FEMALE racers from around the world took up the 1,600 kilometres off-roading desert adventure in Saudi Arabia in a bid to bring more women together in motorsport ... a hope that Team Bahrain 41 is also driving towards.
The second edition of Rally Jameel, a first of its kind navigation off-road rally for women, had attracted competitors from 25 countries on a mission to conquer Saudi’s terrain from March 7 to 11, starting in AlUla and ending in Hail Al Qassim.
Carina Abdulrahman and Sahar Darwaa took up the challenge and are delighted with their number 10 class ranking out of 25 vehicles and their overall 17 ranking out of 43 vehicles in their first rally race together.
“This was a great introduction and training for Sahar,” said Abdulrahman, who met her at a track event in 2006. “We stayed friends and she works with my dad, Abdulrahman Ghuloom, in scrutineering for track events such as F1. My dad is the chief scrutineer for F1 and other car events and Sahar is part of our family.”
According to Abdulrahman, her dad, now 75, focuses on technical aspects of racing, used to be a racer and even rallied before she was born. She hopped on the motoring bandwagon in 2006 after graduating from university in interior design. She started track racing, rally co-driving and then rally racing. She even took part in AutoX and Karting.
“Racing and the love of cars are in my blood,” said Abdulrahman. “It’s something I was always exposed to and I am very lucky that my dad has always been supportive. So when I decided to race, I had the best support, mentor and trainer. I cried when I saw him at the end of Rally Jameel waving the Bahraini flag for our arrival. He came to celebrate after he finished with the Formula One Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix.
“As for this competition, it’s great and it shines a spotlight on women racing. I had a few years off from racing so this kick-started my motivation to keep going. I am looking to race now at Hail Baja, which is a speed rally that usually takes place in December and my dad now has the challenge of building me a car. The 2023 season ended in February and the new dates have yet to be announced. I hope Sahar accepts the challenge and agrees to come as my co-driver again.”
Darwaa, who is in the process of acquiring her MBA from the American University of Bahrain, specialises in management audit and is currently the chief Scrutineer of F3 in Bahrain, enjoyed the experience.
“The shift to co-driver felt natural as it felt like doing calculus while falling out of an airplane,” said the vice-team captain of Bahrain for International Spartan Races, mountain biker, dragon boater and member of the National Rowing Team. “My training consisted of studying the road books to navigate our way simply and to communicate the route to the driver. Think of it as a human off-road Google Map.
“The competition was based on navigation, checkpoints, planning skills and average speeds. The vehicles permitted were unmodified All Wheel Drives or 4x4s. It was all about remaining calm and being adaptable to support the driver in a fast-paced sport.
“When things don’t go as planned, it was my responsibility to keep the driver calm and quickly adapt a better route to reach our targeted Waypoint. This experience has also improved my communication and articulation skills. We met female pioneers who are professional drivers and co-drivers from around the world, and I have benefitted from every interaction.
“This hopefully is the first step towards encouraging more Bahraini women interested in motorsports to participate in off-road racing. This is my first and definitely not my last experience.”
According to Abdulrahman, Rally Jameel 2024 will be in their schedule for sure. The next likely race is the Hail Toyota International Rally in Saudi, which is usually on the FIA Cross Country World Cup calendar.
Hail was once a key part of the route taken by pilgrims for Haj by camel, and today, it is known for its agriculture in particular wheat and dairy products.
Motorsport isn’t new to the city with the Hail Rally first taking place in 2006 and later becoming an FIA-sanctioned event in 2008. It has become a key location in Saudi hosting the Dakar Rally since 2020.