Sister's passion for speed the inspiration for French ace Muller
Who said racing should be left to the men and cheering to the women? Yvan Muller's biggest inspiration came not from his father or a male figure, but from a woman who taught him almost everything from finding racing lines to achieving physical fitness.
Muller owes a fair share of his success as a two-time title-holder of the World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) to his sister, Cathy, who ignited young Muller's passion for the sport more than 20 years ago.
Cathy was a professional racing driver long before Muller knew his transmission from his suspension, and it was she who inspired the Frenchman to believe he could some day become a successful racer.
'Cathy was my inspiration when I was young, because she was older than me [by seven years] and I was always going to see her race. I have learnt a lot from her and from the races I attended,' Muller, 42, said.
Cathy enjoyed some successes, spending two years in the now-defunct Formula 3000 series in Europe before retiring from the sport to raise a family in 1988. She still advises her prot?g?but Muller has done very well for himself.
As one of only five Frenchmen to have won a FIA-sanctioned event (former F1 champion Alain Prost, ex-rally king Didier Auriol and former world racing champions Yannick Dalmas and Jean-Louis Schlesser are the other Frenchmen to join this elite club), Muller knows his place among the all-time French greats will be more secure if he clinches his third WTCC title inside four years in Macau.
Muller leads arch-rival Robert Huff of Britain in the WTCC standings with two races to go. The Frenchman has 400 points to Huff's 380. However, with a maximum 50 points up for grabs in the two-race season finale in Macau, Muller will stop at nothing to stand on the victory podium again.
'I have to win. I'm not at all interested in second place. I have already finished twice as [world] champion and twice as runner-up. My goal is to be champion again,' said Muller.
The 1992 British Formula Two champion, who switched to touring cars in 1994, won last year's WTCC title in Macau without having to turn on his ignition. Muller was declared champion after his BMW rivals had points deducted for using an illegal six-gear sequential gearbox in the previous race. But this time, Muller won't have the luxury of being declared the winner before the season finale. He must duke it out with Huff until the bitter end.
'To become world champion you have to be good the whole year, not only in Macau. Honestly, I would prefer being crowned world champion before Macau ... the earlier the better!' said Muller, who admitted to being slightly apprehensive ahead of next weekend's races. 'If I won the title before Macau, I would be given the opportunity to enjoy the races without the pressure of putting everything at stake there. That's not going to happen this time.'
Muller will at least be racing on one of his favourite tracks, which he called 'most challenging' and one that leaves no room for error.
'Macau is a special street circuit because you find every kind of corner there. You have the fastest and the slowest corners of the whole [WTCC] season. You have a hairpin, a narrow track and a long straight. It is amazing and also very demanding on the driver. You have to push yourself pretty hard and at the same time, try not to lose concentration,' he said.
Muller has always been competitive. Apart from winning the WTCC title twice (he was also champion in 2008), the Frenchman is a legend at the Andros Ice-Racing Trophy series (held across ski resorts in France), winning it 10 times in a row out of 11 outings between 1996 and 2006.
His record-breaking success in the series led organisers to ban him because they felt he had monopolised the event for too long.
'I don't think I will compete in that series again, mainly because the promoter banned me after I had won the title too many times. He just told me, 'Don't come again because we will reject your entry'. And now that his series is losing interest, he would like to have me back. But I will not go,' said Muller, obviously angered at the snub.
Apart from competing in 12 race meetings all over the world in the WTCC, plus testing and undertaking public relations work for his team, Chevrolet, the Frenchman has also appeared in a short film, helping to promote the Chevrolet Camaro as part of his duties of being a two-time world champion.
'That tied me down for some time,' said Muller of his starring role. 'I was also helping organise the French WRC [world rally championship] and on top of that I had to take care of other business outside of motor racing. Yes, for sure my year was quite full!'
Even at the ripe old age of 42, Muller, who is a former French and British Touring Car champion, has no plans to retire just yet.
'I will carry on driving until people don't want me to race for them. If I am [world] champion this year, I will definitely go for a fourth title in 2012 because this is what my team pays me for.'