Yara shares the highs and lows of her racing career - from family car to rally car.
“We crested the hill and were descending the other side. It all felt good,” explains Yara, as we sit in her living room with her plastered leg resting on the coffee table. “But as we were coming down something went wrong and the car flipped. I was trying to process what had happened and just kept talking it through. I’ve no idea how long I was hanging upside down in the harness, but eventually my co-driver told me to shut up as he climbed out of the window!”
I have heard it said many times that you can find everything in Egypt that you might find elsewhere, you just need to know where to look. I would not be at all surprised to find a female rally driver in Western countries, but in Egypt? Well, I have just spent an hour chatting to Yara Shalaby who is exactly that.
Yara can trace her love of desert driving back to her childhood when the family would drive out to the wilderness. As soon as she could afford it, she bought a Jeep Wrangler and joined guys out on driving trips in the dunes. They responded in one of two ways – either very helpful and supportive or angry that a woman dared to encroach on their hobby, more so that she was good at it.
You can perhaps understand why some guys might scoff. Her first foray into the male-dominated world of rallying was a bit last minute and quite amateur. Yara – who works in IT – funded it all herself and prepped the car in just three months. By her own admission that first effort was a bit of a mess! The car passed just 50% of the scrutineering and Yara and her small team stayed up all night correcting the vehicle to get it ready for the morning. Once her first race was underway it did not get any better! Yara had struggled to find a co-driver (who is in charge of navigation) and ended up with someone quite inexperienced who got hopelessly lost – on both stages. A search party was sent out to find them.
This might have been enough to deter less determined characters, but in the pattern of many entrepreneurs, maybe this was exactly the start Yara needed to make her more determined to succeed. For her second rally Yara was much more prepared, the car was upgraded, she found a much more experienced co-driver (Azzam El Farouky – the late husband of fitness instructor Samia Allouba) and this time she was racing on dunes – a surface Yara is much more familiar with. Yara had clearly done something right as she and El Farouky came home in second place.
Sadly, El Farouky passed away following a long battle with ill health, but not before passing on much of his experience to Yara. She joined a Toyota-sponsored team and had some success in the 2014 Pharaoh’s Rally (the most recent of which we reported on last month). Now, having made the switch from cars to motorbikes, Yara is just as determined, but the more vulnerable nature of bikes poses even tougher challenges. Shortly before the 2015 Gouna Rally, an accident left Yara in considerable pain. Most people would rest up a bit before tentatively getting back onto the bike, but Yara entered the rally despite the constant pain and yet still finished eighth – about halfway up the pack!
Having recovered, Yara then suffered a bigger fall when testing a new, more powerful KTM. This time it will be six weeks of rest before the gruelling ten-hours-a-day physio sessions begin. She tells me she will be riding again in three months, and I am sure her dogged determination will see that she is.
From the lows of that first rally with Toyota, flipping her car after 40km in the desert to some amazing successes, all in just three years, Yara has come so far and achieved so much. She has grand ambitions for the future and for her all-female Gazelle Rally Team. Of course, like any successful Egyptian female, she wants to be a role model for Egyptian girls, showing them that gender is no barrier to success in male-dominated areas of life. Yara also wants to compete at an international level and be representing her country in the sport she loves.
If you want to follow the progress of Yara and the Gazelle Rally Team, or think your business could benefit from partnering with Yara, get in touch via the Gazelle Rally Team Facebook page.
Benjamin James has a background in automotive engineering, a keen interest in two- and four-wheel motoring, and an unrequited passion for overlanding.
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