The story behind the fastest female in Oman began from a storybook. When Laila Al Sinani was seven, she read a book on go-karts and was impressed enough to try riding one. “I kept bugging my mother and my brother to take me to the track and once I started driving, I was hooked,” says this go-getter who is the No. 1 female racer and drifter in Oman.
Laila’s first race was when she was 15. “I lied and told the organisers that I was 16. It was a 24-hour race at the InterContinental Hotel that was like a relay. It was my first official race.” The racer’s obsession with wheels was supported by her family and since then, there has been no turning back. With the opening of the track at Seeb, her husband Hank (Hani) Grossniklaus and she started racing. “We race against each other and it’s a lot of fun. It’s not about winning, it is about having fun while you are attempting to win.”
Her first official car race was with the Oman Racing Team which took place in Bahrain six years ago and then again in Abu Dhabi. She started drifting last year.
Laila recalls her international drifting experience with a lot of pain. “I did very well in the Red Bull Car Drift event in Oman and I was selected to compete in Dubai in the finals. I had just a month to upgrade my car. It was a huge challenge and also expensive. Till the night before, we were trying to get the new Camaro engine running. We thought everything was okay and left for Dubai. I went in to compete and found out that we were missing an airflow sensor. I did compete but the engine kept switching off. ”
Women in motorsports may not be a rarity in other countries, but what is the scene like in Oman? I ask Laila if she has encountered questions like, “A woman, drifting?”
“By now, whoever is into motorsports knows me. But when I started out, it was a battle all the way through! It took 10 years to stop the ‘Ugh! she is a woman’ to ‘Oh my God, she’s here’ and “Oh! My God, she is here to beat us again.’ It took so long to get there.”
Of course, any journey to the top does not come easy. The lack of support for motorsports in Oman by way of sponsorships and places to train are the biggest impediments, according to Laila. “Every time I go in for training, I have to change a set of tyres which is expensive. Also, upgrading the car to a racing one costs a lot of money,” she says.
Fitness is a big part of Laila’s life. She is constantly on the lookout for the best workout routines. “I run and walk for an hour every day. I have recently started Muay Thai – a Thai boxing routine. I also practise yoga. I have a bad back and so cannot do extreme sports for a long time. Power walking is what keeps me going.”
As a mother of three who has been racing for nearly two decades, does she see any of her children interested in the sport? “I’d sure look out for my youngest joining the sport. We have a little motorised go-kart and he is already like me, trying to look over the steering wheel. We are preparing for the expenses,” she says with a laugh.
What is her message to young Omani women who want to try something challenging? “My advice would be, go for it, whatever your passion is. What do you have to lose? In the end, when you reach the age of 40 or 50, you shouldn’t look back and say, ‘If only I had done what I wanted to’ It doesn’t have to be racing, it can be whatever means a lot to you.”
Where will Laila’s passion take her? Will it ever wane? The fastest female in Oman only has this to say. “I can see myself go-karting even at 80.” We wish Laila the very best.