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15 January

Jutta Kleinschmidt, also known as the desert Queen, is the first, and to this day, the only woman to ever win the Dakar Rally. Although she stopped competing in the Dakar over ten years ago, she is still a regular to the Dakar Bivouac. This year was no exception. We sat down with here to take a look back in History.

Jutta, after winning the event in the Car Category in 2001 as the only woman until today, you were granted the famous nickname, ‘The Desert Queen’. How did this made you feel?
It was the best feeling in the world.  It’s like a dream come true. I had been working toward this for a very long time. I started my career in Dakar on a bike and from there I kept pushing and worked my way up until the point I found myself in a competitive car and won the race.

In terms of preparation, besides a proper technical preparation, how much do you need to train physically in order to win this event?
Physical preparation is everything. I’ve always been very focused on my physique.  Dakar is gnarly, especially when you’re racing it on a bike. If you’re not in shape you will not make it to the end of the stage, it’s that simple. If you’re driving a car you can get away with a little more but in the end even in a car when you’re not fit, you’ll lose concentration and potentially make a mistake. Even outside of motorsport I think people should take a lot more care of their bodies. In my career I tried so many different things to stay fit, I once entered a cycling race across the US, only to be in shape for the next Dakar.

Are you currently still involved in the development of rally cars?
When I was racing, I was constantly involved in testing and development. Even before I was racing at the highest level, I worked as an engineer at BMW and helped to develop cars. So that part was always very important to me. Now I collaborate with the FIA and the ASO to figure out the best regulations. I listen to all of the teams and the organizers and try to help them get on the same page.

What races are you still competing in yourself?
I’m lucky enough that nowadays I get invited to participate in some races. Some off-road but also some on road as well. I do a lot of endurance races such as 24h off road racing but I also participated in the 24 hours of the Nürburgring. I’m always happy when I find an opportunity to put my helmet on nowadays especially if it’s without the need to find sponsors and fund an operation. I’ve done this half of my life and I’d prefer not to go back to that. (Laughs)

How comes, we see so little women in Motorsports? We do live in a world with equal rights and chances for women, no?
The problem is not the competition at the highest level, the problem starts at the grassroots level. There are not enough women who are excited to start at the entry level so obviously it shows in the highest ranks. We need more women who are excited about to come forward and give it a chance. Dakar, and especially the cars category is a category where woman are really equal to men and both genders are on an the same level in the playing field.

You work as a motivational speaker; how did the Dakar Rally impact your vision on life in general?
The impact on my personal life was massive. When I participated in my first Dakar I was still working as an engineer for BMW.  We used to have big discussions on the smallest of things.  When I returned from Dakar my entire perspective on life had changed. I couldn’t help but wonder why the people cared so much about these futilities. As a speaker I often make the comparison that having success in life/business or in motorsport are very similar. In motorsport you have to be very passionate before you start. You have to be prepared, you have to work hard because either way the challenges you’ll face whether it’s Dakar or the 24h of Le Mans, the challenge will be immense. So, if you show up unprepared it’s not going to end well. The same goes for life. If you don’t work hard and be well prepared you will not achieve your goals.

© Picture credits : X-Raid, EFE, Alejandro García

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