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Pauline Zwart checks the car before training runs at the Dubai Autodrome yesterday. The Racing Divas team will compete at the 24 Hours of Dubai this weekend.
Pauline Zwart checks the car before training runs at the Dubai Autodrome yesterday. The Racing Divas team will compete at the 24 Hours of Dubai this weekend.

Pink ladies return to the track for 24 Hours of Dubai

The Racing Divas Team Schubert, who race in pink and grey racesuits and drive a predominantly pink BMW, are taking part in the emirate's annual endurance race for the second successive year.

Be it the Circuit Paul Ricard in France or the Buddh International in India, the Guia Circuit in Macau or Interlagos in Brazil, rarely is pink the most popular colour in the machismo-filled environment of a motorsport paddock.

This weekend, however, courtesy of a quintet of Dutch women, those attending Dubai Autodrome will be unable to avoid thinking pink as the only female race team to register for the 24 Hours of Dubai look to maximise their publicity for a very special cause.

The Racing Divas Team Schubert, who race in pink and grey racesuits and drive a predominantly pink BMW, are taking part in the emirate's annual endurance race for the second successive year; they finished 39th from 72 entries on their Dubai debut last January.

Liesette Braams, a blonde 40 year old who heads the Divas team, knows that being an all-female race team in a region where women are prohibited from driving in some countries brings attention.

As a result, she and her four compatriots are aiming to capitalise on the heightened interest and raise awareness as well as money for a little known medical condition that has affected a close friend.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is a degenerative condition and the most common of the five variations of motor neurone disease. Bernard Muller, a 44 year old Dutch colleague of Braams's husband Lucas, has been fighting the illness for three and a half years.

"When you get the disease, doctors estimate you will die within three years," Braams said. "Now our friend is living, really, on borrowed time."

This weekend, each of the 82 cars taking part in the 24-hour race will carry a chequered flag sticker reading "Stop! ALS" while the BMW 320D driven by the Divas is almost entirely covered with pink love hearts, each of which carries the name of a sponsor in its centre.

Braams said a percentage of the money provided by each sponsor has been donated to a medical research foundation, while a website has been created allowing supporters to donate money.

"In racing, everything is about time," Braams said, her pink racesuit carrying the logo for Burando, the Dutch maritime service provider that Braams's husband and Muller work for.

"But people diagnosed with ALS are running out of time. That's why the chequered flag is included on the sticker."

She continued: "In Holland, more than 1,500 people have been diagnosed with ALS, while around 500 people die each year and 500 new patients are diagnosed annually as well.

Worldwide, 350,000 people are living with ALS, so while it is not such a prominent disease, the doctors hope that with the research they do they will not only find a solution to ALS, but also to multiple sclerosis and other motor neuron diseases."

Braams said that in the Netherlands being a woman racing driver is normal, but in the Middle East she often feels she is doing something unusual.

"There is definitely more interest in us out here because we are women," she said.

"You could see it in the press conference when the different officials and locals wanted to pose for photos with us. We enjoy it, but, for us, when we close the car door and fasten our seat belts, we are just another team."

Gaby Uljee, having helped the Divas finish fourth in their category at last year's race, says they are looking to improve.

"In endurance racing, you never know what is going to happen," the blonde 36 year old said. "But that's why we love it.

"It's a challenge and it is fun and if we can raise awareness of ALS while we race then even better."

Lucas Braams will also compete in the 24 Hours of Dubai along with the couple's son, Max, as part of the Equipe Verschuur 1 team, and while he is adamant his focus will be entirely on the race while behind the wheel, he concedes when he is not in the car he will be keeping in close contact with his friend, Muller.

"I speak to him on a daily basis and he although he comes back to the Netherlands almost every two weeks, this weekend he is in Portugal" he said.

"He is very interested obviously in what we are doing this weekend and we will be texting constantly and speaking on the phone."

The Racing Divas will take to the Dubai Autodrome track for the first of three practice sessions today at 11.30am. Pink will be prominent.

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

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