Saudi Rally Champion Dania Akeel Gears Up for Dakar Rally 2024

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With the upcoming Dakar Rally set to ignite the landscapes of Saudi Arabia from 5, 2024, anticipation is hovering amongst drivers and riders making ready for this grand spectacle, and amongst them is Saudi rally champion Dania Akeel, a trailblazer within the multifaceted world of motorsports. 

From the UAE Nationwide Sports activities Bike Superseries to the Dakar Rally, Akeel started as a leisure motorcyclist within the UAE. The transition to rally racing felt pure, rooted in her off-road desert experiences.

Akeel by no means forgets her first Dakar race, reminiscing concerning the pleasure amid toughness. She’s overcome challenges, like navigating water and warmth, and creating abilities whereas sustaining a constructive mentality.

A number of the valuable moments embody the bodily and wholesome camaraderie amongst drivers and riders. The Dakar Rally fosters self-discipline, dedication, and private progress, not simply as rivals however as a workforce.

Recalling her 2022 Dakar expertise, Akeel stresses the significance of staying centered on the current second. An preliminary setback along with her automotive’s turbo grew to become a precious lesson in resilience and focus.

Akeel, as one of many only a few feminine drivers, underscores the inclusivity of motorsports, rejecting the burden of particular person athletes representing whole classes. She encourages aspiring feminine drivers to pursue their ardour with out hesitation.

Being a Saudi, Akeel says she cherishes the Dakar Rally’s position in showcasing various areas of her nation. It’s a cultural exploration, breaking stereotypes, and fostering connections with individuals from around the globe.

One on one with Dania Akeel

Your racing journey, from the UAE Nationwide Sports activities Bike Superseries to the Dakar Rally, has been various. What drew you to rally racing and impressed you to tackle the Dakar?

I began racing bikes in circuits within the United Arab Emirates as a leisure exercise. I used to go to the observe on weekends, and it was simply a whole lot of enjoyable. I switched to rally as a result of I noticed that Saudi Arabia hosted worldwide occasions, such because the Dakar Rally – which is vastly in style there.

It seemed like a really thrilling sport, and since I grew up driving quad bikes within the desert off-road, rallying felt acquainted. Ranging from bikes on the observe units you up for pace. You change into accustomed to it, and get comfy in a automotive, making it a pleasant entry level to racing.

On the time, it was 2021, and the borders had been closed because of the coronavirus pandemic. That’s once I critically began contemplating rallying as journey was restricted. I assumed, ‘Okay, what can I do in racing at this second?’ I checked out Saudi Arabia, and this was what was occurring. It was a change, however every thing felt very pure and like a really natural transition. Since then, it’s simply been a lot enjoyable.

The Dakar Rally is understood for its excessive circumstances. Are you able to share a number of the greatest challenges you’ve gotten confronted?

In my first Dakar race, many individuals saved telling me how powerful [of a competition] it was. However once I received within the automotive and began driving, I questioned why they weren’t emphasising how enjoyable it truly was. In spite of everything, we love driving and spending the entire day within the automotive. Sure, it’s a difficult race, however in the long run, the essential purpose you’re there may be your love for the game. No matter difficulties or obstacles you assume you’ll should face, they change into classes on learn how to change into a greater driver or learn how to develop your character.

For instance, throughout my first yr of rally, 400 kilometres felt like loads, and I keep in mind counting the kilometres. However as we speak, 400 kilometres are roughly normal, and I now not have to teach myself via the distances as actually because they’ve change into acquainted.

With regards to terrain or climate circumstances, it may be difficult to undergo the water in rally automobiles; and if it’s sizzling, you’re behind a windscreen and also you don’t get a lot air, how do you keep your focus if you really feel uncomfortable bodily? You’ve gotten a selection on learn how to face these challenges, and you’ll strive your greatest to learn to go via them – whether or not it is advisable to be a extra affected person driver via the water, or should be a bit extra accountable in the way you hydrate when it’s sizzling, or a bit extra cautious with the way you method the dunes. 

This simply forces you to develop your abilities, and with that mentality, it’s simpler to have a superb time. If you happen to preserve considering ‘It is a troublesome race,’ then it’s simple for the enjoyable to go away the image.

What are some constructive features or advantages of collaborating within the Dakar, moreover the love for driving?

Drivers and riders are all coming collectively for a very wholesome and bodily goal. They get up early within the morning, focus, and carry out. Setting targets and objectives, they execute them with self-discipline and dedication. They’ve obligations in the direction of their sponsor and teammates, and, within the face of every day challenges, they need to discover the maturity to beat them. In addition they should talk successfully to construct a superb workforce. It’s a very wealthy atmosphere for private progress.

Reflecting in your first Dakar Rally in 2022, what had been the standout moments or classes that you just carry with you into the upcoming races?

Within the first week, I used to be having a good time driving with out specializing in outcomes. My aim was simply to complete [the race]. By the tip of week one, I found we made it to P6 within the T3 [lightweight vehicles category], which is sweet for a rookie – P6 out of 40 automobiles on the time, that’s promising! Nonetheless, throughout the remaining day, individuals advised me I had an opportunity on the podium and I began desirous about the outcomes. This modified my mentality.

On day seven I observed the automotive had a turbo concern. Centered on outcomes and burdened by the turbo lag, I [made the mistake of using] the brakes much less to take care of the momentum and compensate for pace. I crashed the automotive, and we misplaced 4 hours fixing it in addition to 9 positions. 

We got here again in fifteenth place from P6. And it was all as a result of I took my focus away from the driving, began to get pissed off, and made a mistake.

With 5 days left within the race, I had a option to make: both I may simply quit and end the race – and that may have most likely been a depressing expertise – or I may buckle up and focus. I assumed ‘No, I’ve 5 days. Let me drive as greatest as I can, and revel in each kilometre as it’s a privilege to be on this race.’ Inside 5 days we climbed again to the highest ten, and completed in P8.

If you happen to’re driving a automotive and also you’re desirous about the result as a substitute of what you’re doing in that second, it’s very seemingly you possibly can encounter an issue – which is precisely what occurred to me. That lesson will stick with me at all times.

Within the historically male-dominated world of motorsports, your presence as a feminine driver is noteworthy. How do you view your position in inspiring girls, not solely in Saudi Arabia however globally? And what message do you’ve gotten for aspiring feminine racers?

The purpose about being a lady is fascinating. I by no means thought of it once I began racing. The Worldwide Car Federation (FIA) rules state that women and men compete in the identical class. What they ask you [when you want to participate] is a driver’s licence, a racing licence, security tools, a helmet, gloves, and footwear. I simply centered on what the principles stated, and that’s it. Something that needed to do with gender didn’t actually cross my thoughts.

As one of many few girls in rally, final yr, I felt a way of accountability to characterize girls within the sport. On prime of that, there was added strain to carry out nicely as a result of I wished individuals to assume positively about girls. Later, I realised that this was a mistake and was truly hindering my efficiency. It’s not reasonable; one particular person can’t characterize all. You might be an athlete who’s a lady, and you’ll solely carry out to the most effective of your capacity.

After all, there aren’t as many ladies in motorsports in comparison with males, however I don’t see this as a difficulty. The class is open to each women and men. If girls don’t see themselves in that class, one has to ask whether or not it’s as a result of they’re not eager about motorsports or if there’s a notion that this sport just isn’t for ladies.

My recommendation to aspiring feminine drivers is easy: If it’s a ardour, and so they’re drawn to rally, then they need to follow the rulebook – which invitations them in – and go for it.

The Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia is not only a race; it’s a cultural occasion. How do you assume the Dakar impacts Saudi heritage and worldwide notion, and the way does that have an effect on your method to the race?

Being a Saudi, I’m actually grateful for the Dakar Rally going down in Saudi Arabia, as a result of it has allowed me to find many components of my nation that I had by no means visited earlier than. I’ve been a vacationer in my own residence via this occasion, with the ability to see the distinction in tradition between the East, West, North, and South – every area boasting totally different meals, music, artwork, linguistic accents and methods of speaking with individuals. 

And that’s simply all inside one nation. So, if somebody from Saudi is gaining a deeper perception into their very own nation, I can solely think about how a lot a foreigner should be absorbing.

It’s a privilege to have entry to all of those totally different locations and to have a purpose to go to them. After I drive via these cities with rally automobiles, locals are stunned to study I’m Saudi. 

That is one thing new for us, particularly since girls have been on the highway solely since 2018 – not to mention discovering a lady in a rally automotive. I like telling them I’m from Saudi Arabia, from Jeddah, and often persons are very pleasant and hospitable. It’s fairly an expertise each for these individuals and me.

And that’s along with the truth that you’re crossing stunning landscapes – from the seashores to the crimson rock canyons, the sandy dunes and the inexperienced mountains, to miles-long white rock flat lands that make you’re feeling such as you’re on the moon. In a world full of know-how, it’s at all times good to be in nature, to be absolutely current outside, and to interact in one thing bodily. It’s one thing invaluable, and the Dakar supplies all of this stuff to us.

One other side I like about this race is the way it brings individuals from everywhere in the world collectively. I imagine it’s actually vital to remain related with totally different cultures and get to know people from varied international locations. This widens your perspective on life and enriches your total expertise. 

The Dakar is one massive transferring worldwide gathering the place you meet individuals alternate information, and study from each other – it’s actually a beautiful occasion. So it’s actually not only a race. It’s a full expertise!


Authentic Content material: Crimson Bull Content material Pool

Picture Caption: Saudi rally champion Dania Akeel has home-ground benefit as drivers and riders put together for this grand spectacle of the 2024 Dakar Rally, set to ignite the landscapes of Saudi Arabia from 5 January, 2024. Kin Marcin / Crimson Bull Content material Pool

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