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Woman Crush Wednesday - Jutta Kleinschmidt: The First Woman To Win The Dakar Rally

Written by Andrew Lwanga, Edited by Sasha Macmillen

Jutta Kleinschmidt after becoming the first woman to win the Dakar Rally (Credit: SEYLLOU/AFP via Getty Images)

"Extremes are my passion". A quote that seems a cliché when uttered by a professional racer, but for Jutta Kleinschmidt the would-be cliché has been a culture which she has lived by for about 30 years.

An icon of German Motorsport, Kleinschmidt has blazed a trail unlike any other, all the way into the motorsport history books, being the first and only woman ever to win the Dakar Rally.

Born in Cologne in 1962, Kleinschmidt did not begin competing in motorsport at an early age as is the norm with motorsport athletes. However an attraction to the extreme still existed in her as she participated in winter sports throughout her youth. A career as a sportswoman was yet to materialise for a while.

Accompanying her love for the dire and radical was an intellectual talent. Kleinschmidt graduated from the Isny University of Applied Sciences with a degree in General Physics. She spent the next 6 years working as a development engineer at BMW.

During her time at BMW, the motorsport bug bit and took full effect. After more than half a decade with the German manufacturer, Kleinschmidt gave up her job to devote her life to being a full-time racer.

In 1992 Kleinschmidt entered the Paris-Dakar rally, competing on bikes. Kleinschmidt had competed in the event before in 1988 but taking on the world's longest and most difficult rally with limited experience is a commendable feat in its own right. The German placed 23rd amongst the 169 finishers with close to half retiring from the rally.

Kleinschmidt continued on bikes in 1994 before making the switch to cars for the 1995 edition of the Dakar Rally. In her first raid on four wheels, Kleinschmidt placed 12th driving the Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution. She had a temporary move to Buggy Schlesser from 1995 to 1997, a vehicle with which she managed a stage win, becoming the first woman to do so in the Dakar Rally.

Her expertise and knowledge as an engineer was of great importance. Kleinschmidt's background was instrumental in the development of the Pajero Evolution, the most successful car in the Dakar Rally and a car she drove to the podium in 1999. With Tina Thörner as co-driver, the pair became the first women pairing to stand on the podium of the Dakar Rally.

In 2001 Jutta Kleinschmidt wrote her name in the history books once more when she became the first and to this date only woman to win the Dakar Rally. In addition to that, she also became the only German to win the car category of the famous Rally.

Jutta Kleinschmidt during stage 17 of the 2001 Dakar Rally Credit: PATRICK HERTZOG/AFP via Getty Images

Jutta's exploits in the Dakar Rally continued for most of the 2000s. She stood on the podium once again in 2002 with a second place before making a move to Volkswagen. Kleinschmidt helped develop an early incarnation of the Volkswagen Race Touareg 2, as she drove to third in 2005 with the famous Italian Fabrizia Pons as co-driver.

Kleinschmidt continued to complete in the Dakar Rally up until 2007. She entered the gruelling event 17 times managing six top five finishes, four podiums and a win.

Kleinschmidt hasn't stopped competing, in fact the German legend is part of the ABT Cupra line-up that makes up the grid in Extreme E. Recognition of her talents and love for the sport of motor racing have followed her. In 2013, she was named FIM legend for her achievements on two wheels. She has also maintained a role as president of the Cross Country Rally Commission.

From relative inexperience to legendary status, Jutta Kleinschmidt is simply put a legend of motor-racing.


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