Many people would have forgiven Molly Taylor for taking some well-deserved time off during the racing off-season. After all, the Australian is still riding the crest of a wave after picking up the inaugural Extreme E title alongside Johan Kristoffersson in Dorset earlier this month.
Time off, for a rally driver, however, is not something that necessarily computes. And instead of putting her feet up, Taylor is now readying herself for perhaps the biggest challenge of her career to date: the Dakar Rally.
A relative newcomer to the world of cross-country rallying, Taylor has just two events under her belt so far but is raring to go on the biggest endurance event in the world with the South Racing Can-Am Factory Team.
“[The] Dakar is always something which has been on the bucket list, a dream of mine for a long time,” Taylor tells DirtFish.
“The opportunity to do Abu Dhabi [Rally Challenge] and then [Rally] Ha’il was my first experience of what this discipline is like, and I absolutely loved it.
“It’s been a massive change to be honest, switching to cross-country rallying. There’s not a lot of similarities; everything about it is different. The terrains, the cars, the navigation, everything.
“But it’s been a really cool learning experience and it’s a lot of fun I have to say.”
Taylor’s first cross-country outing came during the summer on the Baja Aragón, finishing a creditable fifth.
Quite a feat for someone who had never driven a Baja before. But as Taylor explains, the unique challenge of navigation to which traditional stage rally drivers have to adapt, had to wait until the Abu Dhabi Rally Challenge later in the year due to particularities of the Aragón route.
“My first outing on the Baja Aragón was not really challenging on the navigation, that was more like driving on gravel roads, like doing a blind rally essentially, so Abu Dhabi was the first proper rally raid, no proper roads to follow, that I’ve done,” says Taylor.
“And the sand dunes in Abu Dhabi are like, the biggest things I’ve ever seen as well, so that was the first experience of what the Dakar will be like.”
And that’s what Taylor will have to get to grips with quickly on the Dakar next week. There are dunes, and then there are Saudi Arabia dunes, which range from small hills to almost mountain-like characteristics.
“The first three days of Abu Dhabi were pretty daunting, I was completely out of my comfort zone and on the second day, we got to these dunes which were the size of mountains,” Taylor explains.
“I looked at them and if there hadn’t been wheel tracks of people in front, I would have thought it impossible to scale the hundreds of meters high dunes, so it was pretty terrifying the first time going up there.
“It’s like going over the edge of a cliff and not knowing what’s on the other side; it takes your breath away a little bit.
“But after a couple of days of being in that environment – there are still moments like that where you’re into uncharted territory – and understanding what the car can do, the stuff they can scale up, is the most impressive. Once you get a feel for it, it’s the best fun because it’s like you’re surfing on the dunes.”
In order for Taylor to hit the ground running in Saudi, she’s got a tried and tested partner in the passenger seat and, more importantly, someone with previous Dakar experience.
That man is navigator Dale Moscatt, who Taylor believes is the right addition to aid her adaptation to rally raid.
“I’ve known Dale for a really long time, and he used to co-drive for me in my first championship rallies and we’ve done a few here and there since,” said Taylor.
“He’s not my regular co-driver but I know him very well and he’s done the Dakar before. And because I’m on such a learning curve, I wanted to have someone who knows the event and fast-track me, so it seemed like a really good fit.
“In traditional rallying, it’s critical that the co-driver and the driver do the job together but in rally raid, the navigator sort of has more scope to have a bigger influence than in rallying.
“There are so many elements in rally raid to master, interpreting the terrain is important and it’s a completely different ball game.”
The ability to adapt on the fly is definitely something that correlates between Dakar and Extreme E but the format of Extreme is so differentMolly Taylor
With precious few similarities between cross-country and what Taylor has grown up with, the influence Moscatt is likely to have during the event is not to be understated. Neither is the support of her team South Racing, which is one of the best in the business among the T4 Side-by-Side (SSV) category.
The team has won the event for the last four years, with Francisco López Contardo taking his second win in two years in 2021.
For Taylor, linking up with the best was logical.
“There’s so much experience around and I am very lucky in that sense that I have them to help me do the best job possible,” Taylor says.
“It’s so important on a rally like the Dakar, to learn from a team which has won it before, I don’t think there’s a better environment to be in.
“I got in touch with them off the back of the Extreme E campaign; I wanted to get a bit more experience in off-road, so I was trying to find someone in Europe to get the possibility to do some driving, so I spoke to them and that’s how Baja Aragón came about.
“And then suddenly, it looked like the Dakar might become a possibility and it all happened quite quickly in the end.”
It’s no surprise that an event like the Dakar is unlike anything else in motorsport, but Taylor reckons there are some elements of her Extreme E experiences this year which she can take with her to the Middle East.
“There’s so many things that you don’t know, so I will just take it as it comes. It’s hard to predict what will happen or what to expect.
“[The Extreme E events in] Saudi, Senegal and even Greenland with the riverbeds, are quite similar to that of the Dakar.
“I think the ability to adapt on the fly is definitely something that correlates between Dakar and Extreme E but then the format of Extreme is so different; it’s short, sharp, fast-paced, almost rallycross style on tracks.
“Whereas the Dakar is a lot longer of course, you go over dunes and you only see that dune once, so there are a lot more variables.”
Whatever happens throughout the first 12 days in January, Taylor is sure of one thing.
“The amount that I’m learning every kilometer compared to someone who’s done it a lot is huge,” she says.
“I just have to approach each day as it comes, be patient, make the best decisions I can at the time and just make sure that I’m learning something every day and taking it onto the next day.”