Yasmin Al Hilli, became the first ever Bahraini, Gulf female rally driver. She is an inspiration to all those women out there who want to enter this male-dominated sport in the Gulf. Her passion for driving became more focused during her time in New Zealand, where she completed her studies. She helped organise various racing events. “I was lucky enough to be a marshal at the New Zealand International Rally 99 and also enjoyed watching the Australian International rally the same year.” she said.
Coming back to Bahrain did not stop her from pursuing her heart's desires. “In Bahrain, I went through a practice sesion with rally drivers Mubarak Al-Hejeri and later with Ebrahim Busmait and realised that being an organiser was not enough - I had to participate. At a gala dinner, I chatted with Mohammed Bin Sulayem and Khaled Zakaria who encouraged me to ‘do something' about my interest,” Yasmin explained.
Her first show is being held this year on 6 to 8 March in Bahrain. Bahrain is hosting the rally for the first time which will include drivers from world over. Currently working as the Press Public affairs assistant at the British embassy in Manama, Bahrain, Yasmin finds plenty of time to indulge in her passion for driving. She recently participated in the rally held in Qatar.
It was the first round of Middle East rally championship. She is not only the first Bahraini female rally driver but also the first Gulf woman to complete the entire rally. She also participated in the Dubai International rally held last year where she was the co-driver for Bahraini participant Hassan Al Sadadi.
Q: How did you start taking part in the rallies?
“I started driving in the dunes and the desert in Bahrain for fun. I had my driving license at the age of 16. It was Ebrahim Busmait, a local Bahraini rally driver who helped me to read and write co-driving notes - as I thought that it was impossible at that point to be a driver - and he introduced me to Hassan Al Saddadi. He then offered me the job of his co-driver and I was to prepare myself to drive with Hassan in Dubai in one month's time. In the Dubai Rally Championships held last year I became the co-driver for Al Sadadi. All this was possible because my friends and family encouraged me to take the initiative. And of course Hassan took a big risk taking me on board as his co-driver because I had no experience and practice with him in Bahrain. Finishing the rally in the overall 6th place honestly overwhelmed me. I can't express the experience in words.”
Q: How did the transition of being a co-driver to a rally driver take place?
“When me and Hassan returned to Bahrain after participating in the Dubai Rally I told Hassan of my dream of driving in a rally. He didn't want to lose me as a co-driver, but he helped me to establish the Desert Rose rally team. Now it was my turn to look for a co-driver. I chose my relative and close friend Hanan as my co-driver. She accompanied me when we participated in the Qatar rally recently.”
Q: Do you own a car to participate in the rallies?
“I have my own car and till now I have managed on my own, there are no sponsors to support me. I'm hoping to join hands with some sponsors soon.”
Q: What are your future plans?
“My short-term dream is to finish the Bahraini Rally. I am not concerned about my position in the rally but aiming more to complete it. I am also hoping to at least beat one of the women participants. I am confident about it because I am on home grounds and among my own people. My co-driver will also be a woman.”
Q Do you intend to continue your participation in the Middle East Championships?
“I hope so.”
Q: Do you see rally driving suitable for women in the Gulf countries?
“Why not? It is just like driving on the roads. Women are better drivers after all. With this rally we are looking forward to paving the way for more women in this field of sports.”
Q: Do you feel that more women should join this sport?
“Yes, of course. It would be great to have a good all-women team which would include technicians, mechanics and good drivers.”
Q: What does your family think about your rally driving. Did you get any encouragement from them?
“My parents encouraged me a lot. Both friends and family have helped me gain immense confidence.”
Courtesy: Arabian Woman