Automobiles

Women-Only Rally Jameel Makes History in Saudi Arabia -- and I Competed in It

I was invited to participate in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's very first motorsport event for women.

Women were only recently allowed to have driver's licenses in Saudi Arabia.
Rally Jameel

Last week, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia made history by holding its first motorsport event exclusively for women. Women were first allowed to have driver's licenses in 2018 as part of the Kingdom's Vision 2030 program, and 41 women from Saudi Arabia competed in Rally Jameel, which included 68 women from 15 countries. Including transit stages, the rally took place over 1,091.84 kilometers, or 678.5 miles.

Rally Jameel was sponsored by Saudi businessman and philanthropist Hassan Mohammed Abdul Latif Jameel and was held under the patronage of Princess Reema bint Bandar. It was also recognized by the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation and the FIA Women in Motorsport Committee. The rally attracted women from all walks of life, including Dakar racers, Extreme E drivers, karting champions and three Rebelle Rally teams from the United States, one of which I was a member of. Many competitors had never participated in any motorsports event until this one.

While this rally focused on Dakar-style navigation, speed was not a factor. A roadbook was given out the night before each stage containing directions for both the transit portions and off-road navigation sections. The teams had to monitor their time in each section as being late would result in a penalty.

Both four-wheel-drive SUVs and all-wheel-drive crossovers competed in the rally.

Rally Jameel

For the navigation sections, points were awarded for each validated waypoint. Like in the Dakar Rally, once competitors reached a specific radius, the rally computer opened up the waypoint and displayed an arrow showing the direction of travel to find it. The waypoint was then validated when the teams got within 90 meters. These made up 65% of all the available points and each off-road navigation section had as many as 50 waypoints.

Rally Jameel added a second hurdle in the form of an average speed challenge. In each off-road navigation section, teams had at least one challenge where they needed to keep an average speed over a certain distance, while also maintaining their navigation, validating checkpoints and conquering terrain. This comprised 35% of all points.

Of course, penalties were also a factor in the scoring, including deductions for speeding and missing time controls in both the transit and off-road sections.

The speed limit in all off-road navigation sections was 70 kilometers per hour -- about 43 mph -- even though some sections could have easily been traversed much more quickly. And because finishing an off-road section first in Rally Jameel didn't matter, competitors could bring stock vehicles. Out on the course were all-wheel-drive crossovers like the Porsche Cayenne, Macan and Toyota RAV4. Four-wheel-drive vehicles included the Ford Bronco, Jeep Wrangler, Toyota Land Cruiser and the Hilux-based Toyota Fortuner SUV.

Oh, hi! That's me in the driver's seat. I've got a lot more to tell you about this rally, so stay tuned.

Rally Jameel

In the end, the Swedish team of Dakar-winner Annie Seel and Extreme E driver Mikaela Ahlin-Kottulinsky took first place overall in a Toyota RAV4. First-time competitors Atefa Saleh from the UAE and Eleanor Coker from the US came in second in a Toyota Prado. Rounding out the podium was Saudi native Maha Al Hamly and Spaniard Pochola Hernandez, also in a Toyota Prado.

As for the American teams, Lyn Woodward and Sedona Blinson took fifth place and also earned a stage win on the last day. My navigator Rebecca Donaghe and I came in sixth, while mother-daughter team Dana and Susie Saxton earned eighth place.

While competing in the rally, I had a chance to speak to many of the women about their experiences. Stay tuned for that story in the not-too-distant future.