Sunday, 1 August 2010

Yasmin Alhilli

Many of the fast women on this site have come from unlikely backgrounds, none more so than Bahrain's Yasmin Alhilli. In a region known for its conservative attitude towards women, it is surprising to know that there are several female drivers who compete in the Middle East Rally Championship. Yasmin is probably the best known, and considering that she has taken part in relatively few rallies, one of the most newsworthy drivers in the Gulf states.

Yasmin's background is very cosmopolitan. She was at university in New Zealand when she discovered rallying in 1998. Her early involvement was through marshalling on a number of events, like many future drivers. She took her marshalling very seriously and was soon helping to run international rallies, alongside her degree in business and marketing.

It was not until she had finished her undergraduate studies in 2001 that she got inside a rally car. Back home in her adopted state of Dubai, she co-drove Hassan al Sadadi to sixth place overall in the Dubai Rally, her first competitive start. However, despite her excellent result, she was not content with navigating and wanted to drive for herself.

Having secured sponsorship from Batelco, Yasmin drove in three Middle East Championship rallies in 2002. Her first event was the Bahrain Rally. She started promisingly enough, moving rapidly up the leaderboard for the first few stages, but her car gave up on her before the end of the first leg. She took her setback with good grace and went on to score her first finish in the Dubai Rally. Her best finish of the year was on the Jordan Rally, where she was fifteenth overall and won the Ladies' Cup, in her Mitsubishi Lancer Evo V. The opposition was strong, from the likes of world rally veteran Abdullah Bakashab, and the female contingent was no pushover either. She also tried her hand at rally raids, and was 24th in the UAE Desert Challenge, winning the Ladies’ award. Her car was a Mitsubishi Pajero.

Her modest success in Jordan was big news, especially given that Yasmin was a woman and only twenty-two years old. As a result she received offers to compete in other areas of motorsport, which she accepted. As a guest of the Kuwaiti royal family, driving for their team, she came third in the Superstock class in drag races in Kuwait. She also took part in several endurance karting challenges, both as driver and team manager, with varying results. She was even invited back to New Zealand, where it all began, to do some karting there.

Unfortunately, sufficient sponsorship could not be found to back up Yasmin's high profile the following season. Rather than struggle with inferior equipment, she sat the season out and worked as a coach for the Bahrain national junior basketball team. At some point, she was injured in a road traffic accident and had to shelve her motorsport ambitions, due to back problems. It was then that she made the unlikely move into professional sports management, with the Riffa football club. Later, she worked for the Muharraq team, on their football and basketball sides. Under her general management, the club was successful on all fronts and won many trophies. She is now working as a professional football agent, the only FIFA-licensed woman to do so.

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