Cristina Gutiérrez has had a passion for motorsport since she was four years old. After getting her driving license when she was 18, she began racing with her brother as her co-driver. In January, she competed in the Dakar Rally for the fifth consecutive season, having joined forces with the Red Bull Off-Road Junior team, and later this year will be travelling the globe with Team X44 for the inaugural season of Extreme E. I spoke to her about her career, Dakar and joining X44’s star-studded team.
Cristina’s first involvement and love for motorsport came at an early age, with her following in her family’s footsteps. However, she didn’t start racing professionally until she was an adult, making her competitive debut locally. “I got involved because my father was a big fan of motorsport. He gave me my passion from the age of four. I started driving little bikes and cars at six years old, then started competing at 18 when I got my driving license. Motorbikes became only a hobby for me really,” she said. After a childhood spent driving bikes and cars, Cristina’s first race came in 2010 when she entered the ‘Históricos Baja Tierras del Cid’ rally in her hometown of Burgos, Spain. “I started driving a rally raid car with my brother who was my co-driver. After I started competing with him, we did five more years and together won the Spanish championship. I was very happy to do this with my brother, the whole family was very happy,” Cristina explained.
2012 was a huge year for Cristina as she won her first CERTT Women’s Spanish Championship. This was the start of an incredible amount of success in the all-terrain event as she went on to win the title for six consecutive years. As a passionate advocate for women in motorsport, she is extremely proud of victories such as these, however she also wants to win and beat all competitors, whether they be male or female. “I was very happy to win, but for me, it is more important to drive with everyone and not just women. It’s always a great opportunity when you can compete with the boys,” she told me. Just three years later, in 2015, Cristina achieved one of her proudest results, entering the All-Terrain Spanish Rally Championship. After a fierce battle from all the drivers, she took second place. “I was really happy; I wasn’t expecting it because I believed in me, but nobody else did,” she said. “This year gave me the opportunity to demonstrate, not only to me, but to everyone, that I can compete. Each year I improve and learn, I feel more confident in the car.”
This growth in confidence led Cristina to apply to be a part of the FIA Qatar Campus. The event organised by the FIA selected 18 women to attend the educational experience, in which tutors such as the only woman to win the Dakar Rally, Jutta Kleinschmidt, mentored the young racers. Following this, she entered the Sealine Cross Country Rally in Qatar, winning the women’s category. The confidence gained through these meant Cristina took the plunge in 2017 entering her first Dakar Rally. “When I won the FIA selection, it gave me the confidence to compete in Dakar for the first time. In rally raid it is always the goal. It is the hardest race in the world for all drivers. When I crossed the finish line, I felt relaxed and happy, it was a dream come true!” the Spaniard explained.
After the relief of finishing her first race in 2017, her second Dakar Rally was incredibly tough with many complications, however 2019 saw her best result to date. After moving to a different team with a superior car in the T1 Prototype category, Cristina set herself the target of finishing in the top 25. Having previously achieved finishes of 44th and 38th, she narrowly missed out on her target, ending in 26th position. However, Cristina had made a huge amount of progress in just a few years. “I try to improve each year within myself, the car and the team. For me, this result was good because I continued growing. I’m now 29 years old and there is still time to improve a lot. I want to do more Dakar rallies and maybe someday I will win a category. I will definitely try to do it!” she told me.
Having also competed in Dakar in 2020, Cristina returned in 2021 in what was her fifth entry. During this, she became the first woman to win a Dakar stage since Jutta Kleinschmidt in 2005, with this experience likely to be very useful for her newest challenge as she enters the brand-new Extreme E Championship. Launched in 2019, Extreme E will race in some of the most remote parts of the world highlighting the effects of climate change and human activities. This electric racing will be off-road, as in Dakar, though there will be definite differences. “It’s not the same, but it is similar. The cars are similar, the format of the race is not the same, but I think I have good experience in this type of vehicle. The best race for me will be in Saudi Arabia because there will be a lot of sand dunes which Dakar has too,” Cristina explained. The sustainable message around the championship was also an important factor for her, saying: “for me, it’s important to have this type of championship, nowadays, we need to make changes in our lives. Formula E and Extreme E give opportunities to try and do that. This is the future!”
Cristina’s involvement in Extreme E came when the team she is now signed to, Team X44, contacted her. “I was racing in a rally in Andalucia with Mini. I was very happy because I finished in eighth position overall and I think the team saw this. They then called me directly and asked if I wanted to join them, and of course I said yes. This is like a dream,” the Spanish driver said. Created by Seven-Time Formula One World Champion Sir Lewis Hamilton, Team X44 are one of ten teams who will compete in the inaugural season of Extreme E. Each team are required to have one male and one female driver with Cristina being paired with Nine-Time World Rally Champion Sébastien Loeb. “The team are very good with lots of professional and experienced people. Sébastien Loeb is the best driver that I could do it with. It’s so easy to improve and learn with him and so working with this team will be good for me,” she told me.
Not only does the championship have a strong message surrounding climate change, but also gender equality. As mentioned, each team must have both a male and female driver with the competitors within the team racing together rather than against each other. “In this championship, we have the opportunity to race with some of the best drivers in the world. I will be driving with one of the most important, Sébastien Loeb, and I will improve a lot and have the opportunity to demonstrate to everyone that girls have the capacity to do good things in motorsport,” Cristina described. With sustainability a key part of Extreme E, testing of the cars is quite limited. Furthermore, with the championship visiting such remote places, much of what the series will entail is unknown, therefore preparation will be very important, though quite difficult. “We don’t know which type of terrain we will have in some places but I think competing in some other categories will help me to prepare,” she explained.
Although she didn’t start competing until the age of 18, Cristina has had incredible success throughout her motorsport career including six Spanish championship titles and becoming the first Spanish woman to finish the Dakar Rally in her category. Speaking of the highlights of her career so far, Cristina said: “my first Dakar! It was totally new. The competition, the car, the co-driver, it was a dream come true. It’s also been a challenging and strange year because of COVID, I finished in October and then started to get opportunities like Extreme E and Dakar so 2020 has also been very special.” With such success and a determination to be victorious against all competitors whether male or female, Cristina is a brilliant role model for young people wanting to get involved in motorsport, with her advice being: “be patient, work hard, and fight for your dreams!”
Heading photo credit: Team X44