Racing drivers are known for their precision, speed and ferocious competitive spirit, and rally driver Catie Munnings is no different. But despite this fearless reputation, the British racer doesn’t fill her days with high-octane pursuits and other daredevil antics. Instead, she spoke to Jalopnik about how disciplines like music and dance have helped hone her skills and keep her grounded.
The Andretti United driver grew up in a car-obsessed family and was first taught to race by her former-rally driving father, Chris Munnings. But, it isn’t just these years of off-road practice that have fine tuned her driving style.
Instead, the Extreme E racer believes a host of off-track activities helped maintain her focus and keep her level-headed as she rose through the ranks of motorsport.
“I would always play sports at school, I did Saturday school for dance, and there were lots of things going on outside of all that,” explains Munnings.
“But [driving] was just one of the things that I really enjoyed.”
Growing up, the British driver toyed with athletics, music and had an interest in going to veterinary school. But it was her father’s experience with racing that sparked her drive to pursue a life behind the wheel.
“He started his own motorsport entertainment company and that was like buggies and quad bikes, all of those sorts of things,” she explains. “It was very off-road based and I just grew up with that at the weekends.”
And, after learning from her dad and the other instructors, Munnings was soon hooked on off-road racing. It should come as no surprise, then, that it didn’t take much for her passion for anything on four wheels to go from a fun weekend activity to something she wanted to spend her life doing.
Munnings was soon enrolled in the Peugeot Rally Academy and entered the European Rally Championship with the Saintéloc team. Between 2017 and 2019, she racked up five podiums and two wins in the ERC, while also hosting a kids TV show in the UK.
Now, Munnings races for Andretti United in Extreme E. And, in the first season of the all-electric off-road racing series picked up a win at the Arctic X Prix in Greenland.
But, when she isn’t thrashing round a gravel track in some pristine corner of the globe, how does Munnings take a moment to relax? Well, apparently it’s all about finding the time to listen to music, take part in some sports or even escape it all with a bit of cross stitch.
“Oh god, I should not have said about that,” laughs Munnings when asked about her love of cross-stitch.
“I took it when we did some training in Dubai at the start of last year. It was something that I bought at a Christmas fair or something and I was just getting into it.”
The one-time attempt at one of the least-expected pastimes for a professional rally driver was short lived. And Munnings confesses that while she promised to stitch something for team mate Timmy Hansen by the end of the first season of Extreme E, she’s yet to live up to that pledge.
“Timmy likes to pick on me for that one, but he would, wouldn’t he,” she says.
While cross stitch might not be the go-to activity for Munnings, the off-road racer says practices such as this are important to help wind down after all the action of a weekend race.
As Munnings explains:
“That was another one of those classic things of how to switch off in the evening. Because I think it’s hard when we’re racing, we have so much info on track with all our engineers and there’s so much stimulus around us mentally that you’re really switched on. Then to come back in the evening, it is quite hard to switch your brain off. And I think you need to have that time otherwise you won’t get any rest. So for me, these are just the sort of techniques that I’ve picked up.”
But if not cross-stitch, what does Munnings like to do after a day spent thrashing ‘round the countryside in the fully-electric Odyssey 21 off-roader?
Well, it turns out the young Brit is pretty talented off the track as well as on it. Having been scouted for an athletics club at a young age, she also mastered a handful of musical instruments and has been a keen dancer throughout her life.
“Yeah, I was pretty much one of those kids that said I wanted to do everything,” she says.
“I wanted to do the heptathlon, but started with the pentathlon. So that was high jump, long jump, hurdles, running and a big variety and a lot of training. I loved it so much, but when I got into my GCSEs [the exams UK schoolchildren take at 16], I had to focus on that.”
That love of sports has stayed with Munnings ever since. And now, in the off season, she says she starts getting “itchy feet” after a day cooped up indoors in meetings or stuck behind a computer.
But you can’t exactly take a long jump track on the road with you. So what does Munnings do to relax when she’s touring the world with Andretti United?
“Something that I’ve really gotten back into recently is music,” she says.
“I used to be really into music at school and I used to play lots of instruments from quite a young age.
“I guess when you’re at home and you’ve got more time, you realize that you have let some things slip that used to be important. And I remembered how relaxing it was. It’s amazing how your body has that muscle memory and how it remembers to do things that you haven’t touched for years.”
For anyone counting, Munnings can play five instruments: flute, piano, cello, guitar and drums. But she adds that “flute was my main thing, I’ve been playing the flute for years.”
As well as playing instruments in her down time, Munnings also uses music as a means of relaxation prior to big races.
“I can’t get the stuff out and play by myself, and I probably wouldn’t want to. But I always find it very therapeutic having a playlist that I can take on the road with me,” Munnings says.
“I’ll just hear a song on the radio when I’m driving to a race or something and I’ll think ‘this is my song for this race’ and it’ll just stick in my head. That’ll be the song that I want to listen to before I get in the car to drive. And often, it’s like the most chilled out, old-school kind of song, it’s really not the one that’s aggressive.”
That’s because Munnings says by the time a race comes round, she’s already fired up on on adrenaline. So instead, needs something to calm and focus her mind ahead of the race. Because of that, more relaxed artists like Coldplay and Florence And The Machine help “bring it down a level” and “de-stress.”
As for standout tracks from last year, it’s an odd selection on Munnings’ playlist. There’s the aforementioned mix of Coldplay and Florence, which I’m always a fan of, as well as The Killers and ‘Lady Hear Me Tonight’ by Modjo.
“You’d recognize it, it’s an old one from the 2000s,” she assures me. “It’s one of the classic ones that you get out at a family party. I just heard it on the radio on the way down to Dorset (where Extreme E held its season finale) and I just found it really calming. So I just listened to that all weekend.”
But it might be more than just a calming influence that Munnings’ love of music has had on her career.
As with any interest, passion around the subject will always encourage you to practice and improve. And according to Munnings, that passion and drive spreads across everything from piano practice to off-road racing.