Brazilian rally driver Helena Deyama poses for a photo while resting between stages at the Rally dos Sertões 2023 on 13 August 2023 in Petrolina, Brazil. EFE/Andre Coelho

Brazil female rally drivers undeterred by naysayers

By Jon Martin Cullell

Brazilian rally driver Moara Sacilotti poses for a photo between stages of the Rally dos Sertaos on 13 August 2023 in Campo Formoso, Brazil. EFE/Andre Coelho

Petrolina, Brazil, Aug 17 (EFE).- Between rally racing and ballet, Moara Sacilotti went against her grandmother’s wishes and chose the former.

Brazilian rally driver Helena Deyama poses for a photo while resting between stages at the Rally dos Sertoes 2023 on 13 August 2023 in Petrolina, Brazil. EFE/Andre Coelho

Between rally and a boyfriend who complained when she didn’t respond to his messages, Helena Deyama also didn’t hesitate and opted for that motorsport.

Those two Brazilian rally racers are leading the way in efforts to boost female participation in a discipline that is almost exclusively practiced by men.

They are two of just 10 women competing this week in the Rally dos Sertões, a Brazilian competition featuring a total of 307 participants that covers 3,793 kilometers (2,350 miles) between Aug. 11 and Aug. 19 and is the largest rally raid event in Latin America.

Sacilotti spoke to Efe upon returning to her base camp after a 375-km dirt-road stage in which she posted a good time on her motorbike.

“I like this type of terrain, with small loose rocks. You go fast, but you have to pay attention to the obstacles in your path. You don’t have time even to drink water,” she said.

Sacilotti said she has participated in the Sertões since the age of 18 (she is now 43) and that the experience has marked her life.

“I became a woman with this championship,” the Brazilian rally competitor added.

The daughter of a professional motorcyclist, Sacilotti said she always liked to explore and discover new corners of her vast homeland.

Even so, she was not precisely welcomed with open arms.

When she arrived for her first competition, a motorcycling champion told her she would not be able to complete a single stage. As it turned out, she completed the first stage and all the ones that followed.

“For me, more than prejudices, they’re challenges,” she said.

Deyama, the driver of a purple UTV (a small, all-terrain vehicle), also was met with doubters, especially because she came from a family with no auto racing history.

“The first thing they tell you is you’re not capable. The biggest difficulty was overcoming that, so they’d treat me as an equal,” the 63-year-old with a fine arts background said.

Both Sacilotti and Deyama earned respect by winning.

The former won the Sertões last year in the over-40 category, while the latter was the first woman to win a Brazilian rally championship.


Although she has sponsors, Deyama personally covers around 30 percent of the tens of thousands of dollars it takes to put together a rally team.

“I ended two relationships because they said I liked rally more than them, and it was true. I also decided not to have kids so I could devote myself to this,” she added.

For the past several years, Deyama has preferred to have another woman alongside her as her co-pilot (navigator), even though it takes them a few more minutes to change a tire.

Disadvantages aside, she said it makes things easier in terms of sharing rooms and discussing certain issues – such as menstruation – during the more than week-long Sertões.

And through their Musa project, Sacilotti and Deyama hope to promote the creation of female rally teams, a goal that has only been partially achieved.

“The numbers are increasing little by little, but family support is lacking,” Deyama said.

Sacilotti said she doubts that women will ever make up half of the participants in rally competitions.

“There are now lots of women in motocross, but rally is another story. It’s very hard, it takes a lot out of you.”

While Sacilotti was resting between stages in a motor home, a couple carrying a baby girl came up to greet her and tell her how proud they were of her performance.

But when asked if they would like their daughter to follow in Sacilotti’s footsteps one day, a frightened look passed over both of their faces.

They said they would support her but would rather she not compete in a sport they regard as very dangerous. EFE