Breaking down barriers on and off the stages

It's not just in competition where Dania Akeel is making her mark


If you want to succeed in the world of motorsport, you need to be tenacious. If you’re not, you simply won’t achieve what you set out to do.

You can’t give up at the first sign of trouble. There’s always going to be setbacks. No race, no event, no stage is ever going to be straightforward. But it’s about how you respond and push on no matter what that defines you as a driver.

And given she’s the first ever female to compete in motorsport in Saudi Arabia (and her mom was the first woman ever to hold a driving license) there’s no denying that Dania Akeel has tenacity in bucket loads.

Akeel arrived into motorsport fairly late in life when you consider how early most people make their competitive debuts these days. She didn’t begin until she was 30, but it’s showing no signs of holding her back.

And since making her speedbike racing debut in the UAE, she’s gone from strength to strength.

“I’ve always loved driving,” Akeel explained to DirtFish.

“When we were kids I had a couple of bicycles, even rollerblades. Anything with movement and direction I just loved.

“When I was 14 I moved to the UK for school, so by the time I was 17 I had got my driving license there.

“I stayed there for university, so when I was 27 I got my motorcycle license and then I got into racing actually in the UAE.

“When I was 30 years old I passed some exams for the racing license for speedbikes and I started racing in the national championship there. So that was my entry point into motorsport.

“After that, Saudi Arabia started hosting the Dakar and the Saudi motorsport federation had known about me because of the bike racing in UAE and they invited me to watch the Dakar and to get to know this kind of racing discipline, rally raid. And they also host a round of the cross-country Baja World Cup.

“So that being my home country, and obviously I love anything to do with nature and landscape and being outdoors plus driving, it was actually the perfect recipe. And that’s how I got into cross-country.”

Akeel impressed immediately in speedbikes, winning ‘rookie of the year’ in the UAE National Sportsbike Superseries Ducati Cup’s 2019/2020 season.

A subsequent crash in the BMR600 series forced her to take some time out of competitive action so she could recover from her injuries, but that didn’t deter her. She returned, but when she did, this time it was on four wheels rather than two.


And just like the bikes, she quickly found herself at home.

She was the first Saudi female to participate in an international rally and completed two events of the Baja World Cup, winning the T3 category in both races.

The tenacity paid off, but it’s not only in racing where that’s the case.

Akeel has never been one to let barriers prevent her from doing what she wants, and she has no problems knocking them down until she achieves what she sets out to do.

It’s that tenacity that led to her becoming the first Saudi female to ever have a bike circuit racing license, and her and her mother to become the first two females to have driving licenses in their home city of Jeddah.

“My mother was the first lady to receive a license in Jeddah, which is the city that we are from,” said Akeel.

“And that is actually funny because I was tracking when the system would open up the applications for women who had driving licenses from abroad to convert them into Saudi licenses.

“So I kept going to the center that was supposedly going to issue these licenses and I was checking ‘is the link out, is the link out?’

“Finally one day at the door they told me ‘yes Dania, this is the link. You can apply here to get your license.’

“So I took my information, I filled it in and I took my mom’s. She was with me in the car and I started filling it in.

“She said ‘are you doing this now in the car?’ I said ‘of course, why wait?’

“So we ended up getting the first two appointments to convert our licenses and that’s how she got hers. And it was actually a really, really amazing day.”

Akeel is never one to sit still, and having enjoyed Baja racing she made the decision to progress her racing further, tackling this year’s Dakar Rally.

It was a far from straightforward event for her – although, when is the Dakar ever straightforward? Akeel completed the rally in 87 and a half hours, placing her 93rd overall.


That result might not have been what she had in mind before heading into the event, but she’s also pragmatic.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and she knows she can’t expect to fly in and be winning right from the off.

And it’s the methodical process she takes that she believes makes for the best advice.

“I think it’s important always for me to measure my progress in mini steps, micro steps,” she said.

“I got my driving license, I enjoyed myself on the road. I got my motorcycle license, I enjoyed myself on two wheels. I got my racing license, I enjoyed my trackday. I got into a rally, I enjoyed my first 100km.

“Everything I’ve done, I’ve done in steps. I haven’t looked too far ahead, because in motorsport you’ve got to be really safe.

“First way to be safe is to be prepared, and to be prepared you don’t want to overreach. So my advice is always to take it step by step.


“In terms of guidance on the how-to’s and instructions on how to technically get into the race, I would direct people towards the Saudi motorsport federation because they helped me a lot. Not just in terms of how to apply for race licenses and pass these tests, but also how to find a car to race, what gear do I need, what are the safety requirements, what kind of skills do I need? Am I missing anything?

“Saudi motorsport federation was a massive knowledge help for me and they were very generous with their time and their information. That would be my advice.”

Akeel might be feeling she’s making micro steps in the way she’s approaching her motorsport career, but from the outside, she’s making huge leaps and it’s paying off.

You can’t cut corners to get to where you want to be, and Akeel knows that. But the level of determination and refusal to give in is what will make her a real force to be reckoned with for many years to come, both on and off the stages.

DirtFish Women’s Month aims to educate and inspire – telling the stories of women involved in all roles of motorsport and culminating in the Women in Motorsport Summit on March 11.

Words:Rob Hansford