Dania Akeel is fast becoming one of the most recognizable faces in Saudi Arabian motorsports.
The 32-year-old was one of the presenting guests at the 2021 Dakar Rally in Jeddah at the start of the year. In 2022, she will herself be taking part in the world’s most famous desert race.
Akeel is today already mixing it with the world’s best rally drivers, having taken part in the recent Sharqiyah Baja 2021, the third round of the World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas, under the supervision of FIA and Saudi Arabia Motor Federation (SAMF).
“The Sharqiyah International Baja Toyota Rally is my personal first race,” Akeel told Arab News. “It is an incentive for me to participate in the 2022 Dakar Rally and a race that introduces me to the future world of racing.”
She has also taken part in the Hail and Northern Region Rally, which is a stage of the International Motorsport Federation’s world rally championship.
Initially it was Akeel’s talent in riding motorcycles that caught the attention of SAMF, which awarded her a Speed Bikes Competition license.
She was keen to thank SAMF Chairman Prince Khalid bin Sultan and Sports Minister Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki for the opportunity and for generally supporting Saudi women’s progress in motorsports.
After gaining her license, her progress was rapid. Riding a Ducati 899, she went on take part in the UAE National SportsBike Super Series grid against more than 15 racers for five rounds.
Unfortunately for Akeel, who holds a master’s degree in international business, an accident in which she suffered several pelvic fractures and an injury to her spine, forced her to put her biking career on hold.
Now she is back and excelling in rally, and having had her big break previously, Akeel is hoping to see more Saudi females embrace car and motorcycle racing, which until recently were a domain exclusive to male drivers.
“I didn’t think that it is only a men’s sport because we live in an era of empowering Saudi women and all opportunities and fields are available for them to prove their capabilities and competence,” she said. “I have not been exposed to any challenges or problems in this regard.”
Having competed in the Sharqiyah rally, she is now set to take part in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge on Nov. 6-12, 2021, before starting preparation for the Dakar Rally 2022.
Akeel is not alone in raising the profile of Saudi female rally drivers. Also present at the Sharqiyah Baja was Mashael AlObaidan, who started her motorsporting journey as a dirt bike rider.
“I say this message not only to girls but to boys and everyone in the world, every human, if you love something just go for it,” she said in a video by Reuters taken at Sharqiyah rally. “If you see obstacles, just push, push, push until you do the things you love, and enjoy life.”
AlObaidan last week told Arab News that, as a child, her love of motorsports was sparked by watching women ride motorbikes in Hollywood films. Now she is living the dream herself.
“Adrenaline just rushes in my blood when I race, it is pure happiness,” she said. “Saudi Arabia is doing a great job in a lot of sectors, especially motorsports,” AlObaidan said. “We have the biggest races and that shows you where we are heading. It is a bright future for the sector and I love it.”
Akeel and AlObaidan now have their eyes set on the Dakar Rally 2022, where they will enter as part of a team dubbed the “Sheroes.”
In every sense, they are blazing a trail for other Saudi women to follow.