“A craving for new challenges”
February 2022

“A craving for new challenges”

By Leopold Wieland
Jutta Kleinschmidt is the first and, so far, only woman to have won the Dakar Rally, the biggest “horsepower marathon” in the desert. An interview with a motorsport legend about motivation, limits, pioneering spirit and the Moon as a travel destination.

Pioneering spirit is the focus topic of this issue of “tomorrow.” Can you capture this “spirit” for us in just a few words
For me, pioneering spirit means the human pursuit of new challenges, not of greater success and wealth.

Does this spirit tend to be more feminine or masculine?
It’s neither. It’s related to individuals, not to gender.

When did you first become aware of your own pioneering spirit?
It’s been there right from the beginning. I’ve always had a strong interest in new things for as long as I can remember – especially in technology and adventures.

  • Comeback: In 2021, Jutta Kleinschmidt contested the inaugural season of the Extr ...
    Comeback: In 2021, Jutta Kleinschmidt contested the inaugural season of the Extreme E electric offroad racing series © LAT
  • The new partner alongside Jutta Kleinschmidt in the 2022 Extreme E season is fou ...
    The new partner alongside Jutta Kleinschmidt in the 2022 Extreme E season is four-time Dakar Rally winner Nasser Al-Attiyah. The first race will be held on February 19 and 20 in Neom (Saudi Arabia). The race car of the German-Qatari duo is also new: The CUPRA Tavascan XE now replaces the e-CUPRA ABT XE1 from the first season © CUPRA
  • The queen of the desert Jutta Kleinschmidt
    The queen of the desert Jutta Kleinschmidt © LAT

If, unlike in your case, a person doesn’t have a pioneering spirit right off the bat, is it something that can be learned?
I’d say it probably can’t. But I do believe that every human being has a sense of curiosity and a pioneering spirit. It’s just that both of these need to be awakened and practiced over and over. If you follow your pioneering spirit, you can, naturally, develop all your inspiration and motivation and achieve your goals.

To attend physics classes, you went to a boys’ school as a child with special permission. Did you already feel like you were a pioneer back then?
I didn’t feel like I was a pioneer although, obviously, that’s what I was. I wanted to take physics classes at all cost. My interest in that was simply greater than in anything else. That’s why I fought for it and followed through with it. The boys immediately accepted me as the only girl and even elected me as class representative and head girl. I wasn’t the odd one out, quite the opposite was true.

How did you get into endurance rallying, where you made motorsport history particularly by having won the Dakar Rally in 2001 as the first and, so far, only woman?
I’ve primarily been driven by my adventurousness, my love of new technologies and of competition. I found this combination in cross-country endurance rallies – first on motorcycles and then in cars.

The queen of the desert
“A craving for new challenges”
Premiere in 1987, a pro since 1992: Adventurousness and a fascination with technology and competition enticed Kleinschmidt to get into motorsports© privat

Born in Cologne in 1962, Jutta Kleinschmidt grew up in Berchtesgaden. Her motto: I’d rather have a tree house than a doll house. After successful completion of her degree program in physics (1986–1992) she joined BMW’s motorcycle development team as a graduate engineer. Concurrently, in 1987, she contested her first cross-country endurance rally on a motorcycle. In 1992, Kleinschmidt became a professional race driver and switched to rally cars in 1994. 2001 saw her claim her greatest success: as the first and, so far, only woman she won the Dakar Rally. The partner for the powertrain of her Mitsubishi Pajero was Schaeffler’s LuK brand. From 2002 to 2006, she was a Volkswagen works driver and as a developer one of the supporting pillars of the brand’s Dakar project, in which LuK was a partner as well. In 2005, Kleinschmidt made motorsport history once again on clinching the first podium finish, in third place, of a diesel-powered vehicle in the iconic event. 2007 saw her contest her last Dakar, in a BMW, followed by sporadic participations in motorsports. Kleinschmidt went on to increasingly appear as a successful keynote speaker and, since 2019, has been President of the FIA’s Cross Country Rally Commission. In 2021, the German celebrated a surprising comeback in the Extreme E fully electric offroad racing series. On the ABT CUPRA XE team, she took turns at the wheel of the e-CUPRA ABT XE1 with Mattias Ekström – with Schaeffler on board again as a team partner.

How do you like this role as a trailblazer and role model that across your biography you’ve now had for more than twenty years also for young women?
This role has never been my goal. I’ve acquired it as a result of what I’ve been doing and have achieved. Obviously, it’s positive and rewarding for me to motivate especially women and girls to get into technology and into motorsports, to pursue their dreams and to make them a reality.

Did you personally have any female role models like the first female race drivers Clärenore Stinnes and Pat Moss or aviator Elly Beinhorn?
I’ve never had a single role model but have watched and learned all the things that help me realize my dreams and goals from a number of highly accomplished and gifted people.

Obviously, it’s positive and rewarding for me to motivate especially women and girls to get into technology and into motorsports, to pursue their dreams and to make them a reality.

Jutta Kleinschmidt

As an engineer and racer, did you want to prove something primarily to yourself or to others?
It was primarily about me, but not about proving something. It was about testing my limits and also about pushing the envelope. I wanted to find out what I was really able to achieve. Especially in the male-dominated world of motorsports I was also motivated by asking myself: why should I, as a woman, not be able to do and achieve this? I was not deterred by the fact that there were only few and only few very successful women in motorsports. I wanted to try that out for myself and then decide for myself whether or not I was capable of racing.

  • Greatest triumph: In 2001, Kleinschmidt with co-driver Andreas Schulz won the Da ...
    Greatest triumph: In 2001, Kleinschmidt with co-driver Andreas Schulz won the Dakar Rally. Partnering with the team was Schaeffler’s LuK brand © Mitsubishi
  • In the 2005 Dakar Rally, Kleinschmidt clinched the first podium finish for a die ...
    In the 2005 Dakar Rally, Kleinschmidt clinched the first podium finish for a diesel-powered vehicle in the VW Race Touareg, finishing third. LuK was on board again © Volkswagen
  • Pure pioneering spirit: In the early years, Kleinschmidt would prepare her Endur ...
    Pure pioneering spirit: In the early years, Kleinschmidt would prepare her Enduros in her kitchen at home © privat

As a racer, where did you deliberately push the ­envelope?
Those were physical limits primarily. Endurance rallies are super-strenuous. There were a number of events before which it was hard to imagine that the upcoming strains could be handled. Even so, I always managed to do it somehow. And in that way, I not only found out what is physically possible but also what you can mentally achieve in super-strenuous situations that, as a result, can also be super-nerve-racking at times. You only get to really know yourself and others when you reach and push your limits.

Venturous people inevitably take risks. What does your personal risk management look like?
I’ve always tried to get as close as possible to defined limits. In rallying, for instance, I always asked: what are the capabilities of my car, what potential does the route have? In that context, I always used a very calculated approach. Obviously, I’ve also misjudged situations, which resulted in occasional crashes.

Did success satisfy the motorsports pioneer Jutta Kleinschmidt or did it make her hungrier for more?
Whenever I’m successful I don’t need to repeat that success. I always set myself new limits, new goals. I have a craving for new challenges – not only in motorsports.

“A craving for new challenges”
Most recent success: podium celebrations in the fall of 2021 by Kleinschmidt, teammate Mattias Ekström and Team ABT CUPRA in the Extreme E racing series© LAT

In your many desert rallies, what have you learned for life?
Not to take all the minor problems at home so seriously anymore. Today, whenever I get upset about trivial issues of everyday life or drive myself crazy because of them, I consciously ask myself: now, how important is that to me, really? In most cases, I realize that it’s not that important, that I’m just making a mountain out of a molehill. But motorsports have also taught me to more intensively enjoy all the small things – chilling out, watching TV and, above all, the beauty of nature, be it in the desert, on the oceanfront, in the mountains or just on the side of a road.

You’re now working as a frequently booked speaker as well. One of your keynote topics is “Achieving success with mental strength.” How can a person prevent doubting themselves? Or can self-doubts even be helpful at times?
That’s a very exciting subject. I, for one, am very self-critical. That’s both good and bad. The good part about it is that because of this trait I prepare myself for my tasks really well. The bad part about it is that self-doubts keep haunting me. That makes external and internal preparation all the more important. That has always been decisive for me in motorsports. That’s why I did more physical training and tried to understand and know the technology of my car really well. I’ve worked out advantages in my racing career particularly by being perfectly prepared. That helped me gain the necessary mental strength in competitions. Another thing that always helped me a lot was to analyze the causes of my mistakes and the resulting self-doubts. This empowered me to systematically reduce my weak areas, strengthen my self-awareness and become better and better.

“A craving for new challenges”
“Immensely impressed”: FIA official Kleinschmidt in 2022 visited Audi’s Dakar team, including drivers Sainz and Peterhansel (from left), together with FIA President and ex-rally driver Mohammed Ben Sulayem© Michael Kunkel / Hoch Zwei

As an experienced engineer in the development of production and race cars, which pioneering feats in the history of mobility impress you?
The name of Bertha Benz comes to mind in this context. In 1888, she was the first person to venture driving a longer distance in a new invention, the automobile. She secretly grabbed her two sons and took off with them in the patented motor car developed by her husband, Carl. In doing so, she caused the automobile to finally become socially accepted. Today, Elon Musk achieves pioneering feats in a class of their own with Tesla. At first, nobody took him seriously and now every automaker is producing electric cars. In terms of electric mobility, the new Audi project impressed me immensely at the last Dakar Rally because this all-new and complex fully electric powertrain system using an internal combustion engine to drive a generator that charges the battery worked perfectly in its world premiere. I’m absolutely delighted that this pioneering achievement functioned in the toughest of all competitions.

For you, the greatest pioneering feat of all in mobility is …
… the first Moon landing. What the NASA engineers achieved there in terms of technology 50 years ago, the risks that they and the astronauts dared to take, is truly awesome. All those control technologies using computers as we know them today were at best dreams at the time.

Space holds a great fascination for you. You would have liked becoming an astronaut after your racing career but had already passed the age limit. Plus, we’ve read that you could imagine spending the last day of your life on the Moon. Why?
I had the privilege of being able to actually experience many of the challenges I’d been dreaming of. As a result, I got to see some of the most wonderful places in the world that other people never get to visit. But this one, really special, place is still missing in my collection. Being able to look at our Earth as a globe from a spot that’s far out in space just before my own life ends – that would be a unique final pleasure. But before that I still have quite a few other plans …