Riding the steering wheel on a sleek electric SUV, Reema Juffali was the first woman to compete in a men’s-only race in Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia lifted its only ban on women driving in the world last June, as part of Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s policy to liberalize driving. After the decades-long ban was lifted, Juffali, 27.
She became the first Saudi woman to race in the country and was considered by the organizers to be a “VIP” guest driver. She competed in the Jaguar I-Pace eTrophy electric car race in Diriyah, near the capital Riyadh.
“The ban was lifted last year and I never thought I would be racing professionally. But the fact that I am doing that, that’s great,” Juffali said on the blue and black Jaguar I-Pace.
Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki al-Faisal, the Saudi Sports Minister, called this a “turning point” of the Islamic kingdom. “As a professional rider, Juffali will have thousands of people cheering for the competition,” he said.
Juffali first attended racing at the F4 Championship in England in April, just after a year of professional training. But Juffali has had a passion for speed racing since she was a teenager and enjoyed watching Formula One races.
She obtained a car driver’s license while studying abroad in the United States and is now one of the few Saudi women who have a driving license in her home country.
It is a mandatory requirement to participate in professional races. Even in other countries, only a few Saudi women are racing professionally.
“For many women who don’t have the opportunity to learn to drive, being behind the wheel is definitely scary. For Saudi women, it’s a far-fetched thing,” Juffali explained.
Juffali said she dreams of participating in a one-day race at Le Mans, France, one of the most prestigious and challenging tournaments in the world. In Riyadh, Juffali will compete on par with the professional riders last season.