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The best of both worlds

Phala Ayme and Laura Wardle are both active in leading roles in their Porsche Clubs. They share a passion for Porsche vehicles. But they each express this in their own individual way, as they find out when they meet for the first time on the Harewood Hill hillclimb track.

What a fantastic view over the meadows and fields of Yorkshire. Despite the heavy, cloudy skies on this day in July. Phala Ayme has turned up the collar of her warm puffer jacket. She arrived here in central England from the summer heat of Provence just yesterday, and now she is standing in the finish area at the top of the Harewood Speed Hillclimb Championship track, from where you have a fantastic view of the open expanse of the Wharfe Valley and the entire course. One after the other, the participants race against the clock on the just under 1.5-kilometre-long track. Always attempting to set a new track record, or perhaps also just looking to slightly improve their own personal best. Phala is particularly interested in the next starter: Laura Wardle in her white Porsche 911 Carrera, competing for the Porsche Club Great Britain. The two of them had never met before: Phala, President of the Porsche Club Portes de Provence in sunny Montélimar, club initiator of the “Nougat Cup”, as well as the ladies-only “Rally Ladies”. And Laura, Board Member of the Porsche Club Great Britain, who is competing here at Harewood Hill against sixteen fast ladies and well over a hundred men.

They have never met before -– but their shared passion for Porsche unites them.

This weekend, the two Porsche enthusiasts want to find out what unites them across all individual preferences and boundaries. Because their driving preferences are as different as their biographies. Phala
prefers to drive through the summer landscapes of southern France in an open-top Porsche convertible and to compete in special stages that require the highest degree of precision. When Laura is behind the wheel of her Porsche, there is only one thing that matters: speed. What they do have in common, though, is their appreciation of the community spirit among other Porsche Club members in their sporting activities – because this is also how they got to know each other. They also share the fact that they both go up against the clock in their respective events.

Somewhat hidden between meadows and fields, the drivers go hunting for the winning seconds.

The weather forecast for the race weekend was mixed as usual in England, and the track on the northern slope of Harewood Hill was damp in the early morning before the sun had the chance to dry it out to create ideal conditions. It was therefore no surprise that Laura’s first sprint through the “Esses”, the 90-degree “Willow” turn, “Farmhouse Bend” and the “Orchard” hairpin bend was rather disappointing with an overall time of 74.63 seconds. She fell short of her personal best time by several seconds. Phala was nevertheless excited by her first time at a hillclimb race, a race format that is quite common in Great Britain: “Until now, I’ve only known Porsche cars at racing speed from events on the Circuit Paul Ricard. If I’m honest, I always have quite a lot of respect for this and usually only drive with an instructor who tells me exactly what I have to do at which point. Maybe I should just do it more often in future!” “Why not?” Laura says in encouragement, before getting ready for her next run and explaining to Phala once more exactly what safety equipment she needs for her sport. “That’s quite a lot!” laughs Phala, who usually only needs a cap as protection against the Mediterranean sun for her trips in the open-top convertible. “Why don’t you take part in our next Ladies Cup and enjoy driving with us in a sporty and relaxed way?”

Laura Wardle gets ready for her next run. Will she be able to break her personal record this time?

Laura thinks that is actually a very good idea. After all, it would be a change from chasing hundredths of a second on hillclimb tracks, where she shares the cockpit with Jonathan, who has been her racing partner and mentor for more than forty years since her first race track experience: “That was in 1981 on the Wiscombe course, not far from where I lived at the time,” she recalls. It was pouring with rain, and my
recently purchased red Porsche 911 with its beautiful light-coloured interior was the only ‘civilian’ vehicle in the paddock. So all my friends sat with me in the car to shelter from the rain. And of course, my light-
coloured interior looked rather the worse for wear as a result. See, they said, if you hadn’t come here in your road car and had been taking part in the race yourself, that wouldn’t have happened to you. And so I decided to compete in my first hillclimb the following weekend in Gurston Down.” In 1986 she won the British Women Racing Drivers Club championship. That was a very special moment: “Derek Bell personally presented me with the cup at the end of the season.” For a few years, things followed a regular pattern. At the weekend, she was out on the hill in the hunt for seconds and trophies in her white 1972 race car with its 3.2-litre engine, which also featured a number of other major modifications. During the week, she drove her red 911, which she also used to take her daughters to school. But when they became too big for the car one day, she sold the red Porsche. And she also took a break from hillclimb racing with the 911. Before returning to the sport with even greater commitment twelve years later: “In my first race after the break, I was only 50 hundredths slower than in my best times. Jonathan had kept on driving our old racing 911, so it was almost as if I had never stopped. In any case, he was very impressed!”

There is something very familiar about hill climbs in England. After racing up the hill, the vehicles got prepared for their next run.

Phala listens with interest to Laura’s stories and says: “My path to the Porsche Club was also anything but normal. A convertible lover, my husband invited me to try and buy a 964, but it was too big and difficult for me to drive. Attracted by modernity and comfort, I preferred a Boxster. Even though, honestly I had no idea about cars. Later I changed it to a 997, because for my husband the only real Porsche is a 911, then a 993 which I still have both. My husband had an old Ferrari in the garage, but he rarely drove it. Driving wasn't that important to him, it was more about owning a rare car. I said to him, 'Why don't you sell the Ferrari since you're not driving it anyway and buy yourself a Porsche that you actually use?’ That's how we ended up looking for a third Porsche“. Her favourite type of cars? “Cabriolets”, she is quick to admit. No wonder, when you consider that the hours of sunshine in Provence make open-top driving a real pleasure. When she was asked in 2010 whether she wanted to be involved in setting up a Porsche Club in Montélimar, she agreed straight away. A few weeks later, they already had the 30 members they needed. She was elected Secretary of the Club three years ago, and she has been its President since the beginning of the year – one of only three female Porsche Club Presidents in France.

Phala can certainly imagine trying racing herself one day.

It’s no wonder that she puts a special stamp on her Club with her feminine perspective. And not just by organising the first nationwide women-only Porsche Club Rally, with which she wants to make the Club even more attractive to outsiders. “It’s really important to me that our Porsche Club in Montélimar is a bit like a family.” “An interesting idea, but how do you do that?” Laura wants to know. Phala says that if you think about it a little bit, “it’s not really that difficult”. “At the annual ‘Nougat Cup’, for example, our participants do not stay in hotels; they stay with other Porsche Club members in their homes. This automatically creates a friendly, family-like atmosphere.” “Probably just like the family spirit we have here at Harewood Hill among the participants of the Hillclimb Championship,” jokes Laura. Even though everyone here naturally wants to be the fastest and take home one of the trophies.

This weekend, however, Phala is standing off the track. And keeps her fingers crossed for Laura.

But for this, everything has to be just right for at least one run. In the afternoon, the track dries up and the heavy rain clouds give way to bright sunshine. However, it is still much too cool for Phala’s liking. And Laura continues to search for the four seconds that still separate her from her personal record during the final run of the day. “It doesn’t matter, today was just for fun. But tomorrow it’s all about the points for the championship – I’ll really go for it then,” she says, letting her competitive spirit shine through. And Phala promises to stand at the top of the hill again and keep her fingers crossed for her. Under the condition that Laura accepts her invitation to the next “Nougat Cup” in September. Four seconds difference would suffice only for a place right at the back of the field in the regularity rally. But Laura also knows how to fight for one-hundredths of a second – and each of the ten turns on Harewood Hill offers a new chance to do so.