an A*, A and B in her A-levels this year. The end of her exams freed her up to focus full-time on racing, something she had been impatient for. The day before her biology exam she had chosen to get a few hours on the track in Belgium rather than spending the time revising.
"It was in the middle of my A-levels and I was doing the Ypres rally. It was really tricky conditions and two cars had gone off ... We decided to test anyway and it was pouring with rain. People had cut into the ditches to get the faster line, so the mud sprayed up onto the road and it was like an ice rink. I was just unlucky I rolled the car. I had to forget about it, get on the Eurostar on Tuesday night and I sat my biology exam at 9am on Wednesday. I then had qualifying at 1pm back in Belgium."
When she isn't training in the gym or on the track, Munnings has been working with speed queen Susie Wolff on her Dare to be Different campaign to encourage more girls to get into motorsport. "I've been to her events at schools and we've had a stand with Sky Sports presenters and mechanics talking to girls aged 6-12. A lot of them haven't considered it before but they go away thinking they want to be racing drivers or engineers. Sometimes you just need to see somebody else doing it to realise that you could do it as well. I hope since I have won the trophy it will encourage more women into the sport. It's nice to win the award but it would be nice to have a bit more of a fight for it too."
Next year, Munnings will race with Sainteloc again in the ERC rallies, and this month she will head to Lapland to get used to driving on ice. She also works at her parents' corporate events company, instructing parties and stag dos in quad biking. She is tactful about the response of clients when they are confronted with an 18-year-old female instructor, but smirks as she points out that they soon realise exactly what they're up against: "I think I can handle it quite well."
Rallying call: Catie Munnings is racing with the Sainteloc team