Saudi car race ladies

Samir Atallah

Published: Updated:

As I arrived in Jeddah, work was underway to dismantle the stages, barriers, and route fences of the 2022 Dakar Rally, a car race that is globally renowned as a most difficult adventure. However, the international rally was not the only novelty in Jeddah, the city that never ceases to astonish. The new surprise was that there were two Saudi ladies who ranked among the first in that tough race. Their names are Mashail al-Ubaydan, and Dania Aqil.

How could they make that achievement? How could two Saudi ladies become car race champions, taken that Saudi women were permitted to drive conventional cars just a few years ago? Where did they train and develop their skills? I managed to meet Dania at the house of her grandmother, Mrs. Layla Numani Ali Rida. Here is Dania’s reply to the questions that I emailed her prior to that visit:

“Since my early childhood I fell in love with machines, and with wilderness as well. I started riding bicycles, then motorcycles. When I travelled to London as a 17-year-old girl for pursuing my studies, I acquired a driving license there, and used to ride my car to the campus. London had so many car races, so I participated in some of them, but without any regular training in advance. Afterwards, I started to take part in Dubai’s car races, where I received a lot of valuable pieces of advice from experienced trainers. Following Dubai, I went to Southern France and trained to become eligible for participating in 2022 Dakar.”

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In the meantime, cars and motorcycles are not the sole passion of Dania Aqil. She acquired a BA degree in modern history from the Royal Holloway University of London, then she graduated with honor from the Hult International Business School Dubai in business administration.

A competitor tearing through the desert while competing in the Dakar Rally 2021. (Supplied)
A competitor tearing through the desert while competing in the Dakar Rally 2021. (Supplied)

Earlier, when people used to discuss some advancements made by the Saudi woman, it was based on her previous social conditions, and no one would have imagined that she would make advancements along race routes in the African Sahara or the Saudi deserts. Back then, even Mashail al-Ubaydan, and Dania Aqil would have never imagined such scenes of themselves being in their full race driver suits and steel helmets, with their rough route maps and excessive speed.

All these crucial shifts in the Saudi society that are taking place under the title of ‘openness’ seem to have been long waited for, as is proven by that society’s quick embracement of, and interaction with these shifts, particularly in terms of the role of the Saudi woman, her work prospects, and her productivity. It turned out that she was in urgent need of taking part in the responsibilities of men, and of a private income that serves her and her family.

This is the concept behind the new scenes one now witnesses at Saudi airports, for instance, where women are working as customs and security officers and travel coordinators, or at Saudi hotels, where girls and women are working as receptionists, and at Saudi companies, where we have female chief accountants.

To sum up, Saudi women who engaged in all these activities are not only performing well, but even excelling in them, which shows that, as usual, they feel more responsible than men.

However, it is quite amazing to see two members of the tender gender deciding to go the extra mile, and compete against the tough gender of men in one of their roughest, most-demanding, and most nerve-consuming hobbies, and surpass them.

This article was originally published in, and translated from, the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.

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