What was that again? Women can’t drive? They aren’t tough enough? Because a female racer telling us about how she rolled over twice in her car and continued driving in the same manner you’d use to tell someone you brushed your teeth, begs to differ. Yara Shalaby, the first Female Egyptian Rally Racer, the first place winner in the 2016 National Championships, and the founder of the Gazelle rally racing team is also a mom and a technical consultant. We spoke to her to find out more about her exhilarating, fast-paced lifestyle…
36-year-old-Yara, who was raised by her father amongst three brothers, was taught that the only differences between a boy and a girl are ones that they create. “I have always been familiar with the desert and loved trying out exotic activities. Four years ago, I heard about rally races. When I actually got into my first race, I learnt that I was the only female participant,” Yara tells. Being the first female rally racer certainly drops a lot of jaws. “A lot of people were very supportive and excited to finally have a female racer, but there were also others opposing the idea. ‘Women can’t drive in general, let alone race’ they said,” she explains.
“In my second race, I had trained myself more, prepared my car and picked an experienced co-pilot. In that race, I won second place.”
Having a hobby is one thing, competing at a race standard is another. “At first my parents were totally against it. They didn’t think it was worth the risk. Later when I participated in numerous races and ranked highly, they started to understand, now my father even tries to get me sponsors,” she reveals.
Even when everyone thought she should, this venturous young lady didn’t put the brakes on her passion. “In my first race, neither I nor my co-pilot were experienced enough. We didn’t even reach the finish line and people made fun of us. It was disappointing, we’d proved those who thought we couldn’t do it right. But in my second race, I had trained myself more, prepared my car and picked an experienced co-pilot. In that race, I won second place.” Yara has since won several local and international races in the past 4 years, including coming first in the 2016 National Championship.
“I had an accident and spent 6 months in a wheel chair.”
Out of nowhere, deserts were closed for safety reasons, and all races were cancelled in Egypt’s open deserts. “To work around this, organizers started making closed tracks. The first time I attended a closed-track race, it was very disappointing for me, so I considered racing with a motorcycle. But I wasn’t experienced enough. The first try was okay; the second however, was not. I had an accident and spent 6 months in a wheel chair,” she tells.
Yara’s passion and determination has driven her much further than just the finish line. “The FIA selected the best 9 racers cross-country and gave them an intensive training course by the world champion racer, I represented the middle east and Africa. When I came back home I decided to create an all-female rally team with female mechanics, pilots, copilots…etc. I felt that I had the experience and curriculum to give them good training courses. This was the birth of the Gazelle Rally team.” Yara says.
“Once word spread about an Egyptian female racer, I found a lot of girls contacting me and telling me that I have encouraged them,” Yara says. “I think if any girl decides to be a racer now, she won’t have to tolerate as many negative comments, because I have already taken them all,” she jokes.
“Women can fit in any sport if they love it enough.”
What separates a male racer from a female racer? “The difference between a male and female racer is psychological and not physiological. To race, you only need the average fitness level, the real problem is our mindsets. There is the stereotype that women can’t drive, like the commonly shared statement, ‘Tla2eha set’ (it must be a woman) when people see someone struggling with driving. This makes Egyptian women and girls believe that motorsports aren’t for them. But that is just nonsense, women can fit in any sport if they love it enough.” Yara says.
This racer-champion is also a great mother to Amen. “My son loves the desert. I see no problem in taking him with me on trips to the desert, or to the races or to the mechanics. I think the real problem is parents only want to expose their children to the good things and not the bad. They say things like ‘If you are going to the mechanic, don’t take your kid with you! Leave him at home or with your mom!’ But he must experience everything with me. I can’t always let him see just the colorful side of life,” she argues.
In addition to a fabulous son, Yara has a loving husband as her copilot in life, “my husband is very supportive of me, he is also a racer. He understands me when I don’t have enough money till the end of the month but still go ahead and spend 3000LE on something for my car. Anyone else would probably think that it is nonsense,” she explains. But how does she manage to keep up with racing and her family whilst having a full-time job as a developer? “It is all about time management and dividing your time. Women who dedicate all their lives to their children, their work or their hobby grow old to the question, ‘Where/How did the years go?’”
Follow Yara on Instagram @yara_shalaby_