Sharing an Extreme E car with Sebastien Loeb in Lewis Hamilton’s X44 team means that Cristina Gutierrez will be pushed from the dust of the sand dunes into the spotlight, but she’s been waiting for this chance.
The 29-year-old Spanish driver is a veteran of four Dakar rallies from 2017 to 2020, finishing every time. Her best result was in 2019, when she was 26th overall from 56 Car class finishers, driving a Mitsubishi with Pablo Moreno Huete.
She was the first woman from Spain to ever finish the off-road classic in a car in 2017, as befits someone who had at that time been her country’s Women’s Off-Road Champion since 2012, and outright vice-champion in the same discipline in 2015 following a series of second places in Spanish Bajas.
In a category of racing such as cross-country populated by significant numbers of hard-bitten veterans in their 40s and 50s, Gutierrez stood out in her early 20s.
Her non-cockpit profession is dentistry, and while she has always felt like a welcome novelty in an increasingly conformist sport, Gutierrez is not afraid to get her teeth into off-road racing.
Yes, she is a dentist. This early dual focus gives her an interesting point of similarity with Loeb, who has also experienced intense high-level training for something completely unrelated to motorsport: he competed seriously in gymnastics long before he learned to drive.
Both are also “thinking” drivers. Loeb always has an eye on overall gold rather than single-stage heroics and Gutierrez with her Dakar background knows more than most that to finish first, first you must finish.
Gutierrez may have a well-paid career on which to fall back but putting together enough budget to be competitive in her rallying hasn’t always been easy.
In 2015 she travelled to Qatar for an FIA Women’s Cross Country Selection event in order to get a foot on the international rally-raid ladder.
The prize was a funded entry into the 2016 Sealine Cross Country Rally and although she lost out on first prize to New Zealand’s Emma Gilmour, she impressed judge Nasser Al-Attiyah so much that he gave her a drive too. Her Extreme E colleague Molly Taylor was another standout who was given an extra award too.
In case anyone thinks Gutierrez is a pure endurance specialist who might find Extreme E’s snappier format hard to get accustomed to, she has more strings to her bow, just like Loeb. She has always kept her eye in with stage rallies, and early in her career, she actually won a rallysprint event in a Toyota Landcruiser. The 2012 Rallysprint di Tierra Alfoz de Quintanaduenas ended with Gutierrez and her co-driving brother Gustavo flattening the opposition by ten clear seconds and over a minute quicker than the third-placed driver, who was in a Volkswagen Golf.
This quietly quick Spanish dentist-driver has flown under the radar for most of her career, carefully gaining experience and learning from others. Partnering Loeb and Hamilton will be her time to fly into the spotlight and perhaps even higher.