During the past 11 years, the name of Laia Sanz (Corbera de Llobregat, Barcelona, 1985) has appeared every January in all the media. The news was always the same: she had been the best woman of all those who participated in motorcycles in the Dakar Rally. This time, however, the news will not be repeated. After more than a decade on two wheels, the Catalan driver has decided to make the leap to cars with a Mini All4 Racing from Primax X-raid Team . A very thoughtful decision that responds to various factors, which are explained in this interview with EL PERIÓDICO DE ESPAÑA. In it, he also talks about his fears in these previous days that, as with the rest of the population, are linked to Covid-19.
P. What is the first thing that comes to your head if I ask you about your first Dakar, in 2011?
R. It comes to my mind how hard it was to find the budget to be able there and then I remember myself there, as a rookie. I was very emotional at the start in Buenos Aires, with a lot of people, and then the final 10 kilometers I spent crying. It was very cool, both on a sporting and personal level, and these days I relive those sensations a bit, because of the desire and the illusion that I have to start.
P. Is the health situation conditioning you?
R. Yes, the truth is yes. I have had to travel a lot lately, I have been recently in England and the truth is that a lot of everything happens there with the subject of Covid. Nobody wears a mask and there was a point where I was desperate, I have had a bad time. These last days I am almost confined, I do not go out at all, to minimize the risk before I go.
P. No Christmas Eve dinner?
R. Only with my boyfriend, we live together. He's also being very cautious all these days to avoid any risks, but I'm not even going to have dinner with my parents. My mother is going to give me Christmas Eve dinner in a tupperware and on Christmas day we are going to meet to give each other gifts in an outdoor place and with a mask. Nothing more. This is what is happening right now, I want to make sure that I go to the Dakar. On the way back, when everything calms down a bit, we will have a good family celebration.
P. Would finishing the Dakar be a reason for that celebration?
R. Yes, although once you put on the helmet … We all want to accelerate to give a little more and we look at the classification at the end of the day, but this first year I cannot expect to achieve any results. I am new, I start from scratch to a certain extent, and I have to learn. Even if he has achieved good things on a motorcycle, it is not much use. Experience can help, but I have to start with humility.
P. Did you pay much attention these years to being the highest ranked woman?
R. The first year yes, a lot, because the reference was the girl who was running and we had a good shot to win the women's category. But then I started looking at the general classification and I focused on getting better every year, that was the real goal. After two or three years I was only looking at the general.
P. Is there machismo in Dakar?
R. Yes, there is a lot, as in all areas of life and perhaps a little more in the engine. Women have only recently been in this world, until two or three years ago there was no real 'boom', and I have had to put up with a lot of things. But there are also times when there are pilots who try to take advantage of the fact of being women.
P. What do you mean?
R. Because there are some who take advantage of the fact that they are women to try to be in a place without having the sufficient capacities to be. I, who have always taken the Dakar very seriously and worked hard for it, like many other colleagues, I am very bothered by that noise that a few try to make.
P. You are a woman and the Dakar is run in Saudi Arabia. Do you feel free when you go to that country?
R. We read a lot of things, we know what happens there, but my personal experience is that when I go there I feel comfortable. Of course that does not mean anything about the country itself, because we hardly know it: you arrive, you go from the airport to the hotel and then you get into the Dakar bubble, where life is the same as here. We barely interact with the people there, you don't realize what country you're really in, just that you're in the middle of a desert.
P . So far he has finished the 11 Dakar that he has started. How much luck and how much talent at that milestone?
R. I usually say that I have not had bad luck, that's the way it is, because in the Dakar it's very easy to be left out, but I don't think it's just a matter of luck either. I have never pushed more than I could or should, I know myself well, also my limits, and I have not exceeded them. I think that is doing things well done, well thought out and with a head. Although luck is there: once I fell hard, one of those in which it is easy to be taken by helicopter, but I did not have any serious injuries and I was able to continue.
P. The records of deaths in the race show that on a motorcycle there are many more risks than in a car. Has that influenced your decision to switch to cars?
R. Completely. It is one of the factors that have helped me make the decision. The first year in Arabia, in 2020, the death of Paulo [Gonçalves, piloto que disputó 13 ediciones] marked me a lot. It is a decision that perhaps I would not have taken if the Dakar had continued in South America, because there the rally style was less dangerous, with shorter and more technical stages, but in Arabia, and I do not want to say that the Dakar is worse now, it is more dangerous to ride a motorcycle. It also influences that he had already been 11 years old and felt that he had done everything he had to do on a motorcycle, he was looking for new challenges. It was time to change.
P. Has your training routine varied a lot?
R. Not really much, because I've also been racing on a motorcycle. The last four months yes, because I have not stopped competing. In that sense, it is a very rare Dakar for me, because in other years in the previous weeks I was training hard both on the bike and physically. With so much competition, I have not had a routine as such these final months of the year, I have dedicated myself to training physically with care and recharging my batteries, because when you have competed so much, you need to rest your head and body as well.
P. Have you been thinking about change for many years?
R. I have always liked cars, actually I have had it in my mind since before my first Dakar, but the last two years is when I began to see it as something more real and close. It is not easy to find a car with guarantees and the objective was that: to find a car that does not give problems to learn. And I am happy, the durability of the car is more than proven and it is competitive, even if it is not to be in front. I'm happy with the car, the equipment and everything.
P. Has the adaptation been easy?
R. In the Andalucía Rally it went very well and in fact it was then [en mayo] when I started to think more decisively about doing the Dakar by car, with this particular car. Now I recently came from running the Hail Rally, in Arabia, and it went very well [acabó octava]. In addition, I was racing for the first time with the co-driver that I will have on the Dakar, Maurizio Gerini. It was very important to do it so as not to start the Dakar cold and it was a good shoot, we tested things about the car … The 'copi' is also new in these races, it comes like me from motorcycles, and we are going to learn a lot together.
P. It is not usual to appear in the Dakar with so little experience as a team.
R. No, it is not, but it was not easy to find a good co-driver and less so now, when navigation is increasingly important in the Dakar. I thought someone with a head and that He would navigate well on a motorcycle, like Maurizio, he would do well and he is also a person with whom I understand and get along well, which is important to share a car for 15 days.
P. How important has Carlos Sainz been to you this year?
R. It has been very key to encourage me. Surely without it I would have thought more about transitioning with a 'side by side' instead of going straight to cars. He has helped me, he has given me good advice, we have raced together in Extreme E, he helped me so that I could run in Andalusia …
P. Do you sign to finish the Dakar and have Sainz win it?
R. Exactly! That would be fantastic!