JEDDAH: After a number of years of competing in various local autocross competitions, Afnan Almarglani recently became the first Saudi woman to hold an autocross and safe driving skills trainer license.
Her journey in the sport began when her motor sports-mad brother brought home a brand new PlayStation when they were growing up. The two competed in video games such as Gran Turismo 3, a racing title.
“From when I was young, I used to see my older brother Fahd interested in sports cars, modifying them and buying car parts from abroad. We used to race with each other in video games. I was so fascinated by cars, by the shape of the cars, the sound of engines and how they were driven incredibly fast. I played the game every day until it got to the point that I couldn’t beat my own fastest lap times,” she said.
Almarglani works in biomedical engineering. She previously took part in the first women’s race in Saudi Arabia during time off from her work at a project management office at the Ministry of Health.
One of the difficulties which I faced was the criticism of our society, the fact that a girl enters the field of cars which is dominated by men. But now the situation is developing and changing.
Her blending of roles as a biomedical engineer and racer makes her unique, and her talent in both careers has allowed her to take opportunities that most women do not have.
Almarglani, who holds a master’s degree in biomedical engineering from a US university, told Arab News that her love and passion led her to work with sports cars, and that she chose to enter the field to gain experience.
She said: “Medical engineering is one of the most beautiful and rare disciplines in the world, because it combines engineering and medicine, which results in solutions to healthcare problems. Because of the amount of pressure and stress that I face in my work, I need to unload my energy, and enjoy and practice my hobby in motorsports.
“Alhamdulillah, we live in a great country with the decision to allow women to drive. So, I participated in the first women’s autocross championship and won second place in the qualifying round,” she added.
After her first foray into the sport, Almarglani took part in various local autocross championships held in Riyadh, Jeddah and Alkhobar. “After gaining experience and skills, I moved to a higher level in the autocross racing, which enabled me to take part in the Toyota Autocross Championship in Alkhobar, and I was able to win the best time in the women’s category.”
She also competed in the Speed Madness (Autocross) Championship in Riyadh’s Dirab Park, placing first.
When asked about the challenges she faces as a woman in motorsports, Almarglani said: “Like any hobby you practice, you need training and knowledge of the basics. In the beginning, it was somehow difficult for me, especially since there were no academies for women, but without the efforts and support of my colleagues in the circuit, I would not have reached this level I am at right now.”
She added: “One of the difficulties which I faced also was the criticism of our society, the fact that a girl enters the field of cars which is dominated by men. But now the situation is developing and changing, especially when women are becoming more involved in the sport of auto racing starting at a young age and training determinedly to become professional drivers.”
The other biggest challenge for Almarglani is finding sponsorship opportunities. “Motor sports is an expensive sport and finding a sponsor is very difficult, so to maintain that training and to have a good team, and a good car, requires a lot of investment and you need both if you want to do well. The way to find sponsorship is through exposure and by winning races,” she said.
Almarglani is often asked how her parents feel about the dangers of her sport. She said: “Of course, at first, they were concerned about me, especially that motor sports has risks, so the level of safety in it is high, and it is expensive in terms of preparing the driver and the car. After I explained to my family all the means of protection and safety, and after they observed my passion and happiness after each race, they supported me and told me to continue, and they were always in the first ranks to encourage me.”
Recently, the official account of the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation, via Twitter, congratulated Almarglani for obtaining a training license.
She said: “I feel indescribably proud that I was able to achieve one of my biggest ambitions, thanks to God, and then thanks to Vision 2030, which empowered Saudi women and made them able to move forward in writing their achievements.”
Almarglani’s goal is to support every woman who wants to enter motor sports and to build a professional women’s motor sports team to represent Saudi Arabia in the world championships. “To achieve this goal, I hope there will be sponsorships offered to me as well as other Saudi female drivers in order to participate locally and regionally, to represent our beloved country.”