Dania Akeel: Meet the Saudi girl taking up one of many world’s hardest motor races

Dania Akeel: Meet the Saudi girl taking up one of many world’s hardest motor races

Her head cradled in a crash helmet, Dania Akeel’s voice crackles by the intercom above the roar of the engine and the frenzy of wind by the windowless cabin of her rugged, black UTV.

“We’re so fortunate,” Akeel tells CNN Sport. “I imply, take a look at this place, it’s so lovely.”

The Saudi grasps the wheel, deftly navigating the car previous rocks and Joshua bushes alongside a winding filth monitor, blasting it previous the rusting shell of a long-abandoned pick-up throughout the dry sand.

“We get to do that for a residing, proper?” continues 34-year-old Akeel, reflecting on her chosen occupation as she prepares for her second tilt on the notorious Dakar Rally, one of many world’s longest and most demanding endurance races.

CNN is about an hour north of Phoenix, Arizona, using shotgun in a Can-Am Maverick X3 X RS Turbo RR with one among cross-country racing’s extra exceptional tales.

Barely over two years in the past, the Jeddah-born athlete had by no means even tried one of these racing. Not solely that, Akeel additionally hails from a rustic through which girls have solely been allowed to drive on public roads since 2018.

The Dakar
‘The Dakar’ started life in 1978 because the Paris-Dakar Rally. It ran yearly from France to Senegal till 2007 however when the 2008 occasion was cancelled because of safety considerations, the rally was transplanted throughout the Atlantic, and ran by South America till 2020, when it moved once more, to Saudi Arabia.

Right this moment there are 5 main car classes within the rally: automobiles, motorbikes, vehicles, UTVs and quad bikes.

Akeel’s curiosity in motor automobiles goes again a lot farther than the arrival of this world-famous rally in her dwelling nation.

“I had a giant curiosity in automobiles once I was youthful,” she tells CNN. “It wasn’t essentially automobiles, truly, it was something that would that I might drive and that included bicycles.

You already know, I simply love motion. I like being open air. I simply love the way it felt to speak to the machine, to get it to go from A to B.”

Her childhood was spent making an attempt all types of various modes of transport.

“I began driving issues like go karts at a younger age, and issues like quad bikes,” she explains. “After I was a bit older, I drove two wheeled filth bikes.

“These are simply automobiles that will be in personal houses, on a farm or issues like that, the place I had entry to these kind of machines, and I’d simply use them for enjoyable with my cousins and my mates on the weekends.”

Her curiosity in motor automobiles solidified when her household moved to the UK, the place she went to highschool and, finally, faculty.

I used to be very fortunate to journey ceaselessly with my dad and mom,” she recollects. “We used to go to kart tracks in England and that was actually enjoyable.”

The possibility to drive on the highway
One other door that opened for Akeel within the UK was one at that time firmly closed to her at dwellingthe possibility to drive on the highwayand she or he wasted no time acquiring her driving license, aged 17.

She even admits her alternative of vacation spot for her undergraduate research – the College of London’s picturesque Royal Holloway School, on the English capital’s western outskirts – was influenced by the alternatives it offered to drive.

It was a transfer onto two wheels that set Akeel’s thoughts in the direction of racing.

After I was 27, I obtained my bike license, and that was plenty of enjoyable. So, the bike began to direct me in the direction of the racing world.”

After gaining a grasp’s diploma in Worldwide Enterprise, from Hult College, she moved to Dubai and began using on the Dubai Autodromo racetrack.

“I might see that I used to be actually loving the game and having time and a few of the racers inspired me to affix them, to race the within the nationwide sequence,” says Akeel.

“I went and obtained the assessments and the exams executed for the racing license, after which I obtained a license issued from the Saudi Motor Sports activities Federation. And that’s how I began racing.”

The impetus to change to cross nation racing got here, fairly actually, as the results of an accident.








In February 2020, at a 600cc Superstock assembly in Bahrain, Akeel misplaced management of her bike and fell.

“I had a ‘low facet’ fall, which implies I fell onto the monitor on the facet that the bike was leaning towards, which is, you recognize, the, the lesser and simpler fall.”

The six-feet-one-inch-tall Akeel considers herself lucky.

I used to be very fortunate. I had some damaged bones in my pelvis, my backbone, however they have been all fractures that would heal naturally. So, I thought-about that to be a really fortunate final result and I used to be very relieved and really grateful.”
Mentally ready
On the time, the Covid pandemic was starting to precipitate widespread border closures and lockdowns, so Akeel returned dwelling to Jeddah to recuperate.

Whereas resting up she started to contemplate the enchantment of off-road and rally racing, particularly as Saudi Arabia was welcoming the Dakar Rally for the primary time.

“It’s an ideal occasion. It’s worldwide. It hosts lots of people from all around the world, coming in large numbers, and it’s plenty of enjoyable,” she explains.

Akeel started competing within the FIA World Cup for Cross Nation Bajas, a world rally sequence impressed by the eponymous races on Mexico’s Baja peninsula.

“(I wished) to get used to the concept of being in several conditions, totally different terrain, which Dakar offers you, throughout 9,000 kilometers of Saudi Arabia and it’s truly very various,” she says.

“So, once I went to the cross-country Baja World Cup, I had two rounds within the Center East and three in Europe and every of these places was a totally totally different method of driving.

“So, I discovered, for instance, it was muddy in Italy, and there was plenty of gravel and water in Hungary. There have been plenty of bumpy, rocky components within the Center East with sand, with dunes. In order that simply obtained my thoughts ready for selection and to have the ability to interact with the unknown.”

Being prepared for the surprising is a key characteristic of preparation for the Dakar, Akeel says.

In case you have this mentality that something can occur at any second and also you anticipate issues to continuously evolve, then you definately could be effectively ready mentally,” she explains.

After which bodily, that’s a special story: so, I’ve my exercise routine and I eat effectively and sleep effectively.”


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