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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - RIYADH: Reema Juffali, the first female Saudi racing car driver, says that Saudi Arabia has the potential to excel on the international racing stage.
Appearing as the first guest in the latest season of the “Mayman Show,” Juffali shared her global ambitions with Arab News. Beyond her individual aims, she discussed her commitment to helping the racing community in the Kingdom. As the founder of Theeba Motorsport, she aims to use it as a platform for enthusiasts to engage, learn, and actively participate in the motorsports industry.
Despite her relatively brief five-year journey in the racing realm, Juffali now seeks to launch training initiatives, mentorship programs, and elevate her team to international acclaim, moving beyond their Saudi roots.
It was during a trip to the UK, while she was at university, that she stumbled upon Formula One.
She said: “I love cars, I’ve always loved cars, and this (motorsport) connects both my passions of cars and sports.
“So, let me see what it’s about. I was watching Formula One and didn’t understand a thing. I was taking notes while I was watching.”
Juffali disclosed her interest to no one before participating in a race in the UAE. She surprised herself by coming in second and third in two races.
People were supportive so she decided to take racing more seriously. Thinking back on important moments, she remembers the 24-hour endurance race at Le Mans, which still inspires her. Getting second place in the 24-hour endurance race in Dubai in 2022 was a big accomplishment for her and the team, making her even more committed.
As a predominantly male-driven sport with high financial demands, her journey was far from easy, she says. She attributes her success to the steadfast support of her family and the space they provided for her to explore new things.
She said: “I kind of threw myself into the deep end, learned as I went, you know, as I was going, whether I was on track or whether I was just understanding the whole industry, everything was new to me.
“So, I was probably overwhelmed for a whole year, initially, getting into it and understanding (it).”
Thanks to her aspirations and taking up new experiences, Juffali has established herself as an inspiration and role model for racing drivers all over the world.
She said: “Initially it was a personal thing, and now I’m looking to share the experience and really bring everyone along on the journey.”
In an industry where drivers start in early childhood, entering the sport at a later stage only intensifies competitiveness, Juffali says. Viewing herself as realistic — and as someone who started the sport at the age of 26 — she emphasizes the need for a disciplined training schedule to navigate the challenges.
She said: “Growing up in Saudi, when you wanted something … you really had to believe in it in order to continue to do it. And that confidence that I had from that young age helped me in this world of racing. I unfortunately still do stand out and that didn’t feel so unnatural because I felt like it’s something I experienced growing up here.”
She added that she must maintain peak physical and mental fitness to endure the demands of the race season. The races involve dealing with high g-forces, extreme temperatures, and the mental strain of split-second decision-making. To prepare for this, she does two to three strength sessions and four cardio sessions weekly, mixing it up with running, cycling, and swimming. She also stresses the importance of training in concentration and focus.
But the complexities go beyond the race itself, and she says that the racing world is also one of publicity, scrutiny, and media coverage.
She added: “It probably took me a few years to understand what it takes to be a racing driver, to go racing and just to be comfortable in that setting.”
Consequently, she advises her interested public: “Do things that sometimes make you feel a little bit uncomfortable, experience new things, put yourself out there. It doesn’t hurt to try, and you have the answer if you do try it.”
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