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.

Friday - - CONTENTS - PHO­TOS BY STE­FAN LIN­D­EQUE

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 ...’

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UAE

© PressReader. All rights reserved.