Jutta Kleinschmidt, a race car driver who 20 years ago became the first and only woman to win the notoriously difficult Dakar Rally, is still not slowing down. In addition to participating in races, she’s now the President of the Cross Country Rally Commission at the FIA and a motivational speaker. We sat down with her to talk about the past and future challenges in her life.
Continental: What makes you more nervous, giving an interview or driving a racing car?
Jutta Kleinschmidt: Interviews don’t make me nervous at all! And even with racing car driving, nervous is not the right word; it’s exciting. Sure, you get a little tense before the start of the race, but that’s often because you want to be fully prepared, you want everything to be perfect. But that’s a healthy kind of nervousness that makes you consider every important detail that can help you in the race.
C: How was being back in Dakar now that the actual Paris-Dakar race no longer takes place there?
J K: It was a surprise! And definitely a pleasant one.
I was the so-called “championship driver” in the last Extreme E race. One of our roles was to jump into the race in case somebody has a problem of some sort. And lo and behold, I got to do that in Senegal, in Dakar!
It was a nice surprise because 20 years ago I won the Dakar Rally and I have lots of nice memories from back then.
Jutta Kleinschmidt is the first and only woman to have won the Dakar Rally
C: How has the role of women changed within motorsports in the last 20 years?
J K: I definitely see progress now, with Extreme E. 50% of racers there are female, and that’s just fantastic!
Motorsport is a field with a lot of champions and we have a lot of women who have achieved great things in it already. Now, they are even more in focus because of series such as Extreme E. They have a world-wide recognition that helps racers, especially young women, boost their careers.
C: Now that you have participated in an Extreme E race, what are your expectation for electric racing in the future?
J K: I’ve been fascinated with electric cars for the last ten years because I think it’s very important for the industry to steer towards environment friendly technologies. That was one of the main reasons why I wanted to be involved in Extreme E. Motorsports and professional racing has always been a testing ground for new technologies, and now it is more important than ever.
I’ve been fascinated with electric cars for the last ten years… Motorsports and professional racing has always been a testing ground for new technologies, and now it is more important than ever.
C: Name three never-before-tried places where you would like to race?
J K: Well, one is already planned! One of the Extreme E races is in Greenland, and I’m very excited about that one. I’ve never raced there before. And I am really looking forward to it because, as far as I know, it will be the first international race held there.
My second racing destination is the Moon. I would love to race on the Moon! It must be super fun because the minimal gravity means you can jump very, very far. And we could do it all with electric cars! That would be great.
The third one could maybe be a snow-capped mountain of some sort. Maybe Mount Everest? Of course, that would be very difficult, and we’d have to go electric there because of how high up it would be. But it would be an interesting challenge!
Jutta Kleinschmidt once rode a bicycle 3,100 miles (5,000km) across the USA in just eight and a half days
C: Throughout your career you’ve inspired a lot of people. What or who inspires you?
J K: There’s no one person that inspires me per se. There are times when I see someone doing something great, achieving wonderful things, and I think to myself that it’s fantastic and I want to do something along those lines too. But it’s not tied to a specific person. I’d say I get inspired by challenges. I love challenges. I’m always looking for something new. For example, working with new technologies like I got to do with Extreme E. I love getting involved in new projects that present new opportunities because that is what challenges you the most.
Jutta Kleinschmidt graduated from university with a degree in physics engineering
C: What kind of advice do you give to people?
J K: I often urge them to sit down and really think about what their dreams are, what they want to do in life. I think it is so important, especially these days with time going by so fast, and everyone being constantly occupied and in a rush.
That’s why I tell people to sit down or take a walk or a bicycle ride without any distractions and think about what they are really dreaming of. Then, try to go in that direction, go for it. Because, normally, if you really want something, you are also really good at it and you will achieve it. This is what happened to me in my career, and I think I can only advise everybody to try and do the same.
She also has her helicopter pilot license
C: How do you use your racing experience to motivate people?
J K: I believe that no matter what you do, your success depends on the same components. For example, both in business and in motorsports you need a good team around you. Because if you don’t have a good team, you have no chance. Same with paying attention to details that people tend to underestimate. Take tyres, for instance. They are the only surface that connects you to the ground. You can have a fantastic car but if you don’t have the right tyres, you can never achieve anything.
These details are, in fact, what sets you apart from others. Everybody in international racing is a good driver, otherwise they wouldn’t be there. So, you need to be just a little different, a little better, take every advantage you can find to win. Same with any other undertaking.
Crises are also similar everywhere. At one point in my career, I lost all my sponsors and had to look for something new in order to participate in the Dakar Rally. That’s how I ended up in a car with which I won the race! I tell these types of stories to people to encourage them not to give up. Sometimes it takes a while but, if you have failed, just try again. You have only lost if you don’t try it again.
Everybody in international racing is a good driver, otherwise they wouldn’t be there. So, you need to be just a little different, a little better, take every advantage you can find to win.