Motor Sport

Women in the hotseat

April 24 - 30, 2019

Gulf Weekly Mai Al Khatib-Camille
By Mai Al Khatib-Camille

Gulf Weekly Women in the hotseat

HISTORY-MAKING Bahrain-based race ace Martyna Ewa Al-Qassab is trumpeting the remark-able motorsport journey of a pioneering driver from Saudi Arabia who is building up a successful racing career of her own.

Reema Juffali recently made her F4 British Championship Circuit debut at the legendary Brands Hatch Indy track in England.

“I am glad to see such a great step toward more women from the region being represented in motor sport on a global scale,” said Al-Qassab.

“It’s not only a great success for the Saudi national joining F4 but an inspiration for all women from the region that all things are possible, as long as we set our minds on a goal.

“She is a very dedicated individual and we all could learn from her. Women in this region have been inspiring me for many years and I’m personally very happy for Reema.”

Juffali, 27, kicked off her racing career just 10 months ago in the United Arab Emirates when she started racing on local circuits there.

She then left her financial services job in Dubai behind to test her mettle on the world’s race tracks.

Given that women were not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia until last June, sitting in the cockpit of a single-seater race car was an accomplishment few may have predicted for a Saudi woman.

Juffali took her first competitive laps last October behind the wheel of a Toyota GT86 road car at a TRD 86 Cup race at Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit. She grabbed two class podiums and won her first race there in December.

She then segued to single-seater racing in India’s MRF Challenge, making her debut earlier this year at the season finale in Chennai. In addition to joining the MRF Challenge, Juffali continued competing in the TRD 86 Cup where she now leads the Silver category and currently holds third place overall.

“All the guys are quite welcoming,” Juffaili said of her competitors in the lead-up to the weekend of racing at Brands Hatch.

She then joined Double R Racing to compete in the UK-based F4 British Championship Circuit that launched at Brands Hatch on April 6-7 and will conclude at the same venue on October 12-13.

The F4 British Championship, certified by the FIA, comprises 10 races around the UK, with the first and last race weekends of the season taking place at Brands Hatch. She placed 12th, 9th and 11th respectively.

Juffali said: “I went into the weekend with certain goals in mind and I managed to achieve them, so I’m very happy about that. I finished all three races and even scored some points.

“In terms of being from Saudi Arabia, it’s such a great thing for me to do and represent my country and it’s a good time in Saudi to be doing such a thing and all the support I’ve received from friends, family – even people I don’t even know – has been fantastic and it’s only been pushing me to do better.”

Meanwhile, things continue to hot up on the tracks in Saudi Arabia too. Reem Al Aboud, 19, completed a series of test laps around the track before the start of the Formula E competition in Ad Diriyah, last December. And, Aseel Al Hamad also took a lap in a Renault F1 car before the start of the French Grand Prix.

Al-Qassab, the founder and managing director of Yalla Banat (let’s go girls), a campaign created to help connect, inspire and empower women from across the region, was launched after women were given the green light to drive in Saudi Arabia. She even drove over the causeway bridge to congratulate the first female drivers.

Al-Qassab is best known for becoming the first woman in the history of Bahrain International Circuit’s 2000cc Challenge to step on to the podium and securing a third place finish in her silver Renault Clio.

The Polish business development executive continues to race ahead having won the last three rounds in this season’s Novice category. The last round of the season will be staged on Friday.

Al-Qassab added: “There are many initiatives globally that are now focusing on women drivers, an example of FIA’s Girls on Track initiative or W Series providing a platform for skills development but we would like to see more women in all motorsport-related activities – whether as a drivers, engineers or team principles.

“We’re very proud of Reema. And, of course. Emirati Amna Qubaisi last year joined the Formula E testing programme. I will be cheering for more women joining them soon.”

The W Series aims to help women reach Formula 1. Organisers believe that it will allow women to compete with men on equal terms with the same opportunity and training. The W Series six-round championship is set to start next month and is being backed by former F1 driver David Coulthard and Red Bull design chief Adrian Newey.

The last female to start an F1 Grand Prix was Lella Lombardi in 1976 and she scored half a point in her 12 F1 races. The 1976 Austrian GP – which she finished 12th – remains the last time men were joined by a woman on the starting grid.

In the two decades which followed Lombardi’s F1 career, three female drivers – Britain’s Divina Galica, the Olympic Skier turned racer, South Africa’s Desire Wilson and, at three GPs in 1992, Italy’s Giovanna Amati – all attempted, but failed, to qualify.

And, 22 years passed before a female even took to the track in a practice session. Susie Wolff, the former DTM driver and wife of Mercedes boss, Toto, was given her chance by Williams after two years as a development driver. She competed in four practice sessions over 2014 and 2015.

Carmen Jorda has been an F1 development driver, first at Lotus and then at Renault. Simona Silvestro and the late Maria de Villota also tested F1 machinery, but there hasn’t been a woman in an official test session since Wolff.

Tatiana Calderon is the only female affiliated to an F1 team as a Sauber test driver and she has been competing in the GP3 series for the last two years. Jamie Chadwick has also made history as she became the first female driver to win a race in British Formula 3 earlier this year – and she already has a British GT Championship under her belt.

Sophia Floersch is also racing in European Formula 3 alongside drivers such as Mick Schumacher and Dan Ticktum.

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