This Saudi Driver Wants Her New Team To Take On Le Mans
Reema Juffali is trying to diversify motorsport. And more importantly, win Le Mans.
Few women hold leadership positions in motorsport teams. I would know because I have a tendency to interview them when they do. Beth Paretta and Susie Wolff were clear about aiming to change who has the chance to participate in motorsports. Now, Saudi racing driver Reema Juffali is joining their ranks with her own project, Theeba Motorsport.
After starting her career understandably late (given the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia until 2018), Juffali has competed in single-seater racing in the U.K., contesting two years of British F4 and another of GB3 (the regional F3 equivalent). In January, she realized her dream of GT racing at the 24 Hours of Dubai where she and her team scored a second-place finish in her first endurance racing outing, partly down to her incredible night stint. Juffali's drive to reach the pinnacle of endurance racing, Le Mans, solidified into a bigger plan: found her own race team and turn it into a way for other Saudis — especially women — to get into the sport.
Theeba Motorsport was born. Starting as a one-car team, it will race in the 2022 International GT Open season with a Mercedes-AMG GT3 EVO with Juffali as a hybrid driver-founder, like Ed Carpenter in IndyCar or double-champion Jean-Éric Vergne in Formula E. She'll share driving duties with British GT racer Adam Christodoulou, who was Juffali's driver coach during her first track days in a Renault Clio around freezing U.K. circuits. Initially based at Silverstone, U.K. while her team establishes itself, Juffali said the plan is to open a base for Theeba Motorsport in Saudi Arabia during the winter and to start a program of apprenticeships and experience to help people get access to careers in motorsport.
When I asked how the plan had come together, Juffali told me it was partly in answer to Saudis asking her how they could get into motorsport. Mechanics, engineers, and PRs have offered to volunteer as her assistant because it was an opportunity they'd never had before. She wanted to cement a clear pathway for those interests in motorsports, instead of the vague (and extremely exploitable) routes motorsports tends to favor.
"With Saudis in particular, men and women, this is going to be something so foreign, so out of this world," Juffali told me. "Coming to a race, the hours it takes, the prep it takes, the traveling. For me, it's about putting it all on the table and showing them what it takes and how it should be done. Hopefully, that encourages them to not just to follow suit and become a part of the team, but also hopefully find their own feet and meet or maybe become drivers, maybe find work elsewhere."
But it's not all social outreach, Juffali is driving to win. The team name is a declaration of that. "Theeba comes from the word 'dhib' which means wolf and as a teenager, when you get up to something cool your friends would call you a beast. So in Arabic, another word for saying that is wolf and basically there wasn't a female version of that, so they created theeba. So she-wolf, essentially," she said.
"It's something that I forgot about until I started racing; when I did, it was a symbol at the top of my helmet," Juffali said. "It's just something I identify with really, I feel like it speaks to me. When I tried to think of a team name, there was a million and ten different ones but the one I kept coming back to is this one. "
Juffali has plenty of experience racing in Europe now, but Europe, let's say, has a lot less experience of seeing someone like her competitive behind the wheel. "I was just in the Nürburgring and I haven't been around German racing drivers or that scene," she told me. "A lot of the older gents would come up to me like, 'It's so nice to see a lady, it's so nice to see a lady.' I'm like, 'Oh, that's nice.'
"OK, I heard it enough times, but I guess in a different environment and that's their way of supporting. And I think that is, that's what I want to contribute to. And, and not just people saying it's nice seeing a woman but it's nice seeing a Saudi, because that is also something, you know, it's unheard of now." I suspect Theeba Motorsport is going to make sure you'd have to be sticking your fingers in your ears not to have, soon.
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