Dakar 2024 – Ibiza’s power couple in worlds toughest race
Words: María Perez
Translation: Katy Hastings
Photography: Jordi Cervera
August 30, 2023
Matías Rodríguez and Sandra Guasch personify the passion for motor racing. Matías is a big fan of motocross, cars and speed. Sandra travelled several times to Morocco and did road racing as a young girl with her parents. The Canary Islander and Ibicencan met at high school in Madrid, and for 22 years they have been a couple and inseparable in everything. “We get along so well and we’ve always been so in tune with each other that we’ve done everything together. But shared businesses, children and other responsibilities postponed their common dream of driving in Morocco.
A few years ago, Matías restored a wrecked 1996 Lada Niva and it looked so good that it caught the attention of Marcel Quirós, of BXS Motorsport, a Lada Niva preparer from Tarragona. By chance (or perhaps destiny), Quirós met a good friend of Matías in a bar in Merzouga, the Moroccan village where the Erg Chebbi dunes begin. They sat next to each other in the bar and started chatting, and when Quirós showed him a picture of the car, he replied: “But this is the Lada of a guy from Ibiza!” Amused, they called Matías from there.
That chance encounter sparked the friendship between Matías and Quirós. After several races together and visits to their home in Tarragona, Marcel Quirós, who has raced in the Dakar and has a well-known team, hinted that he might be able to get them a place, but they told him not to bother. “We had never considered the Dakar. It’s like saying ‘I want to race in Formula 1 before the end of the year’, they’ll say you’re crazy.” They didn’t have the necessary physical and psychological preparation, and their children and obligations made it almost impossible to get ready in time or to travel for so many days. But Quirós asked for the place and it was granted. Then, Sandra and Matías realised that they couldn’t miss it: “When the opportunity follows you… And this one might not come back”.
The iconic Dakar is one of the toughest races in the world and its next edition will take place in January 2024 in Saudi Arabia. Getting ready in such a short time is extremely difficult. Despite the huge love of motorsport on the island, there are no places where they can train, so they have to travel to the mainland to test the car and the electronics. Until the test, they have planned six races and a trip to Morocco to practice in the dunes, a very complicated type of driving. “We are very tight, but I think we can do well”, says Sandra. Matias qualifies: “She is very demanding of herself. She is a very good co-driver and navigates very well. We understand each other very well in the car, we do it very well. The thing is that in a 15-day race like the Dakar, a lot of things can happen”.
The race is really tough, with extreme heat that can range from snow and frost in the morning to almost 45 degrees in the middle of the day. Being a classic car, no air conditioning, overalls and helmet as clothing, many hours and many, many kilometres of tedious and long driving through the desert, almost without eating, trying not to stop at all. Also, following the instructions in the route book provided by the organisation every day, with the direction in coordinates and timed sections of regularity in which you have to maintain a constant speed to not be penalised, some very slow, others where you have to arrive as soon as possible, sections of track, sections of dunes…. “I have to be very, very concentrated”, says the driver. For this, the good work of her co-driver, who is in charge of giving her instructions at all times, is essential: “She is the one who wins the race”.
Sandra is cautious about her chances: “I always put myself in the worst case scenario. We are under a lot of pressure and the psychological aspect is very important”. Matías is more optimistic: “If the car works well and we don’t make too many mistakes, we can do almost anything, not just finish. But the accumulation of fatigue during those days makes you make mistakes, it’s almost impossible not to get lost a few times, because the navigation is very complicated…”. The great asset of this unique team is their rapport: “We have experienced many adventures together, we grow in these situations,” says Matías. Sandra immediately adds: “Yes, we complement each other, when one gets nervous the other calms down. Each of them is very clear about the other’s strong points: “He is very skilful at driving, he is very good at it and has a cool head when he needs to have it, he manages dangerous situations very well”. Matías, for his part, highlights Sandra’s “speed in solving problems, she moves very quickly, she doesn’t get blocked and she gets us out of a jam”. And they conclude: “Everyone does very well in their job and we have learned not to question each other”.
The most difficult issue, however, is to find enough sponsors in time. At the moment, they have the support of several Ibizan companies, but if they don’t get the funding, only the main car of BXS Motorsport, with Marcel Quirós and the Ibizan Antonio Blackstad as co-driver, will be able to race in January. In October they will make the official presentation of the car, in which Toni Vingut, a regular Dakar driver from Ibiza who is also taking part this year, will probably be present. Matias and Sandra are facing a real time trial to achieve this great dream, but they are putting in a lot of hard work and putting all their will and enthusiasm to cross the finish line in Yanbu next year.