I Plan to Return in Good Time

Calheine Taye Perry is one of the two African women who first competed and completed the Dakar Rally on a motorcycle (the other one being Kirsten Landman). This year Taye was aiming for her fourth Dakar journey as the co-driver for one of the Dakar Sistaz – Yasmeen Koloc, but was unfortunately unable to make it. We had the opportunity to interview Taye, here is what she has to say about her career and experience at the Dakar.

© All photos provided by Taye Perry

It’s just me and the bike, getting through the most physically and mentally demanding races – not much feels more rewarding than that.

Growing up in South Africa, Calheine Taye Perry first learned about motorsport through her dad. At 13 years of age, she got her first bike which led her from a spectator to a rider. “My first exposure to motorsport was through my dad, who was and is still hugely into motorsport and dirtbikes. Aside from his older photos of racing, we would drive out to off-road events just for the spectacle and feel the roaring vehicles go by. So naturally, like any wild-eyed kid at 13, I asked if I could have a bike… and that set the tone for the rest of my life.”

There was always a bigger challenge to take, and that’s exactly how my racing career progressed.

Having always raced on a dirtbike in off-road, the Dakar seemed like a natural dream for Taye. However, it only became something she actually considered when she reached a really high point in her career in 2016. The Dakar started to become the next challenge Taye would like to put herself through. “My goals through the years progressed gradually with my growth thankfully. I never looked too far ahead. So Dakar wasn’t a goal until around 2016 when I was, not only, the leading woman in almost every race I competed in annually, but ranking high among the men in my classes as well. I craved bigger challenges, and Dakar was the most exciting one yet.

All the pain and hard work that we, our families, many men and women were willing to put themselves through to achieve their goals and dreams – that is what I looked up to.

But in motorsport, the biggest challenge sometimes isn’t the race itself, but raising the budget to get to the race. Taye’s adventure in Dakar was pushed back as well because of financial reasons. “Never being financially able, Dakar was put off and pushed out of mind until late 2018 when I decided, it would never be a perfect time, and we were ready to put it all in to get me on the start line of Dakar 2020, even if I’d be there on a tight budget. It was worth it.”

I believe life can pass us in the blink of an eye sometimes, so making the most of it is important. It’s never really the end.

As a first-timer in the 2020 Dakar, Taye was also starting the rally with illness and battling through difficult weather. “I felt more alive at the end of my first Dakar, than at the beginning. Which proved to myself that I was exactly where I belonged. I also did the first half of the race very ill though. Some surprises from my first Dakar – the cold – I did not plan for such freezing mornings, which meant we had to create a few makeshift things to fight the frozen wind on liaisons. Some days I felt like I was on auto-pilot, and could not even remember the stages prior.”

Getting to the Dakar, finishing every stage of Dakar, and finishing the entire journey of Dakar are all challenges of their own. But for Taye’s first Dakar experience, it was even more dramatic as she almost had to abandon the race due to technical issues, was towed 25 km, and had to push the bike over the finish line of stage 11. Regardless of the final classification, finishing her first Dakar is rewarding enough in itself. “I probably see the technical difficulties, like the almost race-ending electrical issue I had at my first Dakar, as having bigger impacts than all the concussions and crashes together. But the difficult moments in my career are lessons, building blocks, and things that make me stronger and better. And I’m always ready for more. I also see finishing my first Dakar as my favourite memory of my career, because in the racing game, proving yourself is of high importance, especially when you’re this little woman with big dreams, who is easier to underestimate than to give a chance.

A few weeks after the 2020 Dakar, the whole world was washed over by a shockwave that still is lingering on – COVID. In 2021, Taye came back to Dakar in a different category in a different role – she became the co-driver for Brian Baragwanath in the cars category. “It was never part of my big plan to do Dakars as a co-driver, but I did see myself using my skills on the side to navigate for better drivers. When the covid pandemic forced lockdowns all over the globe, I became stranded in the USA for four months, throwing my 2021 Dakar plans out of the window. And that’s when the opportunity to co-driver came along, it was also financially a lot easier than doing Dakar on a bike.”

Getting into a different role means many new things to learn and a different experience. “When it comes to co-piloting, it’s a whole other challenge, multitasking, interpreting, doing math, and calculating things under immense pressure. It all adds together to create experiences and lessons that have helped build me into the reasonable, adaptable racer and person I am today. Teamwork is one big thing to learn, because being part of a car crew means there are so many more people involved. Everything runs smoother when we all work together. I also learned new mechanical skills, which add to my abilities when new problems arise. I perfected my ability to stay calm under any pressure and problems, which can be very frustrating and often result in fights and arguments in many other crews while racing.”

I always try to be a positive motivating factor when things don’t go our way – because it’s only really over when we accept defeat.

In the 2022 Dakar, Taye ventured onto the journey as the co-driver for Cyril Despres in the cars category. For the 2023 Dakar, Taye originally planned to go as the co-driver for Yasmeen Koloc in the T3 category, until Yasmeen’s injury prevented them from going. For Taye, having worked with many different crews, being focused is one of the biggest things for the driver and the co-driver to work well together. “It’s important for me to know that we are both focused, reasonable, straightforward forward, and able to cope under pressure. We are all putting our lives on the line out there. Full focus at all times is crucial. Every person is unique, and as a co-driver, I need to adapt to each driver’s preferences, needs, tones, terms, ways, note distances, including using their own language for many calls and terms. Everyone also comes from different racing backgrounds, and that influences a lot of what they understand through navigation notes as well. But all in all, we need to be able to work together, not just when things are going well, but also when they are not going well.

Just because I couldn’t go on a bike, did not mean that I could not go as a co-driver and learn a whole new perspective, keep growing, as well as better my navigation skills under the pressure of high-speed conditions and fast drivers. I would also be putting my skills to the best use alongside competitive drivers, allowing them to do what they do best.

Even though Taye has been spending the past few years racing in the cars category in Dakar, the rider in her never stopped preparing for a comeback. “I plan to return in good time. I know I am good at what I do in the co-driver seat, I enjoy the challenges in it, my job, and I will always do my best there. It is also very humbling to be a co-driver, as although we play a huge part, we are usually in the background. But ultimately, a piece of me is missing, where I get to be in full control and to be the one at the reigns, so to speak. It is a feeling and release that I miss terribly. Everything in life is training for the next stages, I like to believe. What I’m doing now is so that in the end I can one day return to the bike, or driver seat of a car, with a whole lot more knowledge and skills.”

I believe I am still far from being the best version of myself, and will always work on being better. I also hope to race rallies in many more countries across the globe, as meeting new people and experiencing new areas, landscapes, and nature is something I find great value in.

We wish Taye all the best of luck this season. Hope to see her back in the Dakar next year and hopefully soon on a bike!


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