The Empty Quarter as a birthday present
Dakar 2024 |
Stage 6 |
January 12 th 2024 - 20:16 [GMT + 3]
She is the third Saudi Arabian woman to take part in the Dakar following Masha Al Obaidan and Dania Akeel. At the age of 37 years, businesswoman and fashion designer Maha Alhamali belongs to the generation of Saudi women who passed their driving tests five years ago when it became possible in the country. In the intervening years, Maha has become one of the best SSV drivers in the Middle East.
“I thought that I would never drive in my life. I’ve always had a chauffer, my husband, my family and I knew nothing about cars. Being a Saudi woman, I started driving quite late on, at the age of 32 years. It was a shock for me when the decision was taken to allow women to drive. I was so excited that I went out and bought a car before I got my licence! If I'd learned when I was younger, I'd certainly have made faster progress. Five years ago, when I started driving school, I couldn't park properly. I got my driving licence in 2019. I travelled in 2020 during the Covid pandemic with a Toyota Land Cruiser, to AlUla, Neom… that’s where I discovered the desert. When I got back, I looked for people in Saudi Arabia to teach me to drive off-road and I also went to a driving school in England. When I told my mother I wanted to race cars, she said: go for it. It was a real surprise, because she often prevented me from doing things. When I won my first race, she encouraged me to keep going, as did my whole family, but also MBS' government, which is changing everything in Saudi Arabia and giving women good opportunities. I always say that I'm lucky to be a woman of this era. In 2022, I took part in the Rally Jameel, a navigation race reserved for women and I finished 3rd. After that, Toyota started to sponsor me and I made my debut on the Saudia Arabian rally championship in 2023. I won it in the SSV category before finishing 2nd in the Middle East championships. Afterwards, Toyota asked me to think about competing in the Dakar”.
Maha came last year to discover the Dakar as a visitor, before winning the Hail and Neom rallies shortly after in an SSV. She had dreamed of the Empty Quarter and that’s precisely where she spent part of her birthday on 12th January. “I was born in Al Hofuf, but I’d never been to the Empty Quarter. Everybody was afraid of coming here this year for the 48 HR Chrono, but I couldn’t wait. Yesterday, I had a problem with my SSV and immediately told myself that I had to carry on, because I really wanted to do this marathon stage. I was so happy at the start that I asked my co-pilot to film some videos twice. I was also sick twice, but I made it. The 12th of January is my birthday. I've always spent it in beautiful places around the world, in a spa, for example… This year, I’m going to celebrate it in the desert after a night under the stars. I’m surprised because I expected to be tired and nervous – I saw people in such a state when I visited the Dakar last year. But even if we’ve had some difficult moments, like when we make mistakes or we have to repair, I’m happy. It’s my first time on the Dakar, it’s always special”.