IN THE UAE
Motorsports may be a man’s world, but in Arabian Gazelles, no men are allowed as women zoom by in their supercars.
When she heard about the plan to lift the driving ban on Saudi women, one of the first things that came to Hanan Mazouzi Sobati’s mind was a convoy of supercars, all driven by women, on Saudi roads. And now that the ban has been lifted, the plan still stands. ‘We are waiting for the weather to cool down a bit more and for the Saudi women to gain more experience,’ says Hanan. The founder of Arabian Gazelles, the first ladies-only club in the region for supercar drivers, Hanan has recently registered an Arabian Gazelles chapter in Saudi Arabia; four women have signed up already. Once winter sets in, the UAE-based drivers, together with their Saudi sisters, will go on epic drives on the kingdom’s roads.
The club, based in Dubai, is hardly two years old, but it is already popular and active, boasting 60 members of 18 different nationalities, all residents of the UAE. From housewives to executives, the one driving passion that unites them all is a love for the wheel and the fact that they all own luxury cars – Ferarris, Lamborghinis, Maseratis, Rolls Royces, Bugattis, G63s. After all, the club’s motto is ‘Life is too short to drive boring cars’. Hanan herself drives a Rolls Royce Phantom Drophead Coupé, a Morgan Aero Super Sport, a Range Rover and a Mercedes G63. ‘The Morgan is my favourite. Why? Because it’s like nothing else on the roads. It is still handmade in a tiny English factory, a real head turner,’ she says.
NO LONGER A MAN’S WORLD
The idea of Arabian Gazelles took shape, says Hanan, when she began to feel lonely in her passion.
‘The club started a little more than a year-and-a-half ago. I set it up to find and share my passion with likeminded women, after a growing frustration with being the only woman in motorsport events. Not only that, but I was always thought of being a ‘plus one’, a passenger rather than a bonafide driver, even though I have the same passion as the guys,’ says Hanan. Motorsports may be a man’s world, but in her club, no men are allowed. The club grew in popularity quickly. It turned out there were plenty of women out there – Emiratis, Europeans, Australians, Asians – living across the UAE who needed backup for their compelling hobby. In the days before the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia was lifted, lady petrolheads from that country would come to Dubai to enjoy a drive with the Arabian Gazelles.
‘The club grew faster than I expected, as if these women out there were waiting for this platform, so they can come out and enjoy their love for supercars. Yet, our goal was never to be famous. All we want is to share and live this passion of ours, and also to inspire others to go after theirs, whatever it may be, even if it’s not mainstream,’ says Hanan.
‘Whenever we have an event we drive in a convoy of supercars, which in itself is a traffic stopper, let alone when we step out of these marvels and people realise that women are behind the wheels. It’s always fun to see supporters and onlookers with their thumbs up whenever they see us.’
The club members get together usually twice a month, going on drives, events, weekend stays and workshops. They are planning a series of workshops with a car tyre company that has teamed up with their group. The Gazelles also get involved in high-octane activities, having track days at the Dubai autodrome, where they get to rev up their adrenaline safely and without any worry of speed cameras.
‘I respect speed limits but when I feel frustrated I head down to the autodrome,’ says Hanan.
The club grew faster than expected, as if women were waiting for this platform so they could enjoy their love for supercars
Like many of her fellow Gazelles, Ghala’s passion for stylish vehicles began when she was a little girl. ‘It started when I was eight years old’
I DREAM OF ASTON MARTINS
Ghala Al Ketbi, an Emirati from Al Ain now living in Sharjah, is Arabian Gazelles’ youngest member. Having recently acquired a driving licence, she quickly joined the club with her brandnew Porsche.
‘When you are not used to sports cars – all the men in my family drive four-wheels – the power of it is very inviting. It encourages you to speed. If you are not used to handle that much power, you can go crazy.’
Like many of her fellow Gazelles, Ghala’s passion for stylish vehicles began when she was a little girl. ‘It started when I was eight years old. I saw an Aston Martin DBS on the television and I was instantly obsessed with it. I googled it and read everything I could possibly find about it. It became like an addiction. I went to school the next day and I told my friends all that I had learnt about the car. To this day, it is one of my dream cars,’ she says.
That Aston Martin proved not to be a passing childhood fantasy. Ever since she saw it, Ghala switched gears and remained hooked on fast, powerful engines. She started playing with toy cars, although her mom refused to buy all the models she requested. The next step was learning to drive.
After earning her driving licence last September she took her family for a drive in her mother’s car and they were happy to see her prowess behind the wheel.
‘For a couple of months, I drove my mum’s car, then, in December, I got my own, a Porsche 911 Carrera. What I like about it is the handling, which is amazing. It’s very responsive, not at all intimidating,’ says Ghala.
Even before she got the Porsche, Ghala was cruising the Instagram motorsports and supercars accounts. This is how she came across the Arabian Gazelles, and wasted no time in joining them earlier this year.
She’s already been on a few outings with the club, and her favourite remains the first one: a convoy drive all the way to Abu Dhabi to tour the Louvre museum. ‘It was really nice. I met most club members in this drive and, even though it was my first event with the club, they were really nice to me, greeting me like they knew me for a very long time, which was touching.’
OF DESERT DRIVES AND SUPERCAR RALLIES
Apart from being a woman, all that is needed to join the Arabian Gazelles is a supercar. Mostly, that means a luxurious, high-end sports car, although exceptions are made for a few fat-wallet four-wheel rides. Some of the perks for members include training, sponsored trips, VIP-style events, top-down night drives and five-star weekends.
For Tatiana Husser, a Gazelle, the trip to Bab Al Shams hotel was memorable. ‘It was so much fun and well organised,’ she remembers. ‘We all headed down to Bab Al Shams in our cars, enjoying some safe racing on the way. When we arrived, we were escorted to an amazing dinner in the middle of the desert, where we enjoyed some chit-chat and yummy food.’
She joined the Gazelles in April this year, after coming across an article about them that raised her curiosity to dig deeper.
‘I took a look at their Instagram and found they had gone on a drive to Jebel Jais and I thought it was just amazing to have a group of women share the same passion.’
Tatiana is half Swiss, half South African, grew up in Indonesia, studied interior design in London and moved to Dubai a year-and-a-half ago, when her husband decided to open a French patisserie here.
It was also her husband, a motorhead, who stoked Tatiana’s passion for supercars. He wouldn’t stop talking about cars and, gradually, she became interested. Now she drives a Ferrari 488 Spider.
‘I love how this car can be driven very comfortably when you want it to, and very aggressively just in a switch of a button from ‘sport’ to ‘race’ mode. And, of course, you can’t forget the convertible aspect of the car to properly enjoy Dubai winters,’ says Tatiana.
She has been driving since she was 16 years old, her first car being a Range Rover. As for luxurious cars, Tatiana didn’t really enjoy that experience until she came to Dubai. Her dream drive, though, is around Europe.
‘My driving adventure dream is to be able to take my Ferrari 488 Spider on a trip through Switzerland, Germany, France and Italy, to see the Ferrari factory in Modena, driving through the beautiful countryside and enjoying the top down in the fresh summer air,’ she says.
For the time being, Tatiana looks forward to more trips with her fellow Gazelles, especially since Hanan is preparing a big surprise for the ladies: the first female supercar rally.
‘My dream is to be able to take my Ferrari 488 Spider on a trip through Europe, to see the Ferrari factory in Modena ...’