Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 7 August 2020

'I don't think I've taken it all in yet': How racing driver Reema Juffali became Saudi Arabia's first female driver to race on home soil

She participated in the Jaguar I-Pace e-Trophy in Riyadh

Reema Juffali is Saudi Arabia's first female race driver. Here she is pictured at the Jaguar I-Pace e-Trophy race that formed part of the FIA Formula E world championship. AFP
Reema Juffali is Saudi Arabia's first female race driver. Here she is pictured at the Jaguar I-Pace e-Trophy race that formed part of the FIA Formula E world championship. AFP

Every racing driver who spends their life travelling the world agrees that competing at home in front of their family and friends is a special moment, but for Reema Juffali, who raced in front of her home crowd in Riyadh for the first time only two months ago, it took on greater significance.

Not only was it her first race in a country that recently opened its doors to international sporting competitions, but Juffali was also the first Saudi woman to compete on home soil, only 17 months after women were allowed to drive on the kingdom’s roads.

When Juffali gridded up in the Jaguar I-Pace e-Trophy race that formed part of the FIA Formula E world championship, she created history. She admitted that was hard to comprehend given the immensity of the achievement.

“Can you imagine this? Here I am racing at home. I mean, who would have thought that,” she said, her adrenalin still pumping when we spoke to her moments after racing around the historic streets of Ad Diriyah. “It’s been such an amazing experience and I don’t think I’ve taken it all in yet. I keep having to remind myself that this is really happening.”

Reema Juffali fastens her helmet in front of her car ahead of the Jaguar I-Pace e-Trophy race. AFP
Reema Juffali fastens her helmet in front of her car ahead of the Jaguar I-Pace e-Trophy race. AFP

Juffali made her competitive international racing debut 10 months after Saudi Arabia lifted its ban on women driving when she competed with Double R Racing in the British Formula 4 Championship team at the Brands Hatch Circuit in England. Her first racing experience, however, was in Abu Dhabi in 2018, at the Yas Marina Circuit, when she took part in the home-grown TRD 86 Cup, a one-make series for identical Toyota 86 coupes.

“It’s been 12 months since I finished my final Toyota 86 race at Yas, where I got my first win, and so much has happened since then, both for my racing career and here in Saudi, that I never dreamt this could happen,” she says.

I’m really happy with where I finished at the end of the season and how much I learnt

Reema Juffali, racing driver

By competing in the 86 Series at Yas, Juffali became the first Saudi female race licence holder to compete in the UAE domestic series and recorded an impressive second place in the Silver Category and fourth overall in the series. The result allowed her to chase a drive in the competitive British F4 series as a way to enter single-­seater racing, which grabbed the interest of Jaguar Racing and led to her guest appearance as a factory driver in the e-Trophy race.

“F4 in Europe has been a really challenging season as I’ve had to learn all the new tracks in different cars and different conditions, so it was a constant learning curve and one that just got steeper as the season progressed,” she says. “I’m really happy with where I finished at the end of the season and how much I learnt, especially with not having any single-seater experience prior to that.”

Reema Juffali racing in the British Formula 4 Championship team at the Brands Hatch circuit in England. Getty
Reema Juffali racing in the British Formula 4 Championship team at the Brands Hatch circuit in England. Getty

The Jaguar connection evolved after she received an invitation to drive the electric I-Pace e-­Trophy race car in a demonstration run at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in Britain last August. It proved to be a test to see how Juffali could handle the car and the media, as well as getting her to exchange technical feedback with her team. She passed with flying colours and was duly sent an invitation to take part in the real deal in Riyadh.

“Reema’s progress in her first year of single-seater racing has been very impressive,” Mark Turner, Jaguar e-Trophy series manager, said. “To have the first Saudi Arabian woman to compete in an international racing series within the kingdom is a major milestone for the sport and one that Jaguar Racing is immensely proud to have been able to support, so we were excited to have Reema join us in Diriyah as our VIP driver.”

The Jaguar e-Trophy is the first global series for electric saloon cars and runs as the major support event to Formula E. The fact it was being held in her own country made Juffali feel “very proud … not so much for what I’ve been doing but for what Saudi Arabia is going through and what we are seeing here. We are very lucky and I am incredibly happy”.

A week later, Juffali appeared in her beloved F4 car racing as part of the Formula 4 UAE Championship, supporting the biggest race of them all, the Formula One Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at Yas. Racing with F4 UAE was another opportunity for her to champion Saudi’s female drivers to the biggest audience of motor racing fans in the world through F1.

Now, Juffali says she intends to put everything she has learnt together and focus on chasing down new championships in Europe, as well as other one-off guest races.

“The Jaguar I-Pace e-Trophy opportunity has highlighted the innovation and progress of motorsport,” she says. “It has given more opportunities for men and women to compete together in cool electric race cars.”

Updated: January 25, 2020 03:51 PM

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