Aliyyah Koloc might only be eighteen years old and facing the toughest race of her life at the 2023 Dakar Rally, but she will arrive in Saudi Arabia as the reigning FIA Middle East Cup for Cross-Country Bajas champion. The Checkered Flag got to speak with Koloc last Wednesday as she prepares for the legendary race.
“I’m a little nervous of course, not gonna lie, but it’s gonna be two weeks and a lot of kilometres,” Koloc said. “I never drove so long, so it’s going to be really interesting to see, but I’m gonna do my best and take it day by day.”
A Busy 2022
Koloc arrived in racing from a tennis background, which she played for a decade before suffering an injury. Supported by her father Martin Koloc, whose Buggyra Racing team is fielding a Can-Am DV21 for her at Dakar, she transitioned into racing in 2019.
“I was with my father going with him for meetings and testing and then joined one of the test teams and decided to try driving it,” Koloc recalled. “I started with a big truck and since then, we said it was good and we continued from there. That’s how I started.
“Tennis is a very disciplined sport. It’s very physically demanding. So I would say how in tennis, you need to work very hard, and I would say that helped me come into motorsport.”
Despite only having a few years of racing under her belt so far, she quickly broke onto the scene by winning the overall at two of the Middle East Cup’s four rounds (Jordan Baja and Saudi Baja). The season finale in early December took place in her hometown of Dubai, where she overcame a crash to secure the title.
“Dubai was really difficult. It was one of the hard rallies of the year, but having the last rally in Dubai, my home, was really special for me,” she said. “I got to celebrate with my team, so it was a really good experience.”
While certainly a wonderful experience, the feeling of knowing she is already an FIA champion quickly sank in by the time she attended the FIA Prize Giving Ceremony in Bologna. Koloc described “actually being there was really cool with all the other champions. Being an FIA champion is pretty nice to hear. It’s a really good feeling. I saw a lot of people that I watched and I’ve been watching for a while, so to actually see them in person was… I had to relax and not make a fool of myself but I think it went really good and I had a lot of fun and I hope to become champion to go again.”
Outside of rally raid, Koloc has continued building her motorsport résumé by competing on pavement in GT and the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series. The latter saw her race in both the EuroNASCAR PRO and EuroNASCAR 2 championships before the team ended the season two rounds early to focus on Dakar. Despite the obvious differences between each discipline, she finds asphalt racing helps develop her into a more complete racer, and intends to continue in GT in 2023 and beyond with aspirations of entering the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
“In GT racing, everything I would say is faster, so reactions is faster,” Koloc explained. “I think each helps me and makes me overall a more complete driver. I think each car I do, each discipline helps me each way to become an overall better driver.
“Dakar is more endurance I would say and it’s more mental preparation because of how long it is. I hope I’m ready for Dakar. I’ve been training for the past three years for Dakar 2023 so I would say I’m as ready as I can be. Hopefully, my training will pay off. I know there will be some unexpected situations but I’m going to try to cope and adjust as much as possible.”
Getting Ready for Dakar
“The main goal is to finish because it’s the hardest rally in the world and I never raced two weeks with so many kilometres like this. The goal is to finish and the result, we’re going to see what happens.”Aliyyah Koloc
Koloc will race the #344 Can-Am in the T3 category with Stéphane Duplé as her co-driver. Duplé began the year working with Koloc’s twin sister Yasmeen before joining Aliyyah and winning the Middle East Cup.
“Stéphane is really great,” said Koloc. “I already had experience with two other co-drivers who was really nice, but Stéphane, we have a really good cooperation. We did two rallies which is not a lot, but so far, we did really good. In Dubai, we had a crash so he’s a really good mechanic so I trust him a lot if we have any situation that we can work together to get out of it. Overall, he’s a really cool guy off the track too so it’s always good to work with good people.”
She also credits David Vršecký, a two-time European Truck Racing Champion for Buggyra, with aiding her growth. Koloc described Vršecký as “like a brother for me. He’s been teaching me in circuits and off-road so he’s a driver and engineer, so he’s been teaching me all the technical bits so I say he is the biggest mentor for me.”
Aliyyah and Yasmeen initially planned to run Dakar together, with Yasmeen in the #345 T3 before she had to back out due to a wrist injury she sustained in a 24H Series crash in April. Prior to Yasmeen’s withdrawal, Aliyyah joked with TCF that they “had never actually talked about making bets on who will get higher, but now that you mention it, maybe we’re going to look into that.
“We train together and we’ve been in the rallies, we’ve been racing together and we do most of the things together. Obviously, we’re travelling so different schedules but she’s been supporting me in my racing because we do circuits so we just support each other in everything we do and it’s really nice to have.”
Despite Yasmeen’s exit, there will still be a considerable number of female racers at Dakar. In T3 alone, Aliyyah will be joined by Annett Fischer, Cristina Gutiérrez, Camelia Liparoti, Anja van Loon, Mercé Martí, and Patricia Pita Gago; Fischer and Marti will also have women co-drivers with Annie Seel and Lisette Bakker, respectively.
Koloc called the representation of women in the grid “really great. I’ve been seeing all the names of the girls (who are) gonna be racing in Dakar, and I’d say it grew. It’s really good to see. I would like to inspire more younger generations of girls to come to this really great—well, motorsports in general, and it’s good.”
Once she finally crosses Dakar off her checklist, Koloc intends to continue in sports cars and rally raid. A run at the World Rally-Raid Championship was not confirmed but she also did not rule out the possibility, and it is perhaps more likely as Yasmeen is expected to make her racing return at the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, which is the second round of the 2023 W2RC calendar. If she were to defend her Middle East Cup title, the season begins at the Saudi Baja in February.
“I think that we’re looking to continue rally in the season,” Koloc stated. “Maybe we’re going to participate in the World but I’m not sure yet. For sure, I’m gonna be continuing GT racing and long endurance and so far, I think that’s the plan but it always changes.
“I would like to do Dakar again, for sure—well, I’ve never done it, but I’d like to do Dakar in a T1. That’s the big goal. My big motorsport goal is to reach the 24 Hours of Le Mans circuit. Those are my two goals.”
Speaking her desire to move up to the higher T1 category seemed to be a prescient move. Exactly a week after this interview, Red-Lined Motorsport announced she would begin driving their REVO T1+ truck in select 2023 South African Rally-Raid Championship races.
Until then, her first Dakar Rally will begin on 31 December.