In the current issue of the eMove360° magazine in german language (download PDF), we present Jutta Kleinschmidt, driver in the ABT CUPRA XE team in Extreme E, as part of the “Women-in-Tech” series. Kleinschmidt left her mark on motorsport like no woman before her: Over the years she established a firm place for herself in the male-dominated industry and crowned her achievements in 2001 with victory in the legendary Dakar Rally. She was the first and to this day the only woman to win the rally raid competition. In the interview, she talks about how she prevailed in male-dominated motorsport, how Extreme E differs from other cross-country experiences and why she dreams of racing on the moon.
As one of the first women in motorsport, you had to fight resistance and prejudice. But you never let yourself be dissuaded from your goal – how did you manage that?
Jutta Kleinschmidt: The most important point is to keep your self-confidence – especially if you are a pioneer in some way. People always believe something is not possible – until someone has done it. But those self-doubts are there, of course, when you’re told the same thing from all sides. But for me, I didn’t listen to others when I felt I could do it. I said I want to try it and if I’m not good enough, so be it.
With what motivation did you start your first Dakar Rally – did you think you had a good chance?
Kleinschmidt: For me, the Dakar Rally was first of all just a big adventure. I saddled up my motorbike and followed the rally as a stowaway, so to speak; first I just wanted to arrive. Once I had done that, I wanted to ride the rally in the classification. Then I wanted to finish in the top ten, then in the top five, then on the podium – and then I wanted to win.
Your first attempt didn’t exactly give you hope that you would win the rally later on, did it?
Kleinschmidt: Not even close: After one stage I was filled with diesel instead of petrol and the race was over for me. That was a bitter disappointment, of course.
How did you manage to assert yourself in the – to this day – male-dominated motorsport?
Kleinschmidt: Of course it helped me a lot that I developed cars as a physics engineer, that I could have my say and convince people with my knowledge. As a result, I was taken more seriously. But something only really changed after I won the “Dakar”. Until then, I had been struggling for almost 20 years.
What can you give girls and women to help them have courage and believe in themselves and their dreams?
Kleinschmidt: You have to listen to yourself – what do I want, what interests me? If someone tells you that you can’t do it, that no one has ever done it and that men are just better – then you have to try it out. You have to believe in yourself. The boys never wanted to play football with me because they thought I was too bad. I said, let me play – and if I’m too bad, you can kick me out again. In the end, they were happy to have me in the team. Of course you have to train a lot and you need stamina, you mustn’t give up straight away. I say: you haven’t lost until you haven’t tried again.
There is equality in the Extreme E cockpit – does that bring women forward in motorsport?
Kleinschmidt: What I like so much about Extreme E is that it gives many young female drivers a chance. The guys are all full professionals, there are world champions in every team. Unfortunately, there are not so many women yet. But in the two years that the series has existed, you can already see how the women have developed. The boys can always drive somewhere, Nasser Al-Attiyah is in the race car practically every weekend. But many teams are now looking at letting the girls drive somewhere else – and it is gigantic how good they have become in this short time.
Are mixed teams possibly the better teams?
Kleinschmidt: The mixed teams are a great thing. In other series you also drive with men in the same team, but in two cars, so against each other. Then everyone wants to win for themselves first and tells the other as little as possible so as not to lose an advantage. In Extreme E it’s the other way round: if someone knows something about how to get something out of something, it’s communicated. That’s already the case when you’re running down the track and training: You exchange ideas – you try this, I try that, and then we see what works better. You drive the same lap with the same car, with the same material and then you can compare the data. You try to do something better together: Driver and female driver have to work closely together, only then can they be successful. And there are strengths that men have and strengths that women have, that’s just the way it is. This interaction can help both.
How does Extreme E differ from your cross-country experience?
Kleinschmidt: The only thing that is the same: it is off-road. But it’s completely different. The races are insanely short, you race twice a day for five minutes. In cross country, you get the road book in the morning and start driving – you have to find the track. In Extreme E you know the track exactly and can fight for every centimetre in every corner. That is a completely new experience for me.
Before you entered Extreme E for ABT CUPRA XE, did you have any preconceptions about electric mobility, especially in motorsport?
Kleinschmidt: As an engineer, I love new technologies and I became interested in e-mobility very early on. When I was able to drive one of the first e-series cars for the first time, I was thrilled. I already found Formula E exciting, but when I heard about Extreme E, I was fascinated: A series for off-road electric vehicles, that’s a blast. Whereas everyone always said off-road – never, the extreme conditions, the water, the rollovers, the batteries burst and burn …
Classic motorsport with its combustion engines is no longer considered contemporary by many, because the “racing circus” is not exactly climate-friendly. Can e-drive technology save motorsport?
Kleinschmidt: Absolutely. Motorsport has to move in this direction, it won’t survive with the combustion engine. Maybe with e-fuel, but in any case it has to become environmentally friendly. For me, there is no other way. Motorsport has always been a pioneer of new technologies and developments. Many things that we have used and tested in motorsport have been made ready for series production.
Where do you see the opportunities and advantages of e-cars – and where are the problems still?
Kleinschmidt: I only drive e-cars privately – and I wouldn’t want to change. It has great acceleration and is good on the road. The range is now completely OK, and recuperation is a great technology. Maintenance is also easy; a simple electric motor consists of about 25 parts, whereas a simple combustion engine easily has 800 to 1000 parts. That’s why I also believe that the electric drive will prevail – it doesn’t necessarily have to be fully battery electric. In the meantime, there are other technologies to drive the electric motor.
With your involvement in the Extreme E, you are also committed to environmental and climate protection – how does that work?
Kleinschmidt: The Legacy Programme of the Extreme E supports an environmental project each time in the country where the race takes place. We drivers take a look at it on site and are also involved, for example by planting trees. It’s a lot of fun and also brings the drivers all together, it’s like team building. It creates awareness for the project, which Extreme E continues and supports.
Was there a moment for you when you thought: It’s high time to do something about climate change?
Kleinschmidt: For me personally, the visit to Greenland was particularly impressive. The melting of the glaciers, sure, you know that, you know the figures. But to see how the glaciers there are simply melting away, how the water is flowing like a torrential river from the glacier – that is something completely different. That motivates us to tell others about it and to raise awareness.
What’s next for you after Extreme E – what other challenges in motorsport would appeal to you?
Kleinschmidt: I would love to race on the moon (laughs). You have much less gravitational pull there and can jump mega far and mega soft. I’ll probably have to wait a little longer, but that would be really cool.