A family that races together stays together
Dakar 2024 |
Stage 11 |
January 17 th 2024 - 19:49 [GMT + 3]
After tearing up the Dakar in Africa, Manolo Plaza entered the rally four times with his daughter Mónica. Now is the turn of her little sister, Marta.
A new character has joined the Plaza family's Dakar saga this year. The patriarch, Manolo, first tackled the January rally back in 1996, although he had already been the off-road guru of his home region of Cuenca for a long time. He took part in twelve editions in Africa, mastering the secrets of the Sahara, braving nights in the dunes and facing more DNFs than he would care to count, but also notching a respectable 21st place overall in the car race in 1998. Back in the day, once in a while he would team up with his wife, Pilín, in the Spanish off-road championship. For the Plazas, motor sports are a way of life. Mónica and Marta, the girls born into the Plaza racing legacy, grew up with the roar of engines as their lullaby. Manolo was deeply in love with Africa, so he looked elsewhere during the South American era of the Dakar, but the call of Saudi Arabia in 2020 was too enticing to resist. In the meantime, Mónica had blossomed into a seasoned co-driver on the domestic scene and in her first attempts in Morocco. The time had come for the father-daughter duo to take the plunge into the Dakar: "We've tackled the rally four times together, and now it's Marta's turn. She came into this world when I was competing in the Dakar in Mauritania, and I feel blessed that the dream of racing with my daughters has come true". The youngest in the Plaza clan grew up with dreams of dunes dancing in her mind, patiently biding her time. Quite actively, in fact, as the dynamic duo notched up some impressive feats, such as clinching the Spanish off-road rally championship. Marta, who sat in the co-driver's seat, reflects: "I remember when we were little, Dad would scratch his ear on TV to let us know he was thinking of us. Watching him and Mónica from a distance, I was always a fervent supporter, already buzzing with excitement. Now, having the chance to share this tale with him, it's just incredible".
When she took up the challenge, Marta was signing up for loads of fun… and some stress. That is how the 2024 rally got under way for the Plazas, due to a brand-new Challenger that the Sodicars team had not quite put through its paces before shipping it off to AlUla. "I was seriously on edge", she explains, "because the mechanics couldn't figure out what was up with the car. It would conk out before even clocking 30 kilometres. I wasn't having fun, but the whole team came together to sort it out". Since then, car no. 346 has gobbled up tracks and dunes, including those in the 48 h chrono stage, though fuel issues spoiled the party. "Getting to grips with that tough special was a blast. My father's a dune specialist, so it wasn't too tricky for us. Rolling into that desert bivouac, mingling with fellow competitors, was a cool and special moment." The Empty Quarter weekend nudged them off the finishers' list, but the emotional roller-coaster did nothing to dampen Dad's enthusiasm: "The car's a bit of a guzzler and we ran out of fuel. Now, the goal is to finish the Dakar and, even if it's in 'Experience' mode, we'll finish every stage". "These are the tales of the Dakar, it just happens", beams Marta.
Marta saw first-hand the magic of the Dakar in an episode that once again ties back to the shared history with her sister. Manolo explains this incredible coincidence: "Just two days ago, we ran out of fuel 10 kilometres from the finish line, but we were fortunate to get help from a Saudi and a Qatari who had already bailed Mónica and me out two years earlier. It's crazy how, in the vast desert expanse, you cross paths with the same folks. They remembered my eldest daughter perfectly and showed us some photos. I had to explain that Marta was my younger one!". Mónica is never too far away, even spending this year's Dakar with one of the outfits collaborating with Toyota. There is no shortage of plans for the future. Manolo would love to see both his daughters start the Dakar together, and Marta takes it a step further: "I hope to continue the saga and race together in a truck. That would truly complete the adventure". In the meantime, she will be blowing out 23 candles in Yanbu on 19 January. With her family, in the Dakar.