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Dakar 2024: Cristina Gutiérrez claims historic win for Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team at Dakar in Saudi Arabia

Dakar 2024: Cristina Gutiérrez claims historic win for Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team at Dakar in Saudi Arabia

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The Juniors at Dakar: Challengers rise to the occasion

After 11 stages through the most perilous terrain Saudi Arabia has to offer, the final day of the 2024 Dakar Rally was supposed to be a gentle coast to the finish line. The vast majority of Dakar stages this year were over 450km long, but Stage 12 on the outskirts of Yanbu measured just 175km. It was supposed to be a simple, straightforward day… but this is the Dakar!

Cristina Gutiérrez’s Dakar had started by discovering a new machine for her latest entry into the Challenger class, the Taurus T3 Max. The first time she raced the vehicle was during the Prologue Stage at this Dakar. The Spaniard had got to grips with the Taurus quickly and by the second week she had established herself in second place overall. Going into the final stage Gutiérrez was nearly an hour clear of Rokas Baciuška in third, but 25 minutes behind Mitch Guthrie Jr. in first.

Gutiérrez and co-driver Pablo Moreno attacked the stage on the Dakar’s final day even though there was little prospect of a change at the top of the leaderboard. However, when mechanical gremlins struck Guthrie Jr. it was Gutiérrez who charged to the front to make history as the Dakar’s first female winner since Jutta Kleinschmidt in 2001.

“I always tried to fight until the finish. We didn’t know what had happened until the last kilometres. We pushed a lot on this stage because I knew that 25 minutes is a lot, but if something happens behind you, you never know. One of my values is to never give up and always in the race I never gave up. I pushed myself until the finish.” Cristina Gutiérrez

Fellow Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team driver Guthrie Jr. was at the other end of the emotional spectrum at the finish line in Yanbu. The Californian had held the lead of the Challenger class since the Rest Day. It looked certain that Guthrie Jr.’s luck had changed after suffering misfortune in the past Dakars such as early retirements and missing one edition entirely due to illness. Unfortunately for Guthrie Jr. and co-driver Kellon Walch their own Taurus T3 Max machine ran into trouble shortly after starting Stage 12.

“We got going in the beginning and on a straightaway lost power. A tube came loose because a clamp broke or something. It took us a while to fix that because it’s really hard to get to and we burned our hands. Eventually we got everything reattached and continued until about 30k from the finish when we had an issue with the gearbox. Thankfully we got some help to get to the finish. I don’t think it’s anyone’s fault, that’s just racing. It really sucks, I’m disappointed, bummed out.”Mitch Guthrie Jr.

Guthrie Jr. recovered to place second overall, a career best finish at the Dakar for the 27-year-old American. Joining his Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team-mates on the final Challenger podium was Baciuška. The Lithuanian racer and co-driver Oriol Vidal suffered all of their bad luck during the first week of the Dakar and were able to battle back to a third place finish during the second half of the rally.

“I feel good to have finished the last stage. This was my third Dakar and it was the most difficult of all. We had two Marathon Stages and lots of kilometres. Now we’ve crossed the finish line. I survived, the car survived so now it’s time to celebrate.”Rokas Baciuška

There was to be no three-peat for Austin ‘AJ’ Jones and co-driver Gustavo Gugelmin at the 2024 Dakar Rally. After winning the SSV class in 2022 and the Challenger class last year, Jones was on winning streak. This time around Jones had to settle for fifth place overall, but he has vowed to get back on top soon.

“This was a really challenging Dakar, the days were really long. The weather was nice so that was a change. We had a lot of issues that were out of our control.”Austin Jones

There was an eventful first attempt at the Ultimate class for Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team graduate Seth Quintero. The 21-year-old was handed the keys to a Toyota GR DKR Hilux and started with a pair of podium finishes on the opening few days of the rally. Although things got tougher as the rally went on it was overall a great learning experience for Quintero and co-driver Dennis Zenz. They brought their Hilux over the finish line in Yanbu ahead of representing Toyota Gazoo Racing in the rest of this year’s World Rally-Raid Championship

“Despite how hard this rally was I actually had a lot of fun. I’m only 21 and I have a lot left in me. In hindsight we learned a lot at this rally and we’ll look to use those lessons when we're next in the car in Abu Dhabi.”Seth Quintero

Source: Red Bull Off-Road Junior
Photo: Marcelo Maragni / Red Bull Content Pool

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