Meet Saudi Arabia's first female racing driver

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Reema Juffali will make history as the first Saudi Arabian female to race for her country.
Reema Juffali will make history as the first Saudi female to race in an international series.

Saudi Arabian racer Reema Juffali is set to make history in an international racing series on her home soil.

Juffali will become her country’s first ever female driver to race on the big stage just 18 months after Saudi Arabia lifted the ban on women’s driving licences.

She is currently preparing to feature in the all-electric Jaguar I-PACE eTROPHY series next weekend. “When I first started driving in Saudi Arabia, children in cars next to me, looked at me as like a celebrity because it was still strange for them to see a woman driving,” Juffali says. “I have always had a passion for racing cars but I’ve only competed outside of Saudi Arabia. Now I’m finally heading home to race with Jaguar in an electric racecar.”

DARLINGTON, ENGLAND - JUNE 15: Reema Al Juffali of Double R Racing in action during the Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship - Croft  on June 15, 2019 in Darlington, England. (Photo by George Wood/Getty Images)
Reema Juffali in action during the Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship (Getty Images)

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The 27-year-old has already written her name in the history books after competing in the TRD 86 Cup at Yas Marina Circuit in 2018. Her spot on the starting grid in Abu Dhabi made her the first Saudi female driver to compete in a major racing event.

“It’s great, I’m really happy," Juffali told The National after finishing second and third in her respective races. “I just completed my first race weekend. It was a great experience, unbelievable.”

After meeting former British driver Susie Wolff in 2017, Juffali took the plunge to quit her job in finance and chase her racing dream. Making her competitive debut at 26, the Jeddah-born racer paradoxically arrived late to the sport but sets the bar as the first Saudi female to compete.

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Juffali is one of only three women in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to hold a racing licence. “I have had a passion for cars for most of my life but there wasn’t that many opportunities for me for karting when I was young. So whenever I was abroad I would do it for fun,” she said following her Abu Dhabi success.

The leap taken to give up her full-time job and focus on her driving was a brave one. Not only is Juffali the first Saudi female native to race, but her experience is significantly less than those who have had the privilege of practising from a young age.

“Of course I was a little apprehensive and a little bit worried about chasing my dream but I left my job, I had time on my hands and I thought ‘why not?’”

At age 26, Juffali is a newcomer to motorsport but is still the first Saudi female in history to compete.
At 26, Juffali was a newcomer to motorsport but is the first Saudi female in history to compete.

Last June, Saudi Arabia lifted a ban on female drivers that had been in place for decades. Five months later, and Juffali was racing professionally. In April this year, she made her Formula 4 British Championship debut at Brands Hatch.

“It's such a great thing for me to do and represent my country,” she says. “Brands Hatch is the heart of motorsport.”

Juffali has given nods to Lewis Hamilton and Ayrton Senna as her inspirations and admits she spent a lot of her teenage years watching Formula 1.

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton, of Britain, celebrates on the podium after winning the Formula One Mexico Grand Prix auto race at the Hermanos Rodriguez racetrack in Mexico City, Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)
One of Reema Juffali's racing heroes is six-time champion Lewis Hamilton. (AP Photo)

She spends her time between London and home-city Jeddah, where she was raised by her supportive family despite Saudi Arabia’s hardline on certain women’s rights.

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Juffali is currently sponsored by Saudi Arabia’s national carrier airline but is far from considered a household name just yet. Despite this, she has the full support of those around her.

“We are so excited to have Reema join us in Diriyah as our VIP driver,” says Jaguar Series Manager Mark Turner.

“Her progress in her first year of single-seater racing is very impressive. 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 Jaguar Racing are immensely proud to be able to support.”

Reema Juffali will compete in the all-electric Jaguar I-PACE eTROPHY series.
Reema Juffali will compete in the all-electric Jaguar I-PACE eTROPHY series.

“I hope I can inspire the next generation of female drivers in Saudi Arabia,” Juffali announced. She will feature in the double-header opening weekend of the Jaguar I-PACE eTROPHY series on November 22 and 23.

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