As a young female, competing in a predominantly male industry is no easy task. But not for Reema Al Juffali, who is quickly speeding her way into international circuits. A force to reckon with, Reema has once again left her mark at the recently held 2021 Diriyah E-Prix, becoming Saudi Arabia’s first female racing driver to compete in the Kingdom.
A trend-setter and barrier breaker, Reema is keen to clear the way for future female drivers in the Kingdom, and there’s no stopping her. On the occasion of International Women’s Day, we speak to this go-getter who inspires many.
How did you feel after taking part in an international racing series and representing Saudi Arabia?
It was an indescribable feeling, especially since I represented my country on home soil. I’m proud to raise the Saudi flag at international events; it comes with great responsibility which pushes me to perform my best on the international racing stage.
How did you fall in love with cars and racing? And how did you feel after your first race?
When I was a child, I loved sports and cars. After I graduated and moved to America for university, that love grew when I discovered the world of motor racing in the US. I followed many races and championships and began thinking seriously about training. Eventually, I did train, and in 2018 I participated in my first championship in the UAE.
That championship was special to me. It gave me the confidence and determination to work harder and develop my skills as a racing driver.
Did you always know that racing was your calling?
I did not expect motorsport to become my passion, but fate had other plans and my hobby turned into a dream that continues to come true day after day.
How did your family respond to your interest in car racing?
When I told my family that this is what I wanted to do, I wanted to race, they were understanding of my unconventional choice and gave me not only their full support but also developed an interest in racing. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for my family’s support.
What difficulties did you encounter when breaking through a very male-dominated industry and how did you overcome it?
I faced quite a few difficulties, but the biggest barrier was taking the first step into motor racing. I had no clear understanding of the process but after extensive research and encounters with people in the industry, my questions were answers. Focus and determination can take you a long way. Knowing I had a goal to achieve, ensured I was on track despite the obstacles I faced.
How did you train during the lockdown? Did Covid curb your practice sessions?
There is no doubt that the closure hindered our access to circuits, but I took advantage of that time by working on other areas such as my physical and mental fitness. I worked on strengthening my weaknesses as well. Although I was away from my family due to travel restrictions, I saw that period as an opportunity for self-development.
What is an ideal day of training for you and how do you usually prep for race day? And what’s your favourite race car?
An ideal day of training includes multiple processes, both outside and inside the car. While in the car, one of the things we work on is learning the racing line; the optimal and fastest way around the track. This learning requires us to watch an onboard video of the benchmark driver. Outside the car, we analyze our lap using telemetry; data collected from the car shows acceleration, braking and turning etc., from which we compare our data to the benchmark. There are many more such processes we go through to improve our driving. The Formula 3 is my current favourite.
We know you aim to compete in the most prestigious race in the world – the 24 Hours of Le Mans. How differently are you going to train for this and by when do you think you will be ready to compete in this race?
I am working hard to achieve this dream, and in the next two years, I aim to participate in similar races to prepare for long races like the 24 Hours of Le Mans. I hope you will soon see me as one of the participants in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Are there any other titles you aim to win? And which dream team would you love to represent?
I would like to win at the Nürburgring, and I hope to be part of the Mercedes team.
If you weren’t a racer, you would be?
What are your future aspirations?
I look forward to fulfilling my dream by competing against the most skilled drivers in the world. When I think I’m ready, I will not hesitate to participate in races like the 24 hour Le Mans race or Formula E.
What’s your advice for other girls out there who want to be like you?
Without a doubt, racing is difficult but nothing is impossible when you set your mind to it. Goals are achieved with training and discipline. My advice to all girls is to try different activities because you never know what will capture your interest and eventually turn into a career or a new passion. If you do not try, you will never know what you’re capable of achieving.