DUBAI: For Saudi racer Reema Juffali, career landmarks, just like the races she is taking part in, are coming thick and fast.
Last weekend, in her first ever event at Silverstone, the Douglas Motorsport driver finished fourth in the latest round of the 2021 BDRC British F3 Championship.
“Finishing in fourth was a bit of surprise, a surprise that it happened so soon, but also very encouraging and a confidence booster,” Juffali told Arab News earlier this week. “But yes, crossing the line, I was definitely emotional, I was very excited, happy, I wanted to just cheer the team and thank them for all their hard work as well. It was also a sense of relief that my hard work was paying off. All the right feelings.”
It was her best performance so far for Douglas Motorsport.
“The weekend had starting off on good footing with the testing,” the 29-year-old driver said. “I was getting everything I felt I needed from a car and from myself, so it was very positive leading up to that, and I knew that the performance was there on my side and that I just needed to reflect that on the race. There were a few ups and downs qualifying, and some really positive things in Race One. I think all the right things happened on the weekend that when it came to Race Three when I was starting in the front, I felt all that pressure and wanting to have the best result I can possibly achieve.”
It was only the second time that Juffali had started from the front of the grid, and she told herself that she must keep a calm head, trust her abilities and make as few mistakes as possible.
“That’s what I did best on that race, I just kept my head very clear, very focused and I was able to do that,” she said. “I was third at one point, and that was very encouraging even though the race its very short, it felt like a good amount of time when I was in third and that gave me even more confidence to push.”
Although this is her first season in Formula Three, Juffali said that she has experienced a steep learning curve in her aim to master the car.
“We spent quite a few days testing before the season starting and you’re still learning a lot about the car and trying to communicate that to your team and understand how to approach it,” she said. “In terms of progression, we took a really big step last weekend and I’m hoping to carry it into next weekend as well, and just keep on improving, because there is always more to come and there’s always more to learn. I definitely feel like I’m on an upward trajectory at the moment.”
On and off the track she has had to adapt to a new culture of racing, especially the amount of preparation that goes into each race.
“We prepare so much for a 20-minute race,” Juffali said. “We have a 20-minute qualifying and then three 20-minute races, but the time it takes to prepare for that and the hours you spend off-track just preparing for that moment is a lot, and it really helps when you have the right people around you, the right guidance, the right team and the right support. For instance, I’m racing this weekend, but tomorrow I’m going to be with team on simulator preparing off-site, not on the race track.”
The following day was reserved for doing track walks with her team. And then on Thursday and Friday, testing will take place on the track.
Juffali has had to quickly adapt to different environments, tracks and weather conditions since moving to the UK.
“I’ve only been racing for two and half years or so, so I think that for me today to be racing on a very competitive grid in the British F3, on world class racks in the UK that are very demanding, that are very unforgiving, it’s the best way to learn,” she said. “When I decided to do it, I wanted to do it in the best possible way in terms of the quality, but also in terms of the difficulty. I wanted to race against the best drivers of that level and learn what I can from them and hopefully improve.
“Being in this environment in Europe and the UK, which is known to be a breeding ground for racing drivers, seemed like an easy decision to make, and now seeing the progression I’ve made for myself, from not knowing how to race to understanding how to race, and now racing, it’s fantastic.”
Juffali’s profile and popularity in Saudi Arabia have risen significantly in recent months, and she is proud to represent her country and be a role model for aspiring young drivers in the Kingdom.
“It’s been honestly a very humbling experience on that side of things,” she said. “In the beginning I did this purely for my own passion and drive, and then realizing the impact and effect I was having on other people made it even sweeter and I just felt like it was definitely a lot bigger than me and I can actually reach more people this way, and in a positive way as well,” she said.
Juffali is also becoming adept at defying expectations, something she admits brings her great satisfaction.
She said: “Everyone has their curiosity. How did you do it? How did you get here? A lot of people think it’s not impossible, very far-fetched and unattainable, and I thought it was at the time as well, before I started racing.
“It’s nice to be able to change people’s opinions and make them think outside the box in terms of where Saudi is and who Saudis are, but also for Saudis themselves to know that there is a chance for them to break into these unconventional fields and go after things that maybe they didn’t think were possible before.
“Proving people wrong is a very big win, especially when they’re not very educated and not very aware. Just setting that precedent is very good, it’s a good feeling for sure.”
The next challenge for Juffali is the next round of the BDRC British F3 championship race at Donington Park Circuit on Saturday, and she is hoping to carry the momentum from last weekend’s race into this one.
“It’s a different track, it’ll have different demands and I’ll have to basically find the comfort that I was in at Silverstone at the next track here at Donington,” she said. “Thankfully, we have two days here to find that sweet spot for me and the car. Again, same expectations for myself, breaking into the top 10, or qualifying even near to the top 10 would be a good win.”
As for the future, she remains focused on achieving her targets one step at a time, one race at a time.
“Moving forward, I try and set my expectations as they come, seeing how I progress really,” Juffali said. “My rivals are very competitive drivers and the level is quite high, so to be in the top 10 consistently for me is definitely something I look toward doing, and then a podium finish as well is always a dream. I wasn’t far last time, so hopefully not too far this time either.”