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Palestinian women change motor racing up a gear

By Catriona Davies, CNN
updated 10:09 AM EST, Thu January 24, 2013
Noor Daoud, 23, in her BMW. Daoud is about to compete in a professional drift race in the United Arab Emirates, which she hopes will be the start of a top-flight international career. Noor Daoud, 23, in her BMW. Daoud is about to compete in a professional drift race in the United Arab Emirates, which she hopes will be the start of a top-flight international career.
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The Palestinian Speed Sisters
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Speed Sisters became first all-female Palestinian motor racing team in 2009
  • At 23, Noor Daoud is first Arab woman to race on the international circuit in Dubai, Japan and Poland
  • Maysoon Jayyusi serves on FIA's Women in Motorsport Commission

(CNN) -- On the starting line of the Emirates Motorplex on Thursday (Jan 24) will be professional drift racing, one of the most dangerous disciplines in motorsport.

And amid the petrol fumes and testosterone will be a 23-year-old Palestinian woman, Noor Daoud.

Daoud, who had previously been invited to compete in a Formula 3 - a different discipline of motor racing - race in Israel, is the first Arab woman to compete on the international motorsport circuit.

She has spent two months in the United Arab Emirates training for the Drift UAE race on January 24, and will then go on to other international races in Japan and Poland.

Drifting is a driving technique, born in Japan, in which the driver intentionally oversteers, causing the rear wheels to skid, while maintaining control of the car.

"It's a big race and all the international people will be there. I'm the first Arab girl to race in it, so it's huge for me," said Daoud.

We want to improve ourselves and show that we can achieve what we like.
Maysoon Jayyusi

"I really want to make this my career. I'm really serious about it.

"I just want to show the world what I can do. I'm not only doing this for myself, I'm doing it for my country. I want to show that Palestinian people can make it."

Daoud has previously competed at a world-class level in swimming, tennis and soccer and also loves boxing and motorcross. She says motor racing has become her favorite sport since joining an all-female Palestinian motor racing team, Speed Sisters.

Speed Sisters became a team in 2009 with the support of the British consulate in Jerusalem.

Now a Canadian filmmaker, Amber Fares, is making a feature-length documentary about the Speed Sisters and their incredible journey from the streets of the West Bank.

Daoud has been able to take her career to an international level because she was born in Texas and holds an U.S. passport.

Her fellow Speed Sisters have traveled no further than Jordan for street car races, but compete regularly on the popular Palestinian street car circuit.

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Maysoon Jayyusi, formerly a Speed Sister herself, now manages the team and is the Palestinian representative on the FIA's Women in Motorsport Commission.

Jayyusi, 36, first got into motor racing because a colleague at the United Nations, who was also head of the Palestinian Motorsport Federation, suggested she try racing after seeing her driving home from work.

"It's exciting for us, especially as women; we want to improve ourselves and show that we can achieve what we like," said Jayyusi.

"We want to challenge the ideas that women can only work in the kitchen and that Palestinian people can't live normal lives."

When Jayyusi took up the sport, she was so worried about telling her parents about her new hobby that they only found out when she started to appear in newspaper articles.

It's a dangerous sport and I really enjoy the adrenaline.
Noor Daoud

"They are a traditional Arab family and don't encourage women to participate in sport," she said. "They accept it now because they know we are strong."

The Speed Sisters core team also includes Betty Saadeh, 31, from Bethlehem, Marah Zahalka, 21, from Jenin, and Muna Ennab, from Ramallah.

In 2011, the team was invited to Silverstone, home of the British Grand Prix, for training.

But the quest for success is still a struggle for the Speed Sisters.

Jayyusi said they don't have a regular training ground, must scramble to find enough money to compete and cannot take their cars abroad because of travel restrictions.

"This year I have a new agenda that we want to make connections with motorsports in other countries and arrange exchanges," said Jayyusi.

Fares, who is of Lebanese heritage, decided to make a film about the Speed Sisters while living in the West Bank because she wanted to show Arab women in a way not often seen in Western media.

"Women racing cars is pretty much the last thing you would expect to happen in Palestine.

"They are amazing girls and their stories resonate with people. When people hear about their story, they find them inspirational."

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Daoud finds her inspiration from within.

"It's a dangerous sport and I really enjoy the adrenaline," she said. "When you are driving something really powerful, you and the car must be one. I feel the power and I feel no fear.

"Sometimes after a race I get out of the car and take off my helmet and people say 'Oh my God, it's a girl.'

"Some people don't like it and say I should get a husband and have children or that I should be cleaning the house, but I just ignore them."

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