Exclusive interview: Meet Saudi Arabia’s First Female Rally Driver

  • Publish date: Tuesday، 23 November 2021
Exclusive interview: Meet Saudi Arabia’s First Female Rally Driver
Related articles
Meet Saudi's Third Female Ambassador
Meet Dubai's First Female Duty Police Officer
Huda Beauty Sponsors NASCAR's First Female Arab Driver

You might know Mashael AlObaidan as the first Saudi female rally driver. She inherited her passion for motorsports from her dad as a child, and now as an adult, is paving her way onto the dunes on an international level.

Mashael AlObaidan aims to set an example for many women in the region as she balances her successful career with her passion for Rally.

AlObaidan became the first Saudi Arabian female driver to complete a European Baja round, alongside Emirati co-driver Ali Mirza in July 2021.

In this interview, we discuss her racing, her career, and the “normal” life of the first Saudi female rally driver.

Exclusive interview: Meet Saudi Arabia’s First Female Rally Driver

How did you know that this was the right thing for you?

I started early and grew into it. My dad would take me with him to the desert and we drove through the dunes, and I loved the adrenaline rush. He later taught me how to drive and when I later went to the USA, I learned how to ride a street bike, then a dirt bike as hobbies. When I moved back to Saudi and realized rallies are happening in the Kingdom and everything is becoming available, I knew I wanted to do this as a profession. In my first rally, the feeling I got sitting in the vehicle at the start line, affirmed that I was meant to do this.

Why a master’s in System Engineering?

I took my undergraduate in Saudi at Prince Mohamed University in the Eastern province, then I wanted to go to the states and experience life there as I took my masters. I’m a very active person and sitting behind a computer all day would not be ideal for me, so I was wondering which field to go into. I eventually chose System Engineering because figuring things out excited me. I wanted to solve complex problems, implement systems in ways that become lean. I found this fascinating and went for it.

Exclusive interview: Meet Saudi Arabia’s First Female Rally Driver

How are you utilizing your master’s degree with all that’s happening in your life?

I work at the Saudi Ministry of Investments, in the international office (U.S.A) as a Business Development Manager. I focus on getting FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) for the Kingdom and develop business plans for major industry players locally and internationally. I’m grateful that my degree not only helps me with work, but also with the business and engineering aspects of racing. I’m also very lucky to have the support of the Ministry in persung both. I believe a career is important and career-wise, I have taken a path. I might pursue a PhD but I’m focusing on my passion and career for now.

What are the physical aspects related to Rally driving?

Rallying involves a lot of mobility, and you burn a lot. I signed up at a gym in Saudi called SPNBX where they have an amazing personal trainer that is creating my rally Dakar schedule to get me trained intensely, working on my endurance and weightlifting. It’s exciting. I also take part in events when I can, most recently I ran to the 99th floor of the tallest tower in Riyadh, as part of the Kingdom Tower Vertical Run for Breast Cancer Awareness. Great events like this also help me train both physically and mentally.

Exclusive interview: Meet Saudi Arabia’s First Female Rally Driver

What is your diet?

My diet mainly consists of proteins and carbohydrates. I burn a lot so I need energy and I also need to build up my muscles so I just make sure everything is balanced enough to keep me functioning properly.

Did you ever think about giving up?

It is not easy, but I’m stubborn. I want to be in it so giving up is not an option. The face of racing looks easy when you only focus on the final race, but it has its difficulties. The training, preparing for races, finding sponsors, and a lot of other elements which without support, are difficult even if you are talented. I am passionate about it, so I’m still in it.

Exclusive interview: Meet Saudi Arabia’s First Female Rally Driver

Do you have time to maintain your social life?

Yes. I take time off to spend time with friends and family. My friends and I have a lot in common, we’re all very active and love being adventurous, we go freediving, camping, we love anything outdoors! I get busy with rallying and work, but friends and family are really important to me and have been there since childhood. They are the people I go back to for advice, to recharge, to relax- they know me very well.

How does it feel to have accomplished so much at this age?

Sure, I have done a few things that I am proud of, racing both locally and internationally brings me great pride. Especially racing amongst 17 competitors in the 2021 FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas this year, which is considered the ‘mini Dakar’. However, I still have a specific goal in mind, and I believe I only would have accomplished what I want in life once I get to that goal. Right now, my goal is to participate in and finish the Dakar Rally at the beginning of next year. It is the hardest global rally in the world, 50% of participants drop out of it because of its difficulty. If I finish it, I will have made history.

Exclusive interview: Meet Saudi Arabia’s First Female Rally Driver

As one of the prominent women in the region, what example do you hope to set for women?

Resilience. I hope that someone picks up resilience from me. There will be a lot of challenges along your journey, but you have to pick yourself up and push yourself hard to achieve your goals. It will get frustrating but do not give up. Be consistent and go for your dreams.

The biggest challenge you have had to overcome so far.

There has been a lot of rejection, no training facilities and sponsorship has been challenging. The problem is that there is not much understanding around this concept yet and finding strategic partners is difficult. This is how you find very talented people dropping out along the way because they have no sponsors. The government is working to resolve this because we need people in different sports to represent the country. It is all new to us; the country, the participants, the ecosystem, but we are all working towards developing this.

Exclusive interview: Meet Saudi Arabia’s First Female Rally Driver

What is something that you would tell your younger self?

I would tell her to explore and focus on activities and sports that she is passionate about. While good grades are important, you realize that out here, it is not all about work. It is equally important to invest in sports and your passions as it is to have good grades. I will definitely be investing in my future children's participation in sports or hobbies that bring them happiness.

 What is something that you wish you were told earlier?

That my journey is unique and so is everyone else’s, and so I should not look at how people are doing it but focus on how I want to do it. We are immersed in a predetermined life that we do not allow ourselves to wholly be the best versions of ourselves. The system revolves around going to school, getting a degree, and then a job. I applaud, but that’s not entirely it for life. We are programmed differently and are not cut for the same path. While education is good, passion and sports are equally good and if these are your strengths, give it your time and effort. You can do it differently and enjoy your life.