Noelia Benitez is in Saudi Arabia to take part in the country's Rally Jameel / sur

Estepona woman changes gear from modelling career to motor racing driver

Noelia Benitez, 31, is taking part in Rally Jameel, Saudi Arabia's first women-only motor racing competition which takes place from March 17 to 19, and covers 900 kilometres

ESTHER GÓMEZ

Thirty-one year old Noelia Benitez arrived today, 16 March, in Saudi Arabia with her co-driver, the Catalan Carla Rauvidal to take part in the Rally Jameel; the Saudia Arabia women-only motor rally. "Nothing is impossible and I encourage people to pursue their dreams because no matter how impossible it may seem, there is always a way", she said, adding, "how could I have imagined that I would make my debut as a driver abroad and in Saudi Arabia, no less, where until recently women weren't even allowed to drive?” she said.

Rally Jameel consists of 33 teams from 15 countries and takes place from March 17 to 19. It will feature both beginners and seasoned drivers in the competition. The 900-kilometre race will start in the city of Hail and head to the capital, Riyadh.

"Participating in this rally was a dream" Noelia says, so when she was selected she did "what men do" and started knocking on doors and looking for sponsors. She was afraid, she says, but her desire and enthusiasm helped to get her closer to what she feels is "the opportunity of a lifetime".

Passion for motorsports

Before discovering a passion for motorsports, Noelia represented her home town of Estepona in the Miss Grand Malaga contest in 2018. She is a professional model and loves dancing, so much so that she has made it a way of earning a living; but she is also passionate about cars and motorbikes.

It is a world for which she says she has had "a real fascination” since she was a little girl. "My father wouldn’t let me ride a motorbike, but I didn't care," she says, admitting that she would “sneak out of school to go to the Estepona dirt track to race” and would “get on with any friend who was willing to take me", she recalls. “I didn't have the budget for my own vehicle, so I was the co-driver.”

It was when she was 27 that Noelia discovered the Estepona karting circuit started racing. From then on she began to enter amateur karting competitions, such as the '30 hours Karting Campillos' and the '24 hours Hispalenses'.

Last year an Andalusian driving school got in touch with her and she started training as a co-driver, taking part in the Rally Ciudad de Jerez 2021. It was then when she decided to continue with her motoring training and leave behind her modelling and dancing career to focus on motorsports.

Although she has never felt rejected by others in the sport, Noelia recognises that motorsports is “a very complicated world, and even more so as a woman,” she points out.

Noelia has her eyes set on the Paris-Dakar rally, in her opinion, the "most difficult event in the world.” She recognises that she has a lot of work to do but in the meantime, she says she will continue to train with Wilo Motorsport and to promote the sport among young people through the Andalusian Karting School, of which she is the founder.