The Dakar Rally, frequently named one of the most difficult motorsport events in the world, is generally a man’s affair. Women compete, but they’re few and far between. But for 2021, with the rally’s second event taking place entirely within Saudi Arabia, it’s important that we take time to acknowledge all the women out there kicking ass.
With so many competitors, it hasn’t been too difficult to include a handful of female drivers, but it’s still rare to see them taking top positions. Longtime racing driver Christine Beckers took on the challenging race during its first running in 1979. And Jutta Kleinschmidt became the first woman to win a stage in 1998, then the first woman to win overall in 2001.
Let’s run you through our nine competitors this year.
Laia Sanz is clocking in her 11th Dakar participation with the hope that she continues her record of best female finisher in the bike category, keeping the streak alive for every single event she’s participated in. A bad crash in the 2020 event saw her nursing wounds through a long recovery time, but she’s back this year ready to perform. That said, she’s keeping her goals realistic:
I am very realistic. A Dakar like last year, with such a fast profile, it’s not for me. I like it better when there is navigation and when tyre management or mechanical problems come into play... With all this, it’s clear that I won’t arrive for the Dakar in the best of shape. The goal? I don’t want to think about it too much, even though I always tell myself that I want to be in the top 15.
Bike Model: 450 Rally
Best Dakar Result: ninth overall in 2016
Notable Achievements: 13-time Women’s Trial World Champion, 10-time Women’s Trial European Champion, five-time winner of Spain’s female team in Trial des Nations, one-time winner of the Women’s Enduro World Championship.
García used the 2019 Dakar Rally as her first outing after a bad crash that left her shaken physically and emotionally. This year, though, she’s taking a much more relaxed approach, since she’s already proved to herself that she’s capable of crossing the finish line. One of her big goals for 2021? Sleep more.
This year we have trained a lot: we have given the bike a ‘kick’. I signed up for the two dates of the World Bajas competition that were held in Portugal and I was able to bring a medal for my country. Who prepares my motorcycle? My dad Antonio who has been a Yamaha dealer for 40 years in Zamora. Now with Javier [her boyfriend] we intend to do each stage very well, to see if we can enjoy the race more.
Bike Model: Yamaha WRF450
Best Dakar Result: 86th overall in 2020
Notable Achievements: Three-time Rally TT Spain Champion, 2017 women’s FIM World Cup holder, 2o2o FIM World Cup Ladies’ runner-up
Sara Jugla is setting off on her first Dakar Rally, but she’s had plenty of experience racing in the sand before. In fact, you might say that it’s her specialty. She’s been training like crazy getting ready for her debut, which she understands as being important:
It is important that women are represented at all levels of the motorcycle world. One of the keys for me will be to manage to manage the emotions, the stress, the fear… That’s what is most exhausting. During the Andalusia rally, I fell during practice and despite the questioning, I managed to have a good rally (1st woman). It shows that we can reason with ourselves and fight to start again, to give everything.
Bike Model: KTM 450 Replica
Best Dakar Result: This is Jugla’s first Dakar Rally.
Notable Achievements: 2020 female champion at Rallye d’Andalousie, 2020 New Aquitaine champion, 2017 and 2019 runner-up French Sand Champion
Rossat has been racing for years, but 2021 marks her first-ever participation in the Dakar Rally. She has physical training from several cross-country championships and from a stint with the police training academy in France. This year, her only concern is navigation.
I really like to face new challenges, test motorcycles and races that I have never done. And after seeing so many great videos of the Dakar, I wanted to take the plunge! In a way, by continuing the enduro competitions, I have been training for the Dakar for years. The fact of being a woman does not change anything: there are just those who do not know the rally raid who ask me how I can take the shock.
Bike Model: KTM 450
Best Dakar Result: This is Rossat’s first Dakar Rally.
Notable Achievements: 2016-2018 French cross-country champion, 2014 European endurance champion, four-time World Team endurance champion
Suany Martínez was the first woman from Bolivia to ever compete in the Dakar Rally, but so far, her luck has been poor. A mechanical problem knocked her out of contention in 2017, and a leg injury after a crash did so in 2018. Now, the cosmetologist is convinced the third time will be the charm.
In the last two years I could not attend the Dakar and I thought that in 2021 I would not be able to do so either due to the pandemic and the political situation in my country. At the beginning of November I decided to participate and was able to board my Can Am Renegade almost at the last minute. In 2019 I was competing in the Bolivian national championships and also in the South American competition.
Quad Model: Can-Am Renegade 850
Best Dakar Result: Abandoned rally during stage 7 in 2018
Notable Achievements: 2020 National Casualty Champion and South American runner-up in 4x4 quads
Cristina Gutiérrez is set to compete in the Extreme E championship alongside Sebastien Loeb in Team X44, but she’s getting a taste of the Dakar Rally before she does. A former dentist, this will be her fifth consecutive outing at Dakar, where she is once again expected to perform well.
Co-Driver: François Cazalet (FRA)
SSV Model: OT3 - 01
Best Dakar Result: 38th place overall in 2018, highest placed female driver in 2018
Notable Achievements: Six-time Spanish Women’s Champion, female winner of Sealine Cross-Country rally in Qatar (2016), runner-up in 2015 Spanish Rally Championship
At this point, Camélia Liparoti is a certified Dakar legend with over a decade of experience under her belt. With her small stature, pigtails, and pink cars, she’s a tough gal to miss. When she’s not competing, she’s a photojournalist in France and an avid mountaineer—basically, anything to get the adrenaline pumping.
Co-Driver: Annett Fischer (DEU)
SSV Model: Yamaha YXZ1000R
Best Dakar Result: Ninth in the quad category in 2012, first woman to win female overall standings in quads in 2013
Notable Achievements: Six-time Women’s World Rally TT Championship, first woman to win a round of the Rally of Pharaohs (2009).
In Baja, she’s known as the Iron Woman, and Kristen Matlock is looking to take that reputation with her in her first-ever Dakar Rally. She began racing with her husband—against whom she’s competing at Dakar—and found her passion. Her number one goal this year? Beat her husband.
I have the driving ability but the Dakar is like a different game with the navigation aspect. I’m going to have to listen to my co-driver because navigation is what wins the event. In terms of the physical aspect, I’m not too concerned. I do what I call “iron womaning” on bajas. On the last Baja 1000, I drove from start to finish for something like 28 hours. On the Baja 500, I drove for 21 hours only stopping to refuel. I’m used to that but doing it over 12 days… My main worry is the fear of the unknown.
Co-Driver: Max Eddy Jr. (USA)
SSV Model: Polaris RZR
Best Dakar Result: This is Matlock’s first Dakar Rally.
Notable Achievements: 1st in the Baja 500 and 4th in the Baja 1000 in 2020
For the first time, the Dakar Classic is running simultaneously with the overall event, and Amy Lerner is ready to take on the challenge in what may be the most watched-for car during the event. Daughter of an antique car collector, she’s been competing in all-female rally events since 2011 but has never been able to make Dakar work. This year, she’s doing it in an absolutely gorgeous Porsche.
I should have called my project “Two Weeks to Dakar”, it all went so fast. I was sitting home, lockdowned in New York during the Covid crisis and heard about the Dakar Classic format and found it fascinating. I made a few calls and got all the pieces together and off we went. I signed in for the event just two weeks before the end of registration. I bought the Porsche from Stephane Henrard in Belgium. It’s not the actual car of the 1984 Dakar but is a tribute to it. It was built in 1982. I haven’t even seen it yet but I know I’ll give it a big hug once we get to Jeddah.
Co-Driver: Sara Carmen Bossaert (BEL)
Classic Model: Porsche 911 SC 3.0L
Best Dakar Result: This is Lerner’s first Dakar Classic Rally.
Notable Achievements: Mint 400 and Rebelle Rally competitor