The only all-female team to compete in this year’s Dakar Rally faced daunting obstacles during the race through Saudi Arabia’s towering sand dunes, but the challenges came with transformative, cultural moments, said Annett Fischer of Germany.
She and co-pilot Camelia Liparoti of Italy found the Saudi landscape “difficult to drive” compared to last year’s venue in South America because of the huge sand dunes.
Saudi Arabia was “something different” to what she had expected, Fischer said in an interview with Al Arabiya English. And that the most surprising moment was a cultural one.
When Fischer tried on an abaya, she was surprised by how the traditional garment for women made her feel.
“I wasn’t sure if I should wear it. As a German girl you aren’t used to that type of dress - you don’t cover yourself. But when I put on the abaya, suddenly I felt different. It was a crazy feeling for me because I felt kind of protected, I felt safer,” she said.
The team experienced two breakdowns in the desert. Local nomadic tribesmen helped the women the first time and the next time a Saudi Arabian policeman came to the rescue. He handed Fischer the keys to the police car and invited her to pull their race car into a large tent to repair it.
“He handed me the key to his police car and said ‘you go, you drive,’” she said in an interview.
The moment would have been unthinkable two years ago, before Saudi Arabia granted women the right to drive - one of many reforms under Saudi Vision 2030, a plan spearheaded by Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to modernize and guide the Kingdom towards a new phase of development.
Reforms include opening the previously closed country to tourists in September and hosting international entertainment events like the Dakar Rally.