Cristina Gutierrez made history winning Dakar Rally 2021 Stage One!

Cristina Gutierrez made history winning Dakar Rally 2021 Stage One!

Cristina Gutierrez made history winning Dakar Rally 2021 Stage One with co-pilot Francois Cazalet. Breaking record set by Germany’s Jutta Kleinschmidt who won Dakar Rally Stage in 2005, Cristina set fresh precedent on what women competitors can achieve racing Dakar.

Cristina Gutierrez and Francois Cazalet Dakar Rally 2021 Opening ceremony Credit: Julien Delfosse/DPPI

Gaining opportunity to race with Red Bull Off Road Team USA, Cristina found plenty of resolve in her formidable character to make switch from racing Dakar Rally Car category in 2020, to OT3 prototype SSV along-side newly formed partnership with co-pilot Francois Cazalet.

In fact, the 5 x Dakar competitor made short shift of the challenging adjustment, which as the Spaniard describes was more about utilizing her skills as a driver, her experience racing Dakar coupled with mental tenacity to keep pushing no matter what circumstances arise.

Cristina: ‘My focus was to go out and enjoy each Stage above everything else, to feel competitive in this new discipline and to adapt as quickly as possible to my new co-driver François. It was an incredible victory that gave us strength to start the Dakar in the best way’.

If fate would have it, Cristina was congratulated by Jutta Kleinschmidt- in person – back at the bivouac at the end of Stage One win, with Jutta fulfilling supportive role at Dakar Rally 2021. After clocking the win in time of 3 hours, 42 minutes, 57 seconds – 6 minutes 41 seconds ahead of 2nd place, Cristina spoke on how Jutta was her first real teacher for racing.

Cristina Gutierrez Dakar Rally Stage One Photo Credit: Florent Gooden.

Cristina: ‘I once attended a FIA boot camp led by Jutta in Qatar. In a way, Jutta was my first teacher. I’m mighty proud to meet her again and especially to see her delight of my victory’. 

Notwithstanding Cristina’s elation of winning Stage One, there remains plenty of wisdom under her Red Bull Off Road Junior Team helmet 1: gaining the opportunity to race Dakar is no easy feat in itself 2) finishing each Stage 1-12 takes staying power 3) facing challenges head on requires focus.

Cristina: ‘The opportunity to race Dakar this year has really been thanks to the help of Sebastian Loeb. When he became part of the x44 team where we are teammates, we met and he was the one who personally spoke with Red Bull and that is how the opportunity arose. Before that I had no chance to go to the Dakar this year’.

‘To race Dakar, I think I am quite a realistic person. The Dakar Rally is such a long race that it is important not to trust a result, and I also like to push myself and always do the best I can. I think attitude and humility are important in a sport like this and especially in a race like this’. 

With top ranking position setting pace in early Stages, Cristina and Francois proved formidable force to be reckoned with against ‘Legend’ drivers and co-pilots holding 4th position Overall on Stage 3. The following Stage proved more challenging with mechanical issues, losing time though maintaining strength of conviction to finish Stages 4, 5, 6 and 7 in 10th position Overall.

Cristina Gutierrez Dakar Rally 2021 Stage 5 Photo Credit: ASO.

Out of nowhere came game-changer. Vehicle’s gear box broke, and more significantly repairs were not happening in time to complete Stage 8 and remain in General Classification. If there was a silver lining to devastating circumstances for both Cristina, Francois and Team, it was the values and experience gained from completing the final Stages under ‘Dakar Experience’ category.

Cristina: ‘The truth is that I did learn a lot, especially because I no longer ran with so much pressure as we no longer appeared officially in the results. In this classification we ran by ourselves. We were more than aware that even finishing each day far behind- in rankings- due to the penalties that we received every day racing in the Dakar Experience – we were able to overcome and face very complicated situations and reach the finish in the top 3 on two more occasions’.

If performance counts for everything, Cristina delivered on all counts. Stage One win provided mighty powerful message that Gutierrez has eyes fixed firmly on targets all the while working within Team of equally goal-orientated crew. ‘Of course, in a competition like the Dakar, the importance of the co-driver is the same as that of the pilot because without them we could not compete. They also often act as psychologists and mechanics, therefore, he is an important figure and above all, he makes the difference between some teams and others. It is very important that the feeling is very good and that we work as a team together’.

Making history as 2nd female to win a Dakar Rally Stage, producing electrifying times over Stages and remaining competitive when faced with dire circumstances speaks volumes on Cristina Gutierrez as a person, driver, racer and woman embracing the opportunity to race The Dakar.

Special thanks to Cristina for her time. Header photo: Cristina Stage One Credit: ASO.

Words: Sharon Cox.

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