Laia Sanz ends two-wheel Dakar career, will switch to cars

Laia Sanz has decided to bring an end to her Dakar Rally career in the motorcycle category, and is set to contest the event on four wheels for the first time next January.

Sanz, 35, has been a constant presence on the Dakar since her 2011 debut, and holds the distinction of making it to the finish on all 11 of her starts in the legendary rally raid.

Her best overall finish was the ninth place she achieved in 2015 aboard a KTM, but subsequent editions have proven more difficult for the Spaniard, who finished 17th for GasGas last year.

Sanz has previously signalled her intention to eventually make the switch to cars, and in doing so she will emulate Jutta Kleinschmidt, the only female winner of the Dakar (achieving the feat in 2001).

As part of her preparation for the move, Sanz has this year contested the all-electric Extreme E series, where she has shared driving duties with compatriot and World Rally champion-turned Dakar ace Carlos Sainz Sr.

In February, she also took part in the Baja Dubai in the T4 category, sharing a cockpit with Sainz's regular co-driver Lucas Cruz, and in May she contested the Andalusia Rally in a Mini All4 Racing, finishing eighth. 

Speaking at an event organised by long-time sponsor KH-7 on Thursday, Sanz said: "It was a difficult decision, but I think it was the right time to make a change.

"You become more aware of the risk and, besides, the last two years have not been easy at all because of my health. I probably didn't arrive at the Dakar as prepared as I would have liked and I didn't enjoy it as much.

"In the end I'm not 20 years old and it's an ideal time to start making a change. I'm sure I'll miss it, but it's a time of learning and experiencing new things that motivates me a lot."

Sanz has struggled with illness in recent years, contracting the Epstein Barr virus in 2018 - disturbing her preparations for the 2019 Dakar, in which she claimed her second-best finish of 11th - and then being hit with Lyme disease last year prior to her most recent Dakar outing.

"The mental focus that I've always had for the bike can help me a lot to learn in the car," added the Spaniard. "What I went through with Lyme disease was very hard, probably one of the worst moments of my life.

"When you arrive at a race like that it is an unpleasant situation and I have compensated a lot with the mental part. I was able to make the most of the strength I had, and I think I coped very well with the pressure, the nerves and the situation, which is not easy."

Sanz will be getting additional experience on four wheels this weekend as she makes her World Rallycross debut this weekend at Spa in the RX2e category, before she heads to France the following weekend to bid for her sixth Women's Enduro World Championship title.

Attention will then turn to preparations for the 2022 Dakar in Saudi Arabia in January, with Sanz tipped to continue her relationship with the X-raid Mini team following her encouraging performance in Andalusia.

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