Laleh Seddigh is Iran’s top woman driver. She has won several races against men, as well as her country’s Ladies’ Championship.
Laleh was born in 1977. Her family was wealthy; her father owned several factories, including a car spares firm. She was a car enthusiast from a very early age and learned to drive at home, in the family’s yard. Some articles claim this was when she was eight, or eleven. A 2008 interview with Laleh for the German magazine Spiegel says she was thirteen.
By the time she was fourteen, she was being stopped by police and returned home, having “borrowed” her father’s car for a nocturnal excursion. Again, some sources claim this happened when she was much younger. She got her license later. As a teenager and young adult, she was very sporty and competed in athletics, equestrianism and volleyball.
Her first motorsport experience came through rallying. Her website says that she first competed in 2000, when she was 23, but details are hazy, partly due to language and information barriers. She took part in the Iranian championship between 2001 and 2005 and won the 2004 Ladies’ Championship. Part of the problem was that her activities were deemed un-Islamic by Iran’s religious authorities, and a media blackout was imposed on reporting her successes. She eventually petitioned for legitimate participation, which was granted. One fact in motorsport’s favour was that it was easy for Laleh to adhere to strict Muslim dress codes while clad head-to-foot in Nomex. In 2005, she was pictured at the start of the Arjan Rally close to Tehran, getting into her car. Her schedule involved both stage rallies and longer cross-country raids. She drove a Proton for an official team, and apparently won three rallies before 2004, from 28 starts.
In 2004, she started circuit racing as well as rallying. She used two different Protons and a Peugeot 206 over the course of five races. One of her first, at the Asadi Park stadium track, gave her a third place.
She won the Iranian 1600cc GT championship outright in 2005. Her car for the eight-race series was a works Proton.
From 2006, she was barred from competing in her own country after accusations of cheating. She was prohibited from entering the Open class of the Iranian touring car championship after her 2005 win, so she disguised her new 2400cc car as her last season’s 1600 model in order to compete. She was found out and banned.
After that, she did some training for Formula BMW Bahrain after receiving a licence there. It is not clear whether she actually raced. She is also reported to have raced a Formula 3 car in Italy. Some reports say this happened at Monza, but no results are forthcoming.
For a while, things went fairly quiet for Laleh. Her website states that she won a “ladies’ rally” organised by Tehran motor club in 2009, but further details are not available.
A film was made about her in 2012, supported by none other than Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It caused huge controversy in Iran. For one, its depiction of a Muslim woman was deemed un-Islamic and supportive of Western stereotypes. The film received a huge amount of state sponsorship, which was also criticised.
In 2014 and 2015, she entered Iran's Shiraz Rally, driving a Peugeot 206 and a Mitsubishi Lancer, respectively. She finished in 2014, in thirteenth place.
In 2015, she did some testing for the Indian Mahindra team, in their XUV500 4WD. Once more, it is not clear whether this was during or in preparation for competition.
Since then, her profile, outside Iran at least, has been lower. She has undertaken a PhD and teaches at a university, as well as speaking publicly about her motorsport experiences. In 2016, she talked of setting up a women’s racing school.
She was nicknamed “Little Schumacher” in Iran during her first brush with stardom.
(Image from http://arhiva.dalje.com)