The women past and present of the infamous Dakar Rally
It’s almost time for the 44th edition of the famous Dakar endurance rally which will take place in Saudi Arabia. To celebrate the start of this historic event, Females in Motorsport wants to highlight some of the sensational women who’ve raced and are racing in the iconic rally.
Getting to grips with Dakar
The Dakar Rally might be new to some people, so it deserves an explanation. It’s an annual rally, held since 1979, and might be the most famous rally raid in the world. It started off as the “Paris-Dakar Rally'' and, originally, the drivers competed on a route that started in Paris, France, and ended in Dakar. Since 2009, it has been staged in different countries and unfolds on different types of terrain.
The race is a total distance of a whopping 8,000 km and thus the drivers’ abilities are certainly tested. On top of that, the competition is unique because both amateurs and professionals are allowed to compete and the competitors are also allowed to race across several different categories. The five major categories are motorbikes, quads, cars, lightweight vehicles and trucks.
Before we look at the 44th edition, it’s important to look at the history of the sport and take a look at the women who paved the way in the world-famous endurance rally.
When we’re talking about women in Dakar, we have to start with Jutta Kleinschmidt. Jutta is known for her numerous showings in the rally, and notably for becoming the first woman to win a stage of the Paris Dakar Rally in 1997. On top of that, she became the first woman to win overall in 2001 and the only German to win the car category. To this day, she’s the first and only woman to have ever won a Dakar Rally. In 2013 she was named an FIM Legend for her achievements, which she thoroughly deserves.
Another legend in the rally is Cristina Gutiérrez, who’s getting another taste of the Dakar Rally before she returns to Extreme E. She became the first woman to win a Dakar stage since Jutta, winning stage one in the lightweight vehicles category in 2021. Cristina was also the highest placed female driver in 2018. This will be her fifth consecutive outing, so she’s ready to score tremendous results in her competitive category.
When talking about this historic rally, Laia Sanz deserves a mention. She has the record of best female finisher in the bike category and is one of the best female competitors in the history of the rally, managing to finish every rally she started. In 2016, she achieved her best-ever finish, finishing ninth overall on a Honda. That was - and is - the best finish ever for a female rider.
The 2022 edition
Now that the historic names have been covered, which incredible women will participate and continue to pave the way in 2022?
Well, we'll see some familiar names, but also some female drivers that’ll drive their first-ever Dakar.
Laia Sanz becomes a four-wheel rookie
Laia Sanz has plenty of experience and has been the driver to beat in the motor category, but it was time for a change. She’ll start the 44th edition as a rookie joining the cars category after 11 finishes on a motorcycle. Alongside Maurizio Gerin, she’ll drive for the German X-raid team in a Mini All4 Racing car. We can’t wait to see this formidable athlete in action!
First female drivers from Saudi Arabia
Laia’s switch to cars is historic, but there’s more!
This will be the first time that female drivers from Saudi Arabia compete in the Dakar Rally, namely Mashael Al-Obaidan and Dania Akeel. Mashael won second place in the World Cross Country Championship and is ready to tackle a brand new challenge.
Dania is a world champion in the Cross Country Bajas World Cup and is ready to give it her all in her first appearance at the rally.
First all-female team
We’ll also see the first all-female team in the famous endurance rally. Merce Marti and Margot Llobera pair up for the CMR Group Women Dakar Team - a team entirely made up of women - and will compete in the light vehicle category.
Merce is originally a pilot from Barcelona and is qualified as a commercial pilot and flight instructor. Since then, she’s competed in the Baja Aragón and the Zuera Rally and is ready to take on the Dakar Rally. Margot has wanted to participate in the famous rally ever since she travelled there in 2018 as an assistant for the HIMOINSA Team. The Andorran was previously a footballer but is ready for the challenge after competing in the Baja Aragón in the motorcycle category.
One of the legendary women that are competing in their first-ever Dakar is the American Kristen Matlock (lightweight vehicles). In the world of Baja-offroad racing, Kristen is known as the Iron Woman. Starting off as a team manager for her husband, she began racing to experience the fun.
Audrey Rossat (bikes) has been racing for years, becoming the champion in cross-country and endurance several times. She raced on enduro tracks and ended up participating in multiple world championships, winning five times as a team. The enthusiasm of family and friends encouraged her to participate again. It’ll be wonderful to see how they use their experience in this new venture.
Females in Motorsport will be covering the Dakar Rally, so be sure to follow our social media pages for news, updates and interviews.