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"You have to fight until the end" - Cristina Gutiérrez wins Dakar and makes history

Cristina Gutiérrez became the second ever woman to win the mighty Dakar Rally, after taking the class lead in the Challenger category on the final day. Here's a summary of her journey at the toughest race on the planet.


Cristina Gutierrez, Dakar 2024
Photo by: Flavien Duhamel / Red Bull Content Pool

Cristina Gutiérrez has taken a spectacular victory in the Challenger class of the 2024 Dakar rally, becoming the second woman in history to achieve such an accomplishment, following Jutta Kleinschmidt in 2001.


Gutiérrez is an established off-road racer, ealready with several titles to her name: in 2021, she was crowned World Rally-Raid Champion in the T3 category, then became the second world champion in the Extreme E series, as part of the X44 team in the electric championship. A 7 time Dakar participant, the Red Bull athlete has already collected important experience as well as achievements at the most prestigious rally raid in the world: a multiple-stage winner in 2021, she was then third in the final classification in the Light Prototype class in 2022.


While her most important success to date, this year's victory comes as no surprise, as the Spaniard has been fighting at the top end of her class in the last couple of years; the 2024 Challenger champion, though, entered the final stage with 25 minutes to recover - and managed to turn it around in surprising fashion to claim the historic success.


The Dakar Rally is called the toughest race on the planet for a reason - and there was no smooth ride. Her journey through the Saudi desert started with the prologue stage in the rocky Al-Ula - a tough section to navigate between rocks and sandy dunes where teams can "gain a little and lose a lot", as the stage doesn't count in the overall race time. Gutiérrez therefore went for a smart strategy, using the stage to get a better understanding of the new chassis - the Taurus T3 Max - keeping a conservative pace.


The strategy paid off and she was eighth fastest in class. “The truth is that it had a very different prologue to what we are used to having, because they are normally short, very quick and with easy navigation", Cristina commented on the first day of the Dakar adventure. "This was wide, very difficult to navigate. But for our part we are very happy because we are in the rhythm. It was the first time we tried the Taurus in competition so...very happy and with good feelings!”


Cristina Gutierrez, Dakar 2024
Photo by: Marcelo Maragni / Red Bull Content Pool

The prologue was only a first taste of what was coming up, as the first challenging stage 1 from Al Ula to Al Hanakiyah would feature a journey of 532 km of difficult terrains and sandy tracks through the rocky landscapes.

During the stage, Gutiérrez ran flawlessly in the first part, while she gave up some time in the second part, when the course became less favourable and a navigation mistake as well as a puncture slowed her down in what was nevertheless a very positive day.


“This stage was very hard to be the first - the truth is that the Dakar this year was not going to be easy", she said. "It was a stage in which we needed a lot of patience because we drove in a second part of 180 kilometres of stones. We didn't have to move, not even a single kilometre, which was really difficult on the physical side of driving", she explained.


Nevertheless she completed the day in 5 hours and 27 minutes, climbing to fifth place in the Challenger category, with a gap of 13 minutes to stage winner Eryk Gozcal.

“We tried to preserve the mechanics because I thought it was very important to have enough patience to get to the end of the journey." Her strategy therefore continued to be to keep a steady pace but with a conservative approach.


Gutiérrez entered with determination into the very heart of Saudi Arabia as she tackled the second stage to Al Duwadimi. At this stage of the rally, the Spaniard was put to the test on the dunes - a terrain that rewards experience and skills. The 462 kilometer route represented a challenge in terms of navigation in the extremely fast terrain - but she was able to retain fifth place in the classification at the end of the day.


“We were very happy with the rhythm. The truth is that we enjoyed it a lot on the dunes", she recalled. "With Mitch [Guthrie] we were already playing a little cat-and-mouse, we were very happy after the second part".


Cristina Gutierrez, Dakar 2024
Photo by: Maciej Niechwiadowicz

Drawing on her experience on difficult terrain, Gutiérrez showed once again her abilities in a demanding territory like Saudi Arabia, with precise handling and focus on navigation.

During the second part and after the refueling, Cristina stopped for a few minutes to assist a motorbike rider who had suffered an accident.


Gutiérrez finished this second stage in seventh place with a time of 4 hours and 31 minutes, only 5 minutes and 50 seconds to stage leader Gozcal - now 19 minutes ahead in the general classification. “Overall, we were very happy with the pace. We wanted to make small improvements in navigation and also modifications in the setup of the car, but in general terms we were very, very happy with the result,” stated Gutiérrez.


Vehicles would only have two hours of assistance before heading into the third stage, from Al Duwadimi to Al Salamiya, starting at 05:10 in the morning.

The Dakar Rally in fact continued advancing rapidly through the challenging desert of the 'Empty Quarter', now with a more than 600 kilometers stage in a single day.


Before entering the vast sandy area, Cristina had to manage a wide range of terrains that could have produced certain navigation errors as well as damage the vehicle; the variety in the terrain during the day in fact ended up playing in favor of the most conservative and experienced competitors, including Gutiérrez, who climbed the order and continued to make good progress.


"The stage was very good until the last 60 kilometers, where we had a puncture. Also, within five minutes, suddenly, the temperature of the car rose to over 100 degrees. We stopped and when I co-pilot Pablo climbed out we saw that we had lost the roof. We thought the support broke with such rough terrain and we lost it", she explained.


In the general classification of the Challenger category, Gutiérrez moved up to the fourth position. The driver from Burgos maintained a gap to the leader of 28 minutes and 6 seconds. "In the last part we had to slow down a lot", she continued. "However, the team assured us that the stage has not gone completely bad so we were happy. It was undoubtedly bad luck, but also good because it happened at the end of the stage."


Cristina Gutierrez, Dakar 2024
Photo by: Marcelo Maragni / Red Bull Content Pool

The fourth stage would take place between Al Salamiya and Al-Hofuf: undoubtedly another long day on the way to Al Hofuf, located in an immense oasis with three million date palms.

To compensate for the long distance of the stage, the difficulty of the terrain was reduced, however, navigation would be a considerable challenge. And it is precisely at this point that some crews could lose valuable minutes.


A dry cold of five degrees awaited the team early in the morning as Gutiérrez left the Al Salamiya bivouac tent to head towards the city of Al Hofuf for the fourth stage; almost 700 kilometers to cover. The danger of getting lost was very high - and that's what happened to the talented Spaniard.


The 'Empty Quarter' in fact turned out to be rather complex and bad luck awaited Gutiérrez in the form of electronic issues and navigation failures. The result was a critical problem in the car's electronics which left the #306 Taurus T3 Max without front-wheel drive and an issue that resulted in failure to mark the stage waypoints.


"Well, it hasn't been a good day for us", Cristina summed up. "The truth is that everything happened to us. We got lost a lot and there was a lot of dust. Also, after the neutralization, my car lost front traction and we had to go through all the waypoints without power,” Cristina said. The incorrect marking of a waypoint cost her a 15 minute penalty.


Nevertheless, once problems appeared, they never stopped Gutiérrez. "The Sentinel antennas broke and we were unable to capture the signal from the waypoints. We had to return through the dunes with front-wheel drive and, therefore, we lost a lot of time", she explained. "It was a day to forget, really. But hey, the important thing is to keep your head up high and move forward.”


Cristina finished 18th in her category after suffering a multitude of problems in the fourth stage and dropped to sixth position overall, with a gap of 1 hour, 6 minutes and 42 seconds to the leader.


Cristina Gutierrez, Dakar 2024
Photo by: Marcelo Maragni / Red Bull Content Pool

On the next day, another 645 kilometers drive was awaiting - with another early start that would take a toll on the physical fitness of the drivers and their teams. Gutiérrez had to cross 118 timed kilometers in a special stage packed with sand and a sea of dunes that represented a big challenge. At the same time, many of the competitors - including Cristina - adopted a strategy to avoid leading the field in the 48-hour time trial stage in the Empty Quarter on the following day.


Despite the conservative pace during the fifth stage, the Red Bull driver was happy with her performance, having not suffered any mechanical or navigation problems unlike the previous days. “The truth is that we were quite happy because we started very far back and, well, sometimes the sun hindered our vision a little because of shadows and it increased the danger of having a mishap with the dunes,” Cristina explained.


The stage leader, Francisco López Contardo, would open the track on the following day - which posed a danger in getting lost in the next 48-hour stage: navigation would be crucial, and Cristina started the dreaded sixth day in eighth position, which allowed her to maneuver more comfortably in terms of navigation.


“The truth is that the stage was only a few kilometers long but, in some very steep areas, you could have a big scare. In general terms I was happy and we have not lost time regarding the lead." The Spanish driver maintained sixth position overall.


Cristina Gutierrez, Dakar 2024
Photo by: Marcelo Maragni / Red Bull Content Pool

A challenge never seen before in the Dakar Rally which made its debut in 2024, the new 48 hour timed stage consisted of two different routes: one for cars and trucks, and another for motorcycles and quads, with a timed route of 600 kilometers each. Participants started the challenge in the morning and aimed to complete the maximum possible distance until a time set by the organization: 4:00 pm. Drivers had designated bivouacs to rest and work, unassisted, in their vehicles overnight.


Bivouacs were extremely simple: a sleeping tent, a sleeping bag, food and a fire: nothing else, in real Dakar spirit. Additionally, competitors had no contact with the outside world as they were prohibited from using cell phones or electronic devices with coverage.


In the heart of the Empty Quarter and its infinite dunes, navigation required the utmost care, with difficult routes and hidden waypoints that put the teams to the test: and this was Cristina's time to shine, as she was second in the first part of the 48-hour challenge and gained third overall. Furthermore, she was 12th among all the classes, only 37 minutes away from Carlos Sainz in a breakthrough day for Gutiérrez.

 

“Very happy because it was a very hard stage", she stated. "We did 400 kilometers through dunes and tomorrow there will be just as many, but we are happy with the pace, there have been many things in the race, many direction losses, going and coming back, taking waypoints that were not easy to take and getting stuck in the middle of some dune...but in the end I think the balance was positive and the important thing would be to finish the second part of the marathon tomorrow" - Cristina commented, having just pulled off one of her most inspiring performances that gained her significant ground.


Now back in contention for the podium, Cristina was closing in on second placed Mitchell Guthrie, 25 minutes ahead. However, it was also a matter of managing risks, as fuel consumption was of critical importance.


“We arrived with 3 liters of fuel, very, very close to the limit", she explained. "We were a little worried, because of course, it depended on how the rest of the course was going to be, whether we would arrive or not. So we were a little worried, but in the end we were lucky and we made it."


Cristina Gutierrez, Dakar 2024
Photo by: Marcelo Maragni / Red Bull Content Pool

After camping overnight, Gutiérrez went on to complete the proving 48-hour time trial with an excellent third place in class - and eleventh overall - strengthening her top-three position in the classification thanks to a colossal comeback through the 547 kilometers spread over two days. Cristina would therefore enter the second week of the race with a podium in sight - but also aware that any mechanical complications could have a huge impact on the rankings.


"The stage was extremely demanding," the Red Bull driver admitted after reaching Shubaytah. "These kilometres were particularly intense due to the rising temperature in the gearbox, which forced us to stop for a few minutes to allow it to cool down. However, overall, we were satisfied that the car was still in perfect condition."


Teams then had a full day to carry out repairs and drivers enjoyed a day of rest after reaching the halfway point in the extraordinarily demanding Dakar Rally.

Up to this point, Gutiérrez drove a trademark-race, marked by solid pace and consistency. She had finished in the class top-ten in all stages but the fourth, where she had the navigation failure and the mechanical problem that caused her to lose front traction.


The second week would also be about preserving the mechanical integrity of the Taurus T3 Max - while at the same time maximising opportunities to attack the leaders.


The race resumed with the seventh stage from the capital Riyadh to Al Duwadimi. A huge 873 kilometers stage which again offered opportunities to spread out the classification.

Unfortunately, the Spanish driver again suffered technical issues that hampered the performance of the Taurus, left without rear-wheel drive. Furthermore, new problems with navigation cost a few minutes.

 

“Stage 7 started quite well, we had some navigation issues because it was very complicated", Cristina explained. "We had a very good pace, I think we were running quite well until kilometer 110. Then, bad luck again due to a rear driveshaft failure which forced us to go in front-wheel drive for the rest of the stage,” she continued.


Cristina Gutierrez, Dakar 2024
Photo by: Florent Gooden / DPPI / Red Bull Content Pool

However, Gutiérrez managed to overcome the issues during the second half of the stage and made up some of the lost time to eventually cross the finish line in fourth position, 9 minutes and 20 seconds behind the stage leader, Mitchell Guthrie.

Despite Cristina's fourth position, she extended the gap to the competitor behind in the general classification.


“Despite everything, we didn't lose too much time, only 9 minutes to Mitch, but we gained from ‘Chaleco’ [Francisco López]. I think it was the least we could have lost with that breakdown, so we were as happy as possible."


Previous leader of the Challenger class, the #302 'Energylandia Rally Team' was disqualified from the race by the ASO and FIA due to a breach in the technical regulations. This meant that Cristina Gutiérrez moved up from second to third place overall, and was declared winner of the sixth stage.


The final five hard days of the race were now underway.


Competitors faced a 458-kilometer stage, with an extensive 179-kilometer transfer in the middle of the route. Among the challenges of the eighth stage was the alternation of sand and dunes, fast sections with numerous direction changes that required precise navigation skills, and ultimately rocky sections where cautious was paramount to avoid mistakes.


"It was a stage divided into two parts", Gutiérrez explained, "one part with very steep dunes and a second very fast part, with rocks and a lot of navigation. We were quite happy because, after all, we were within the times.”


Local driver Saleh Alsaif took stage victory, however Gutiérrez had good pace and, on a day without issues and with her mind clearly set on preserving her second position in the general classification, she managed to stay close to the stage leader, finishing only 3 minutes and 49 seconds behind. Separated by just 27 seconds, Gutiérrez and Mitchell Guthrie remained the closest contenders for the final victory - as she again extended her gap to third-placed Francisco López Contardo, now 9 minutes behind.


Cristina Gutierrez, Dakar 2024
Photo by: Marcelo Maragni / Red Bull Content Pool

On the return trip to Al Ula, Cristina was able to avoid the volcanic rocks, having chosen the northern route from Al Duwadimi. Most of the 436 kilometers of the ninth stage required special attention: precise driving to avoid damages and punctures on the rocky sections, as well as extreme care to ensure that the road-book readings were as accurate as possible.

 

“Well, stage 9 was very hard. The first part with dunes and very high climbs, difficult to navigate, and the second part was full of stones", Cristina explained. "In addition, we ran at a very high pace because Francisco López Contardo was pushing very hard. Also the risk of a puncture was quite high, at times it was a bit stressful, but everything went well."


Gutiérrez finished the stage in fourth position, 7 minutes and 40 seconds adrift of Nicolas Cavigliasso - followed by the #301 machine of López Contardo.

"I think it only shaved a few seconds off us", Cristina said, also aware that she had gained 5 minutes and 28 seconds to the Challenger category leader Guthrie.


"It has been a very, very long and hard race."

"We reached a very high speed all the time and the truth is that I was happy because we didn't lose much to Francisco since he was pushing a lot. In the end he took us a few seconds."

Cristina had also dealt with a failure in her accelerator spring at the kilometer 60 of the stage, with 376 kilometers of the stage still to go. Despite the issue, Gutiérrez was now three stages and 28 minutes away from her dream.

 

Another 612 kilometer stage awaited - and she knew she could not afford any mistakes between the rocks of the Al Ula region, which required interpreting the subtleties of navigation. The Challenger class was now a three-way battle between Mitchell Guthrie, Cristina Gutiérrez and Francisco López Contardo.


In this crucial moment of the race, Gutiérrez continued to extend her margin to third place in the general standings - now 39 minutes behind - while at the same time she kept the leader under the 30 minute gap. In the tenth stage, most of the teams suffered punctures - including two for Gutiérrez, who also had to make sure to secure the flat tyres in order not to lose them and incur in a penalty.


“It was a good stage because, seeing how it went for the others as well, I am happy. However, within the stage I had two punctures very early and it was a stage full of stones where I have to evaluate whether to push or not", she said. "Also, the problem is that Vest was coming in very strong, although later I found out that he was also losing time. It was a bit stressful."


"Later, when we changed the tyre because it was flat, the support that holds it began to get loose, so the flat tyre was moving. If the wheel fell off we could be penalized for up to 10 minutes, so we had to hold the wheel while driving."


Entering the final days of the competition, Cristina knew that anything could happen, but that her competitors were among the top in the world: "If we are both clean, it is very difficult to recover that time", she said with two stages to go. "My strategy is to continue doing that, be regular, focus on our own race and try to make the least number of mistakes because it is the key."


Cristina Gutierrez, Dakar 2024
Photo by: Flavien Duhamel / Red Bull Content Pool

The 527 kilometers stage 11, mainly held on inhospitable terrain and possibly one of the most difficult of the 46th edition of the Dakar Rally, could still shuffle positions - as punctures were again to be expected over the 19% of the route made up of large stones despite the decision to reduce it to 420 timed kilometers.


Gutiérrez managed to overcome this challenge without many hiccups and her margin to third place continued to grow by over 16 minutes. More importantly, she closed in on the class leader, now only 25 minutes ahead. As expected, the stage was marked by punctures and conservative strategy to avoid running out of tyres: right at the beginning around he 30th kilometer, the driver from Burgos had two punctures in a row, but kept her cool and it paid off.

 

“It was a really tough stage and at kilometer 30, at the same moment, we had two punctures: we were left without wheels. Of course, we knew that it was the most complicated stage with punctures, so I slowed down a lot, I got too stressed but we managed to get to the end."


Gutiérrez had gained important minutes - but she also knew that only an extraordinary event would now significantly change the final classification, ahead of the 175 kilometers final stage of the toughest rally in the world.


Mechanical problems or serious unexpected events will be the only ones that can change the final classification during tomorrow's day in the last stage of the toughest rally in the world - a traditionally 'quiet' stage. However, at the Dakar, nothing is written until the last kilometer. Motorsport, after all, is a matter of fractions of a second, when the history of an athlete can change forever.


Cristina Gutierrez, Dakar 2024
Photo by: Marcelo Maragni / Red Bull Content Pool

Cristina drove cautiously, but with good pace. Throughout the race, she was smart and consistent; she won a stage and overcame several issues - including many punctures in the final days. And the last stage turned out to be a Dakar-worthy classic.

Gutiérrez started the stage ahead of her rival for the title, Mitch Guthrie, who hit trouble 30 kilometer into the tagem when his Taurus came to a halt with a turbo issue.


Ahead, Gutiérrez ran flawlessly with no information of what was happening behind her. After 23 minutes, the American managed to get moving again - but the gap at the top of the classification was now down to 3 minutes. As the stage progressed, Gutiérrez was eating up the margin - now down to seconds at the 110 km. At the 130 km mark, Cristina Gutiérrez had taken the race lead in the Challenger class, before her rival had to stop again with a transmission issue.


"When I crossed the finish line, I was a little surprised to see the crowd somewhat agitated," she explained, still dazed and with little information on what was happening. The team's celebration was a hint that the Dakar title was in her hands.


“You always have to go to the end, you have to fight until the end. We have been pushing until the end", she stated, still unsure of the result. "The truth is that I don't believe it. I'm like I don't know what's going on. It's surreal, so thank you very much, I really don't know what to say. I am very excited and no, I don't want to celebrate it yet because I don't officially know what happened, but whatever this moment is, I will never forget it."


Cristina Gutierrez, Dakar 2024
Photo by: Flavien Duhamel / Red Bull Content Pool

It would only be a few moments later that Gutiérrez began to understand the magnitude of her achievement - and received the congratulations from the Spanish Royal Family.

She had just become the second ever woman to win the Dakar Rally in its 46 years of rich history, following in the footsteps of German motorsport legend Jutta Kleinschmidt, 23 years ago.


"You have to fight until the end. I knew that 25 minutes was a big time, but you never know what can happen, so I kept attacking until the end. Never giving up is one of my values."

Gutiérrez won the Dakar Rally in the Challenger category with a total race time of 53 hours and 59 minutes, signing her name in the history books of motorsport and fulfilling her dream after one of the most incredible moments of her career - and of the sport.


Cristina Gutierrez, Dakar 2024
Photo by: Marcelo Maragni / Red Bull Content Pool


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