Reema Al Juffali: Saudi woman driver breaking barriers on fast lane
Until June 2018, women in an ultra conservative Saudi Arabia were not even allowed to drive. The middle-eastern country took a giant societal leap when they became the world’s last country to give its women the license to drive.
The above information is quite significant to comprehend the accomplishment of Reema Al Juffali, who broke several barriers to become the first female racer from Saudi Arabia.
The 26-year-old’s motorsport journey began when she took part in the TRD 86 Cup at Abu Dhabi in October 2018 and achieving a remarkable podium on debut.
“Women started driving in Saudi in June and my first race was in October. This is not just a big step for Saudi women, but we can also have this (women racing). I was at the right place at the right time,” says Reema, who debuted at the MRF Challenge here over the weekend.
“I started racing quite late and the dream came later -- to pursue racing after I studied, worked and did things I wanted to achieve in life. My passion has always been cars and then racing came along. After that, I couldn’t avoid it anymore and wanted to pursue it.”
Hailing from Jeddah, Reema’s journey into motorsports wasn’t easy as it took four years to convince her family that she wanted to become a competitive racer. But once she got their approval, not just her family but most people in the oil-rich kingdom came out in support of her.
“Initially my family was hesitant and reluctant but they saw that the passion was there. It was four years of me thinking, talking about it, gave them time to think but as soon as I made the decision they were very supportive. Not only my family, in my first race I realised how big it was -- my whole country was supporting me, something that I didn’t expect,” says Reema.
“People are still surprised and digesting that I am not just driving, but racing. The hardest thing for me was to take that first step, getting over the fear of not succeeding or not pursuing my passion. When I took that first step, the doors opened. If you want to pursue anything, just go for it.”
The trailblazer added that when she faced opposition from the orthodox elements of the society, double the number came out in support of her. “Overwhelmingly, it (the reaction) has been very positive. It’s (negativity) like a needle in a haystack.”
Always interested in cars, Reema got hooked to motorsports when she went abroad for higher education and began watching Formula 1. Eventually it made her pursue circuit racing, unlike in Saudi Arabia where off-roading is the more recognisable sport.
“When I graduated, I gave myself a gift -- a three-day course in a racing school in a formula car. It was an eye-opening experience. That was the first time I was in a race car and that was the start of it,” says Reema.
“In October I had my first race in a GT 86 car and finished in the middle of the grid. Then I won my first race in December. Now I am racing in single-seaters. So, everything has been happening very quickly.”
Asked how’s the opposite sex reacting when they see her on the grid, Reema said the ‘reactions have been interesting’.
“Some races into the season, they know who I am, my driving style and what to expect. It’s all good, we have broken the barriers. I think they are scared of me. I like it that way,” laughed Reema.