Written by Andrew Lwanga, Edited by Elisabeth Brown
2021 was a history making year in motorsport, not least in the world of rallying, as Cristina Gutiérrez became the first woman since Jutta Kleinschmidt to win a stage at the Dakar Rally. Though Gutiérrez's name was one new to the ears of many, even those entrenched in the world of rallying, it's a name that will stay there for a while.
Gutiérrez was born in Burgos, Spain to a family of medical practitioners. Despite getting a motorbike at the age of six, Gutiérrez's career didn't begin in earnest until much later in life.
First, Gutiérrez tested rally raid machinery in 2010 at 19 years of age. The following year she entered the national championship, the TT Spanish Rally Championship. Almost immediately Gutiérrez took to off-road racing, finishing first in the women's category of the championship, despite it being her first competition.
Gutiérrez dominated the women's category for the following five years, culminating in a second place overall finish in 2015. As if this was not impressive enough on its own, it all occurred while she was studying to become a dentist.
In 2016 the Spaniard left Spain to compete in the Sealine Cross-Country Rally, an off-road competition, where again Gutiérrez was able to showcase her capabilities on the international stage. Once again, she topped the women's category.
Although not step for step, Gutiérrez had set out on a trail similar to the one blazed by the legendary Kleinschmidt as the Spaniard turned to the fabled Dakar Rally.
Gutiérrez entered the Dakar Rally for the first time in 2017 in the cars category and managed to finish what is perhaps the most gruelling race for both man, woman and machine, thus making her the first woman from Spain to do so. Gutiérrez continued on a streak of Dakar Rally finishes every year until 2021.
In 2021 Gutiérrez entered the Dakar Rally for the fifth time in her late-blooming career and immediately made a splash. The Spaniard won the first stage of the rally, becoming the first woman to do so since Jutta Kleinschmidt in 2005. It was a historic achievement for Gutiérrez, who went on to finish the rally as she had always done, but it was the first of many for her 2021 racing campaign.
2021 was the debut season of Extreme E, an all electric off-road championship that aimed to increase the presence of female drivers in motorsport, among many other objectives. Gutiérrez joined the championship with one of the greatest rally drivers of all time, Sebastian Loeb, as her teammate with whom she raced under Lewis Hamilton's team X44.
Despite the format featuring wheel-to-wheel racing akin to traditional circuit racing, Gutiérrez and Loeb - who both cut their teeth in stage rallying - were able to finish second place in the championship. The pair also managed to be top qualifiers in every single Extreme E event.
Throughout the season Gutiérrez's performances were evidence of immense talent, with Loeb labelling her "tough" and "motivated.” Little did he know just how right he was.
The FIA World Cup For Cross-Country Rallies was another competition Gutiérrez took part in. Another off-road Championship, Gutiérrez contested in the T3 class that features lightweight prototype vehicles.
As is customary the Spaniard came out firing right off the bat, winning the opening round in Spain, but the true display of grit, talent and determination came later.
Whilst racing in Kazakhstan in the second round of the championship, Gutiérrez suffered a heavy impact 30 kilometres into the 260 kilometre rally. It was later revealed that she ruptured two vertebrae, but despite that, Gutiérrez was able to complete the remaining distance and win the rally.
Yes, you read that right - she raced with two ruptured vertebrae for 230 kilometres and won.
It didn't stop there either, because despite missing the next round in Russia, Gutiérrez was able to remain competitive and even went on to win the final round of the championship in the UAE. There she was crowned champion of the T3 class, even though she wasn't fully healed, giving credence to Loeb's description of the Spaniard.
In January of 2022 Gutierrez returned to the Dakar Rally where she managed to place third in the final standings.
Gutiérrez's story in motorsport is one that is still being written, but with an international career less than decade old her achievements on the global stage are tremendous and there's very little reason to doubt there are more to come. For if a pair of broken bones couldn't hold the woman down, what will?