A rally co-driver since 1994, Ilka Minor has participated in almost 300 rallies, spending 12 years co-driving for Manfred Stohl. But her rallying career began almost by chance – and with a steep learning curve.
WHEEL SISTERS: Ilka, please introduce yourself.
Ilka: My name is Ilka Minor. I was born 30th April 1975 in Klagenfurt, Carinthia and have lived in Vienna since 1999. I started my career in 1994 and have held an Austrian rally license since then. I’m close to 300 rallies in total now and have taken part in 137 WRC events. I also did a couple of rallies in the European Championship and of course the Austrian Championship.
WHEEL SISTERS: Language dominates your whole life: It is said that, as a child, you didn’t speak until you turned four years old. Now you are one of the top rally co-drivers in the world and navigate your drivers confidently over the different special stages. Ilka, can you tell us about your way to success?
Ilka: I think being quiet might have helped me to develop in the sport. I try more to listen to people and take in the information I need to find the best common way.
I always try to prepare myself as best I can – no matter if it is the preparation for each event or the physical preparation.
I can easily adapt to my drivers – young or experienced, German-speaking or international drivers.
And I gain experience from all of them.
WHEEL SISTERS: What were the reactions of your family and friends when you decided to start your racing career?
Ilka: To be honest it wasn’t really fully my decision. I never in my life had the plan to do something in rallying. I had a relationship with my first driver at the time and he was looking for a co-driver after he had done his first two events with an experienced co-driver who stopped after these two rallies. We then started to search for a replacement but couldn’t find anyone in time for the start of the Austrian Championship in 1994. He asked me if I could go as a replacement for the start of the season and so I agreed. The plan was for me to only do one or two rallies until we found someone else. Anyway, we did a small press release and it appeared in the local newspapers. I showed the report to my family – they were a bit surprised but were also looking forward to it and supported me.
WHEEL SISTERS: What were your emotions and expectations at your first rally as a co-driver?
Ilka: I was just scared of making a mistake as I had no clue about co-driving. We only did some pacenote training a couple of days before the first event and that was about all I knew before we started. All the other things – handling the times, the service, the driver – I was like a new-born. I went through the learning process all by myself but maybe that wasn’t a bad thing.
WHEEL SISTERS: Many years later you can look back to great successes on a national and international level. Apart from all your prizes, what are you most proud of?
Ilka: That I can still do my job and that I can still adapt to my drivers as easily as I want to be able to. I’m very happy that I’m now in the position to help young people to start in our beloved sport and support them.
And I’m proud to play a small part as a role model for other girls in our sport.
WHEEL SISTERS: What was your worst setback? How did you overcome it?
Ilka: My worst setback was getting back after my two accidents I had together with Manfred Stohl – one broken leg in 2001 which took me out of the business from June until November and the second one in September 2010 when I broke my vertebra TH12. 2010 was my first year with an international driver, Henning Solberg, in the WRC and I was really worried that he would replace me. But our partnership in the car was already so good by then that there was no question for him that I won’t be with him anymore in 2011. So then we restarted together in Monte Carlo in January 2011.
WHEEL SISTERS: What does a normal working week look like for you? And what challenges do you have to deal with in your daily business?
Ilka: I’m still working freelance in the field I was educated in – I finished technical school focussing on machinery building, then moved into the field of waste water treatment and soil culture. I work doing AutoCAD design in that area.
Back in 2015 I trained as a personal trainer and I have a couple of clients I train with when I’m back home.
Of course, I also spend time preparing for my rallies and keeping myself fit. Most of my training I do in the early mornings so that I have the rest of the day for my other jobs.
WHEEL SISTERS: How do you prepare for a rally?
Ilka: As soon as I have the most relevant information from the organisers, I try to get familiar with the regulations. If the organiser also provides information about the itinerary and maps then it’s easier to prepare for the area and get the reconnaissance documents ready for the easiest way to the stages. Otherwise, I have to do this on the spot which means longer days and shorter nights. The more you can do from home the more relaxed you can start the event.
WHEEL SISTERS: What has had the biggest impact on improving your co-driving skills?
Ilka: When I started working with my first international driver.
When you’ve been co-driving for one driver for so long like I did with Manfred Stohl – 12 years – you know each other so well and everything becomes routine. There is not so much personal progress anymore – it’s a kind of standstill. So, when I moved on to the international drivers it was not only the language change it was also a new start in terms of working with different personalities.
WHEEL SISTERS: What do you think your drivers value most about you?
Ilka: The combination of professionalism and still having fun together.
WHEEL SISTERS: Opposite: What do you value most about your drivers?
Ilka: That they take me as I am. Nobody has ever asked me to change so I guess I’m doing something right 😉
WHEEL SISTERS: You love challenges and extreme sports – but where do you calm down and relax?
Ilka: Mostly in the countryside. I do a bit of trail running and ski mountaineering so the mountains are where I can recharge my batteries.
WHEEL SISTERS: Which rally do you love the most and why?
Ilka: I love the rough and hard gravel rallies the most. If I could choose, I would never go for a tarmac event. One of my first WRC events was Acropolis Rally Greece and this was so hard and hot and exhausting but I still loved every meter. I wouldn’t want to name any specific rally. Rallies with these characteristics are my favourites.
WHEEL SISTERS: There are not many women involved in WRC – why do you think there are so few?
Ilka: I have no real answer to that.
WHEEL SISTERS: What were the particular challenges for you as a woman in motorsport?
Ilka: I never had any specific challenges apart from when you need to go for a loo break in Sweden at minus 20 in the snow and you have to take your overalls off. Or at the Dakar when you see a dune, think you can go behind it and it disappears when you walk there… 😉
WHEEL SISTERS: Have you experienced any sexism when racing, if so, how do you deal with it? Does it bother you?
Ilka: Luckily, I have always had the full respect of the guys. Some joking around but nothing that would have bothered me.
WHEEL SISTERS: What are your private and sporting goals in the upcoming months or years?
Ilka: This year I’m looking forward to taking part in the Middle East Rally Championship for the first time – going to interesting countries like Jordan, Lebanon, Cyprus, Kuwait and Oman. Something new for me.
I also want to work with young drivers now and in the future to hopefully help them to develop.
And I still try to enjoy and love rallying with all the ups and downs that you meet on your way.
WHEEL SISTERS: What else would you like to tell us?
Ilka: Be strong and go your own way – and enjoy every single day!