Saudi women revving up for the Dakar
January 10 th 2021 - 06:19 [GMT + 3]
Since women in Saudi Arabia were granted the right to drive in June 2018, the Saudi Arabian Automobile and Motorcycle Federation has supported the projects of several female drivers. Dania Akeel and Mashael Alobaidan were invited to follow the rally from up close in the hopes of lining up for the start of the 2022 edition.
They are poised to become a force to be reckoned with in the Dakar. A handful of Saudi riders, drivers and crews made it to the finish of the 2020 edition of the greatest rally on Earth, the first one in their country. This time round, all eight Saudi-driven vehicles that started the race are still in contention going into the second week of the rally. No Saudi woman has entered the Dakar so far, but Dania Akeel and Mashael Alobaidan are among those determined to smash the glass ceiling. Both of them got their first taste of motor sports on a bike, one on the racetrack and the other in motocross. "I started from a very early age on a 50 cc quad because my family had a holiday home near a race venue, then around age 13 I got a 150 cc bike", recalls Dania vividly as she remembers her first thrills behind the handlebar. "I spent some time studying in the United Kingdom, where I got my bike licence, and then I went to work in Dubai, where I really got into learning to ride to enter competitions." Once back in Jeddah, the battle-hardened athlete received the first motorbike licence granted to a woman in 2018.
Dania Akeel's exceptional tale caught the attention of the Saudi Arabian Automobile and Motorcycle Federation, which launched a programme to promote motor sports among women as the country geared up to host the Dakar. The 32-year-old was understandably ecstatic when she got an invitation to visit the bivouac in 2020: "When I saw this atmosphere, this community, it was love at first sight. I love it so much I could also have a blast on the racetrack, but here we are in touch with nature, so it's the perfect combination for me." Joining the adventure has since become a top priority for both Mashael and Dania, who has come up with a clear and thought-out plan to achieve her goal: "If it's got wheels and you can ride it, I love it, but I'd like to take my first steps in the rally on a lightweight vehicle. Let's face it, I'm not good enough on a bike. I still have a lot to learn, especially when it comes to navigation. This is why I came here as a spectator this year. I'm spending the whole rally here to watch, ask questions and make sure I'm not caught off guard when my turn comes to go out and hit the track. I'm taking it one step at a time, learn to walk before you run and all that." The ability to plan ahead and patience are two essential qualities to succeed in the Dakar. The way forward is now clear.