Dakar Rally: Celebrating the Legendary Performances of Female Off-Road Racers

    My first ideas for the top 10 female race and rally drivers of all time included entries from all over the world, maybe with one or two unsung heroines and some historical pioneers. However, looking at the cold, hard statistics of the best and fastest women of their day gave a different picture. The Dakar Rally, in particular, has had a far bigger share of female success than we think, and that’s even in the modern era, without trying to draw equivalence between the original Paris-Dakar and its present-day counterpart.

    These drivers were the best, rather than being the first, the most popular or the most significant. This list does skew towards Europe and half of the drivers here were active in the 1970s and 1980s. In comparison with the younger generation of Dakar competitors, they are much older, often reaching the peak of their powers in their 30s and beyond and sometimes not even taking up the sport until adulthood.

    There are only 10 spots on this list and inevitably, someone will be left out who may well deserve to be one of the ten. Debate away; it’s the point of this article after all, and just goes to show the strength in depth that the female side of the off-road racing world has within it.

    10. Anny-Charlotte Verney

    Verney made 10 consecutive starts at the Dakar Rally between 1974-83, with a best finish of 6th in 1981 driving a Porsche 935 K3. She holds the record for the most Dakar starts by a woman.

    9. Lella Lombardi

    The reserved and enigmatic Italian was more than a plucky Dakar challenger, with three World Sportscar Championship victories to her name, including wins at Enna-Pergusa and Mugello.

    8. Jutta Kleinschmidt

    The German made Dakar Rally history in 2001 when she became the first and only woman to win the grueling event outright, driving a Mitsubishi. She remained competitive in the Dakar until 2016.

    7. Danica Patrick

    Best known for her record-breaking IndyCar career, Patrick also showed promise in Dakar-style rally raid events, finishing 8th in the 2009 Daytona 24 Hours in a Pontiac prototype.

    6. Lilian Bryner

    The Swiss former Olympian and airline pilot only began racing in her 30s, but went on to win the prestigious Spa 24 Hours in 2004 driving a Ferrari 550 Maranello GT car.

    5. Pat Moss

    Moss’s rally career included three major international rally wins, including the legendary Liège-Rome-Liège in 1960 driving an Austin-Healey 3000.

    4. Michele Mouton

    Mouton came agonizingly close to winning the World Rally Championship in 1982, winning four events that year in her Audi Quattro. She later became the first woman to win the famous Pikes Peak hillclimb.

    3. Desire Wilson

    The South African racer was on the cusp of an F1 drive in the early 1980s and became the first woman to win a race in F1 machinery at the 1980 Aurora F1 Brands Hatch event.

    2. Yvette Fontaine

    The Belgian racer won the 1969 Belgian Saloon Car championship and also scored class wins at the Le Mans 24 Hours, including an 11th overall finish in 1975 driving a Porsche Carrera.

    1. Janet Guthrie

    Guthrie was a trailblazer for female racers in the US, becoming the first woman to start the Indianapolis 500 in 1977 and finishing a remarkable 9th in 1978, the highest ever finish for a woman at Indy.

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