We’re familiar with cool all-female events like the Rebelle Rally, and a few years ago there was the Global Auto Salon in Riyadh, but a women’s off-road rally in Saudi Arabia? That’s completely revolutionary, considering women were just given rights to drive on the streets of Saudi Arabia less than five years ago. The 2022 Rally Jameel, held March 16-19, 2022, was the perfect way to celebrate March 8’s International Women’s Day.
Winning the inaugural Rally Jameel, the first women-only off-road navigation rally in Saudi Arabia, depended not on pure speed for the 35 teams competing, but on navigation, checkpoints, and planning skills as the teams traversed from Hail to Al-Riyadh, the capital, passing by Al-Qassim. The three stages, varying from about 200 to 300 miles per day, were kept secret until the night before.
Challenges abound when it comes to the logistics surrounding an inaugural rally, and Rally Jameel was no exception. Competitor Lyn Woodward explains, “The biggest challenge we had was defining the rules. Since this was a first-year event, the rules felt a bit fluid. The organizers were learning at the same time we were. Because they used Dakar or Cross-Country Baja rules but eliminated speed, that changed how some of the rules and penalties were interpreted. We had no clue what a timecard was until they threw it into our car right as we rolled off the starting line. The timecards weren’t mentioned in the rule book! Subsequently, we were three minutes early to the first time control and got a 15 point penalty. We figured it out pretty quick and after that first day, we stayed penalty free.”
The rally vehicles that the teams used were all-wheel drive or four-wheel drive, as necessitated by the Saudi Arabian desert, but they were unmodified. Almost half of the vehicle entries were Toyotas: Rav4, Prado, FJ Cruiser, Fortuner, and Land Cruiser. Other entries included the Jeep Wrangler, Ford Bronco, Isuzu MUX, Ram 1500, Land Rover Defender, Lexus LX, MG RX8, Mitsubishi L200, Jeep Compass, Hummer, Nissan Patrol, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Baic, Porsche Cayenne, and Porsche Macan.
The overall winners of Rally Jameel were the Swedish duo of driver Annie Seel and co-driver Mikaela Ahlin-Kottulinsky in the no. 21 2022 Toyota Rav4. Second overall went to United Arab Emirates’ Atefa Saleh and our very own Eleanor Coker, in the no. 13 2018 Toyota Prado. Third was captured by Saudi Arabia’s Maha Al Hamly and Spain’s Pochola Hernandez in the no. 9 2018 Toyota Prado. That’s a Toyota podium sweep—and actually a Toyota top ten sweep. The Ford Bronco finished thirteenth, and the Ram pickup seventeenth.
Three teams represented the United States in Rally Jameel, and even though they didn’t podium overall, they put forth a darn solid effort and finished fifth, sixth, and eight overall. That means all our U.S. gals finished in the top 10 overall, and that’s something to be proud of. On top of the solid finishes, “The women we met and the exotic nature of the culture made this an amazing experience!” remembers Dana Saxten.
Team Wild Grace, consisting of Lyn Woodward and Sedona Blinson, finished fifth overall in the no. 25 2020 Toyota Fortuner. They won the third leg and their class.
“We thought we’d be getting a V-6 2022 Toyota Fortuner, basically a Highlander on a Hilux chassis, but we got a 4-cylinder instead. It had Toyota’s bulletproof, but super dated six-speed automatic transmission and was woefully underpowered, but I managed to make it work for us. The good thing about being an automotive journalist is that I’ve gotten in a ton of cars and know a lot of powertrains, so it didn’t take long for me to make adjustments and get the job done,” recounts Lyn Woodward.
Emme Hall and Rebecca Donaghe were right in the thick of it all, finishing sixth overall in the no. 22 2022 Toyota Fortuner.
The mother-daughter team of Dana Saxten and Susanne Saxten, both navigators with their other rally partners, finished eighth overall in the no. 27 2022 Toyota Prado. “Who would drive was the question? Susie claims that I am a nervous passenger when she drives, and I claim that she is a better navigator than I am, so a fairly easy decision, it turned out. I got us stuck one day, and Susie called out one wrong turn, so no one was throwing blame around,” joked Dana Saxten, who loved driving. Did the mother/daughter relationship survive all the travel and vehicle time together? It did, without question.
Regarding the whole experience in Saudi Arabia, Woodward concludes, “The most significant thing about the trip for me was my realization that I was representing the United States at this watershed event for women in the Middle East. I’m very proud of my country, and officially representing America in any capacity was an honor I never thought I’d have. That was a feeling I’ll never forget.” And according to Dana Saxten, “It was the thrill of a lifetime for a mom, for sure!”
How could it be otherwise?