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Reema’s View: 24H Dubai

January 11, 2022
2022 Season

Reema looks ahead to a new challenge in 2022, as she prepares to compete in her first ever endurance race: the 24H Dubai.

It’s a big leap from single seater racing to competing in your first endurance race. How are you feeling ahead of this new challenge?

Endurance racing, particularly the 24 hours of Le Mans, is what sparked my original interest in racing. In single seaters, the journey has been to learn as quickly as I can in some of the toughest environments with very demanding cars. With this experience I now feel like I’m at a stage where I can make the leap to GT3 and I’m capable of competing at a top level.

It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time, but it was important first to find the right team with the right support. When we had the opportunity to sign with a team like SPS, alongside drivers who have experience, I couldn’t say no. I’m super excited about it.

What is it about endurance racing that appeals to you?

It's a mixture of things. In any racing series, you put yourself in the hands of the team and you have to trust each other. But in this case I'm sharing the car with three other drivers and anything can happen in the race so there is definitely an element of letting go of the control which will be good for me. Things can change within 10 minutes or even the last hour of the race and, as a spectator, that was always exciting for me, so I can’t wait to experience that as a driver.

I’m not going to be driving the car at 100% every single lap and sometimes I will have to drive more conservatively and manage traffic for extended periods of time, which isn’t something I’ve done in the past. There’s going to be so much more processing that I’ll have to do in terms of my driving, including driving at night, and all these new variables are exciting.

The Dubai Autodrome is a track you’re familiar with. What is the circuit like to drive and what does it mean to you?

It was the second track I ever raced at so it has a special place in my heart. With the undulations, it’s an interesting track as that makes it more demanding. It was the first track where I was really competitive and all the good results that I’ve had in the past have been at that track, whether it was in a single seater or in GT86, so it has good memories for me.

For people who aren’t too familiar with racing, what’s the difference in driving style between open wheel racing vs. endurance racing and how have you been preparing physically?

The first difference is the aerodynamics. It’s not that there’s less aero, but you definitely feel it less in a GT car than in a single seater. The other thing is that in the single seaters I’ve driven there have been no mechanical assists, so you’re physically turning the car and stopping it all by yourself, whereas in the GT car you have ABS and traction control to help with braking and traction. The steering is a lot lighter, so you have to be smooth and gentle rather than trying to hold the car. It’s more about finesse and patience and less about aggression.

Physically, a single seater works more of your body. Your neck is exposed, and you’re exposed to the G-forces, so neck strength is a big factor. In GT racing, it may not be as physically demanding on the upper body, but your legs are constantly pushing the brakes as hard as possible. You also need to be able to be physically fit enough to maintain your concentration under pressure for long periods of time. So, it’s a different beast, but it’s still very much a beast!

And how are you preparing mentally for the race?

The preparation has been about staying sharp at all times. Whether it’s 3AM or 9PM, I want to have the ability to switch on my performance and, if something does go wrong, know how to keep a cool head and not get frustrated. If it’s a mechanical problem or I make a mistake, how can I mitigate that. Some of these things I can get answers to, but a lot of it is just experience and being able to constantly ask questions and learn from others as well.

How did you find your first experience in the car? Was it love at first drive?

It was! I was very surprised by how much speed the car could carry into the corners, which was much more than I anticipated. More than that, though, there’s so much grip. With these cars, you have tyre warmers, so you go out and the tyres are ready to push. You don’t have to spend time warming them up, except for in traffic or behind a safety car. The car was also fantastic in the wet. I’ve never driven in the wet with such confidence.

What are your expectations going into this race?

I want to be fast and also finish the race, which I think is a reasonable ask. But I want to add value and be an asset to the team. I think with this first one it’s just about managing the race from start to finish, and if I get a good place or a podium position then that’s a plus.

It’s my first endurance race, so I want to be able to come out of the car after every session or stint having learnt something that I could do better in the next one. I want to try to make the right calls and not take too many risks, but at the same time step into the car and prove that I belong there.

It’s been three-and-a-half years since Saudi women were granted the legal right to drive. How does it feel for you personally to be competing in one of the most iconic endurance races already?

I’m very grateful and beyond blessed to be in this position. Looking at the list of entries, there aren’t many Arab competitors in general, so to be amongst the few that are representing the region, let alone representing my country, is very exciting. I can already see it opening doors for people to come into the sport. I want to be able to represent myself but also represent everyone who may think this sport isn’t for them, especially those from Saudi. It’s a great feeling, but I try not to think about it too much and let it distract me. I’m sure when I get there, I’ll have an ‘a-ha!’ moment, as always. It feels like a great way to kick off my 2022 racing campaign.

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