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Saudi Arabia's first female racing driver, Reema Juffali, discusses her inspirations, hopes for the future and her 'wild card' entry in the first round of the 2024 F1 Academy season.

 

Jeddah, Saudi Arabia (26th February 2024) - Saudi Arabia's first female racing driver and founder of Theeba Motorsport, Reema Juffali, has established herself as an inspiration and role model to female athletes in Saudi Arabia and across the world.

Reema developed an interest in cars at an early age and made history in 2018 by becoming the first-ever female racing driver to come from Saudi Arabia.

Following a promising debut season in 2019, she again trailblazed by becoming the first Saudi Arabian woman to compete in an international race in her home country, racing on the streets of Riyadh in the Jaguar I-PACE eTROPHY.

In 2021, she competed in the GB3 Championship before making her endurance racing debut at the 2022 Dubai 24 Hours where she finished second in class.

Reema subsequently founded Theeba Motorsport to facilitate Saudi Arabian access to and participation in motor racing through a variety of educational opportunities and programmes. The team made its first appearance in the 2022 International GT Open and secured victory on debut – an achievement which made Reema the first Saudi woman to win an international motor race – before scoring a vice championship title in the series' Pro-Am class.

2023 saw Reema participating in the Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe; a season in which Reema continued to make history by being the first ever female and the first Saudi Arabian driver to secure a pole position in the Sprint Cup.

It is Reema's ambition to break further ground by one day racing in the prestigious Le Mans 24 Hours with Theeba Motorsport under a Saudi Arabian licence – a goal she will edge closer to by competing in the GT World Challenge.

Reema continues to make waves in motorsport after being named as one of the world's most inspiring and influential women by the BBC in 2022, and as the main protagonist in the 2023 Mercedes AMG International Women's Day campaign.

In 2024, she has just been confirmed as a special 'wild card' entry in the first round of the ground-breaking 2024 F1 Academy season, which will be taking place in her home town of Jeddah as part of the FORMULA 1 STC SAUDI ARABIAN GRAND PRIX 2024 on March 7th – 9th.

 

To celebrate this historic announcement, we sat down with Reema to find out more about her involvement in the all-women series' debut in Saudi Arabia and the progress she has seen for female athletes in the Kingdom over the past decade.

 

Q. How does it feel to represent Saudi Arabia as the wild card entry in the opening round of the F1 Academy in your home town?

RJ: It is an honour and a privilege to be representing my country, especially in my home town. I have raced in Saudi before in Riyadh but for me being in Jeddah, in a familiar city, I never thought this day would come. The day F1 arrived in Jeddah was the clash of both my worlds and now I am actually going to be participating! I'm really looking forward to it and happy to share the experience with my friends and family who are based here. It brings out so many emotions and positive feelings but I know this is probably not going to be the last race I will compete in in Jeddah.

 

Q. What made you want to join the opening round as a wild card entry?

RJ: The short answer is that it's in my home city. Any opportunity to race here would attract my attention and it also being in a car I have raced in the past makes it more exciting – although I haven't been in this iteration of the car. It's going to be a challenge but it's a no-brainer to say yes to Jeddah. The track is so exciting so I want to experience it on a race weekend.

 

Q. What are you looking forward to most about racing on the Jeddah Corniche Circuit for the first time?

RJ: I've heard so much about the track from other drivers, watched different onboards and walked it a few times as well: it seems so fast and challenging. Racing on it – let alone doing just a lap – will be something I've never experienced before. It is the world's fastest street track so to experience that in a single seater will be absolutely thrilling. As a racing driver you usually go into a race weekend setting goals and milestones but for this one it's more just about having fun, enjoying the moment, and sharing it with everyone. Hopefully Saudi fans can see that there is a Saudi racing driver out there and it will get them to thinking that 'this is something I can do!'. It is really for this reason I have decided to take this challenge on.

 

Q. What does the F1 Academy mean to you?

RJ: Motorsport is unfortunately still such a male dominated sport so anything like F1 Academy that gives women more access and opportunity to hone and finetune their skills is a great thing. We have seen in the past that once you give someone an opportunity it can lead in many different directions, into many different facets of the sport. There is so much more to motorsport than just racing and opening doors is a great thing - we need more of it!

 

Q. Who was your inspiration growing up?

RJ: This is always a hard question and people find my answer hard to believe. I didn't dream about racing growing up, I was so focussed on different things. I had aspirations of travelling the world and being a successful businesswoman – very different milestones and goals. So in terms of [motorsport] inspirations I didn't really have any as I wasn't exposed to this world of motorsport in general. Inspiration for me was really more about people who impacted me and left me with something that I wanted to emulate, Some of them were my family members or friends. I wouldn't call them idols though. As a realistic person, I needed more tangible role models, people I wanted to be like.

 

Q. How can you see the F1 Academy helping young female Saudi racers?

RF: I think in the beginning with anything, as the saying goes: 'if you can't see it, you won't believe it.' So yes, in motorsport we definitely need more female role models – the more the merrier! The sport in general offers so much excitement to people and inspires curiosity, however, growing up here there weren't as many publicly known female role models. Now there are many more and I hope this continues to grow via series like the F1 Academy and helps inspire the next generation.

 

Q. Can you talk to us about the progress you have seen in terms of opportunities for female racers – and athletes in general - in Saudi Arabia and the wider region?

RJ: Being a Saudi and growing up here...it really did feel like it was overnight when we suddenly had access to new things. We were told to dream big and shoot for the stars. For me personally, when I decided to go into racing, it was down to the encouragement and support I received from everyone in the country. The amount of support and excitement around my participation was what pushed me to take this on in a more professional level and I think my story alone shows you that if someone supports you and gives you that little push you need – and don't forget in my case most who did were ultimately strangers – that helps you to take that leap.

 

I personally know some of these [female Saudi] athletes that are competing at the top level in a variety of different sports and we are all in the same boat in that we want to do it to the best of our abilities but also create opportunities for the younger generation and future Saudi athletes.

 

I'm meeting new [female Saudi] athletes all the time in different sports and they are so impressive and inspiring. Seeing other Saudis out there going after their dreams, pushing, and going through hardships – as you must in sport - and coming out the other side still going after what they believe...this is what makes sport beautiful to me and brings people together.

 

I only hope this grows and we see more Saudi athletes out there challenging themselves and pushing those physical and mental limits and growing. There is so much more to come!

 

Q. What more can be done to support this progress?

RJ: This is just the beginning. There are so many more areas where more can still be done in terms of developing more sporting clubs, training facilities, racing tracks – all these kind of infrastructure-based elements.

 

I would also say female athletes in particular would benefit from community-led things such as training programmes to help attract the younger generation who are still 'sponges' with so much ahead of them and who can learn and discover what they are interested in and good at. So, it's important we reach out to the large young population we have and explain what it takes to be a racing driver, runner, climber etc. and give them these opportunities.

 

Also, the many international events coming to Saudi Arabia – from golf to Formula 1, to football – are connecting with Saudis and giving them a chance to see that these events are a taking place in the Kingdom and that they can aim to be part of that. There is a lot happening and it is also down to us as the active youth to push for this and participate and try new things. It doesn't hurt to go out and learn and make mistakes and find out what sport suits you.

 

Q. Have you got a message for all the young girls – and boys! – who will be watching?

RJ: My message would be that in order for you to know, you have to try. Get out there, challenge yourself, don't be fearful of the unknown. All of these things helped me be where I am today. Failing is a part of the process. For you to learn you need to go through some hurdles. It is about working hard and pushing those boundaries physically and mentally. I think my message therefore is as basic as 'go out there and try new things'!




Posted by : GoDubai Editorial Team
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Posted on : Tuesday, February 27, 2024  
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