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Volkswagen works co-driver Pons: successful like no other

Girl power in a calm way: Fabrizia Pons, under contract to Volkswagen since 2002 and Jutta Kleinschmidt’s co-driver, is the most successful women in rallying altogether.

When the versatile Italian rolls across the start ramp at the Moroccan Rally, the third round of the Cross Country Rally World Cup held between 25th and 29th May, with Jutta Kleinschmidt in the Volkswagen Race-Touareg she will have the third Cross Country Rally World Cup victory in her sights. Pons celebrated five wins in the World Rally Championship before swapping to off-road rallying and is, as a result, more successful than the French woman Michèle Mouton, on whose side she made headlines during the nineteen-eighties in the Audi works team – with the first World Championship rally victory ever by women at the 1981 San Remo Rally and the Vice World Champion title in 1982.

However, she was not only successful together with other women: Pons also won in the Rally World Championship and in the Cross Country Rally World Cup together with her compatriot Piero Liatti and the Finn Ari Vatanen.
The Italian had her greatest triumph to date in January this year when she scored the first podium position for a diesel vehicle together with Jutta Kleinschmidt at the famous Dakar Rally for Volkswagen. "I fulfilled a dream at the finish in Lac Rose, because the ‘Dakar' has always been one of the classics for me, I'd dreamed of finishing on the podium for years”, says the graceful Fabrizia Pons. "It was, for the time being, the highpoint of a fantastic time that I am having with Volkswagen and Jutta.”
At 14, first jumps in motocross
Fabrizia Pons started her career at 14 on a motocross motorbike. "I loved motocross, but was never really good”, she relates. "Then I was operated three times on my ankle after a heavy accident and was told never to ride a motorbike again by my doctor. However, I couldn't imagine a world without motorsport and wanted to race.” Friends got her started again in rallying. She was successful for three years in the Italian Rally Championship and scored class wins as driver. With ninth place at the San Remo Rally, the Italian World Championship round, in 1978 she achieved something remarkable: Along with Frenchman Jean-Claude Lefèbvre, she is one of the two people to finish in the top ten as both driver and co-driver in the World Rally Championship's 33 year history. In 1979 Fabrizia Pons jumped into the passenger seat to become co-driver.
Most successful female duo with Michèle Mouton in rally history
At the beginning of 1981 the telephone rang at family Pons in Turin. "My name is Michèle Mouton and wanted to ask whether you would like to be my co-driver”, announced a woman's voice at the end of the line. Initially, Pons did not take the call seriously. "At that time Michèle was already famous. I thought that somebody was pulling my leg.” However, their paths did cross and they got together: Fabrizia Pons competed as co-driver to Michèle Mouton for Audi in the World Rally Championship. They were World Championship runners-up one year later. "Five great years”, says the 49-year old looking back over four wins and many top finishes among the world's elite. "It was a dream to be part of the Audi quattro's development from the start to the top of the podium, a dream which is now being repeated with Volkswagen.”
Priorities shifted in the middle of the eighties: "I got married and couldn't imagine competing in any more rallies. I stopped in 1986”, say Pons, who cut all connections with the sport at the time. "I didn't buy any magazines, didn't follow any rallies.” When son Ludovico and daughter Elisabetta were older, Pons returned to the rally scene. "At first I drove in historical rallies with a friend. When I noticed just how much time it consumed I decided I'd rather invest this time in real rallies.” While searching for a suitable cockpit, she took the initiative herself and selected one of the top drivers. "I knew that Ari Vatanen's co-driver had stopped, so I wrote Ari a letter of application. "The 1981 World Champion agreed: Between 1994 and 1996 they competed in the World Rally Championship together. Together with Vatanen in 1995, the Italian also crowned her Cross Country rallying debut with two wins at the events in Morocco and Portugal. In 1996 Pons changed back to compatriot Piero Liatti in the World Rally Championship and won the historical and world famous Rally Monte Carlo in 1997.
Michèle Mouton brought Jutta Kleinschmidt and Fabrizia Pons together
Visiting Michèle Mouton's 50th birthday party proved to be a stroke of luck. "I met Jutta Kleinschmidt there. We hit it off immediately and talked the whole evening.” The offer followed: Kleinschmidt/Pons have formed a strong team at Volkswagen since 2002. The final change from classic rallies to the cross country cockpit was a real challenge for Pons. "I was used to planning every detail in the WRC. Reading notes was as natural as breathing for me”, she says. "Cross country rallies are much more difficult, because so many unforeseen things can happen. You have to ready for anything and be able to improvise.” She feels comfortable alongside Jutta Kleinschmidt: "Jutta is a real professional, and it is fascinating that she knows just about everything about the car and cross country rallies.” The Volkswagen works driver returns the praise. "Fabrizia is always perfectly prepared, she studies the road book exactly and works tirelessly into the early hours on the route for the next day”, explains Jutta Kleinschmidt. "And I'm honestly impressed about the stresses and strains this delicate person can take.”
Privately Pons, who studied Architecture, likes culture and nature: The Italian, who lives together with her parents and children Ludovico (17) and Elisabetta (16) in Turin, has been singing for 18 years as soprano in a choir. "We've even produced a CD”, she proudly reports. Another passion is animals – especially her three cats.

VW Press Release

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