Dania Akeel, the Saudi driver who broke down barriers, is world champion and raced in the Dakar Rally

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Dania Akeel debuted in the Dakar Rally being sixth in her category after six stages (IG / @dania.akeel)
Dania Akeel debuted in the Dakar Rally being sixth in her category after six stages (IG / @dania.akeel)

“Grab her now because she gets into her box and then it’s impossible”, warns the Uruguayan navigator Sergio Lafuente a Infobae about the possibility of speaking with Dania Akeel, the Saudi driver who makes history in a country where women were only able to have driving licenses in 2018: she is already world champion and debuted in the Dakar Rally where she did a good job in the T3 division (light prototypes), one of the that integrates the UTV or Side by side.

Dania was born in Jeddah and as a girl watched the races of Formula 1 next to his father. She always liked speed and as a child she looked for it on bicycles, skateboards or roller blades. He is 33 years old and at 17 he got the registration to drive in London. The following year she began her BA in History and Modern Politics at Royal Holloway University in London, and went on to complete a Master’s in International Business at Hult International Business School in the United States. Today he combines his passion for motorsports with consulting and motivational speaking.

“Although our destiny is written, our destiny is equally shaped by our decisions”, reads the legend on its website. Also, he wrote a book called “Freefall” (Freefall) where she tells of life experiences that marked her, such as when she climbed the Himalayas or even her visit to the Arctic Circle.

The Saudi started motorcycling and after an accident she switched to cars (IG / @dania.akeel)
The Saudi started motorcycling and after an accident she switched to cars (IG / @dania.akeel)

In 2016, she returned to Saudi Arabia and received the first female license in her country to race in cars and motorcycles., a discipline where he began accelerating on the tracks with the Ducati Cup in the 2019/2020 season of the United Arab Emirates National Sports Motorcycle Superseries and received the mention of “Rookie of the Year”. She also raced in the BMR 600 championship in Bahrain, where she had a thought-provoking accident and switched to four wheels and showed her version. In a short time it became the first Saudi woman to run in the rally raid, a specialty where he got his start with a driving course throughout Swedish Lapland, in a region made up of frozen lakes where he learned to skid.

When the Dakar Rally started in her country, Dania showed up at the various camps to get a taste of the atmosphere and felt trapped by the toughest race in the world. After two editions in which he experienced them from below, the third was the charm and he did a good job on top of the car.

Akeel does not usually speak to the media during a competition, but not because she is rude, but because she is very professional and very focused on the activity. “It’s a robot,” Lafuente defines it. After a long wait for them to finish one of the timed sections and arrive at the camp, the Uruguayan navigator’s advice was followed and Dania agreed to chat with him for a few minutes. Infobae. “I just love driving since I was young. It comes naturally and it’s amazing to be behind the wheel of a race car. But I do it with great humility hoping to learn day by day”, he explains about how his love for motorsports was born.

Receiving his trophy for the 2021 world title in rally raid (IG / @dania.akeel)
Receiving his trophy for the 2021 world title in rally raid (IG / @dania.akeel)

He learned quickly since in 2021 he won the International Automobile Federation (FIA) Bajas Cross-Country World Cup, which is a discipline similar to rally raid, but with shorter distances. He did it in the T3 category, the same one where he competed in recent days in the Dakar Rally. It is a division of the UTV or Side by side, the sandbox type vehicles.

Dania is shown with the team a few minutes before and after the activity. He talks to each and everyone and doesn’t hold back any questions. He also enthusiastically tells them about all the details and how the car works so his mechanics can make the necessary repairs. And all the while he relies on Lafuente’s experience.

On his first Dakar Rally he states: “My goal is to finish it and learn as much as I can. And the way to do it is to drive at a comfortable pace, according to my skills as a driver, and I hope to improve with every kilometre. But the goal is to keep my balance, focus and stay.”

In action on your Can-Am Maverick X3 (IG / @ dania.akeel)
In action on your Can-Am Maverick X3 (IG / @ dania.akeel)

He maintains that “everything is difficult in the Dakar Rally, there is no one thing that is more difficult than another.” Beyond that, he showed a good adaptation and in the first week he was able to finish 6th overall out of 47 drivers.

“The car is incredible. It has great power, great balance,” he describes his Can-Am Maverick X3 that was serviced by the South Racing team, one of the most experienced.

-Are you opening the doors to other women in your country?

-I believe that the doors are open for all of them, they have their choice of what to do. The opportunities are available and they are wonderful. We are lucky to have such a great event (Dakar Rally). And Saudi Arabia is doing an amazing job of organizing it. And I hope you all enjoy it as much as I do.

Akeel is a celebrity in Saudi Arabia (IG / @dania.akeel)
Akeel is a celebrity in Saudi Arabia (IG / @dania.akeel)

-Do you feel pressure for the place you occupy?

-I don’t think so, each one must make their way. In my case I focus on my work. When you’re a driver, you drive the best you can every kilometer and that’s the only thing you can do. Doing your best means the love you have for motorsports.

According to the Dakar Rally site, the arrival of the event in her Saudi Arabia in 2020 caused the local Motor Sports Federation to summon Dania to motivate other women to venture into motorsports. But she is not the only one since she is also Mashael Al Obaidan, who also ran a Maverick X3 in the same division.

But Akeel’s is the emblematic case because she was the first to start competing and demonstrates her potential to go far and confirmed it throughout the Dakar Rally. More than her final result in the race she has already made history.

Dania with Sir Jackie Stewart when Formula 1 raced in her country last month (IG / @dania.akeel)
Dania with Sir Jackie Stewart when Formula 1 raced in her country last month (IG / @dania.akeel)

“Is a robot”.

Uruguayan Sergio Lafuente is one of the most well-known figures in the Dakar Rally and raced quads between 2011 and 2015. He later became a sailor. Bear tells to Infobae how she came to accompany Akeel in the 44th edition of the legendary competition: “I met her in the dining room and she is friends with the Arab I ran with in 2021, Saeed Almouri. We talked and in March I raced with Saeed in the Arab championship and she asked me if she couldn’t get her a co-driver. I gave him several phones and he tried, but it seems that they did not reach an agreement. And since Saeed had some problems with his sponsors, he told him to call me. she spoke with Nasser Al-Attiyah to ask him how he was and there we reached an agreement”.

The Oriental emphasizes: “First he is a good person. The Dakar Rally of ten was benched. He wants to learn and learns very quickly. really talented and she’s like a robot, she doesn’t get tired, from the moment she gets in the car until she gets out she doesn’t perspire, she trained as if for war and she’s very well prepared. It’s a machine and it was focused on finishing the Dakar Rally, it’s the only thing I wanted”.

Dania Akeel and Sergio Lafuente (Sergio Lafuente)
Dania Akeel and Sergio Lafuente (Sergio Lafuente)

“Every day we were going a little faster and I had to be slowing her down because she gets excited and hits it. He is a good person, a good athlete and he has a tremendous future here. If he continues on this path, he will do very well”, adds the former Olympic representative in weights at the Barcelona 1992 and Atlanta 1996 Games.

Lastly, regarding Dania, she states: “She endures the pressure of being the one to open the doors for Saudi women. She knows that she can’t fail because she’s walking the path”.

KEEP READING:

They sleep three hours a day, live in tents and are their own mechanics: the exciting story of the “Original” Dakar Rally drivers
“They were the most dangerous kilometers of my life”: the fury of the Argentine drivers in the Dakar Rally for a mistake in the race
The Argentine Manuel Andújar suffered a serious accident on the “impassable” road of the Dakar Rally and will not be able to defend the title

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