“You could feel it in the last round, that everything was coming together nicely.”
Theeba Motorsport’s second year of competition – and the first in the GT World Challenge Europe – was one that featured a wide of emotion and opposition, of trials and some success, but also of growth.
Eight circuits – some of the very best within Europe – were raced at in 2023, across grids of over 50 entries. At the marquee event – the Spa 24 Hours – the grid hit a whopping 70 cars. Many of these teams were among the most decorated and experienced around within GT Racing. It was a true test for Theeba coming into the year.
There were changes on the driving front. Joining Reema was Ralf Aron – former single-seater star – and Alain Valente – who had heaps of sportscar experience to count upon. As Reema explains, building that early relationship was key going forward. “At the first test, we were already getting on well outside of the car,” she explains. “It is important that everyone is really on the same page, and it wasn’t hard to get to that agreement early on and in understanding how every driver’s feedback differs, what suits them and what doesn't.
“We really worked together to find what it was that we needed from the car. It was quite helpful that everyone really felt comfortable. When you're comfortable in the team, and when you're new, you can really speak your mind. You can, whether you want to get frustrated, whether it is that you want to just have a laugh, these little things make the environment quite positive when you're in a very competitive situation; you don't want to feel like you can’t be yourself. That's the environment behind the scenes.
“Just in terms of the feeling in the team that's one thing, but on the other side it’s just learning from them and understanding what works.”
Theeba was joined by two additional drivers through the year – Yannick Mettler for Spa, while Mercedes-AMG factory driver Fabian Schiller joined the team for the Sprint Cup rounds later in the season.
“Maybe it’s something that they've done and how they’ve taken a certain approach to the corner and seeing how I can do that if I can apply to my driving and I feel like all of the drivers, they all contributed in a different way. It was just nice to see how we can come together and see what we really need as a team to take that next step. Each driver comes in with their feedback and their approach, which is always good experience.”
Unquestionably the biggest highlight of the year came in the second race at Valencia – where the team secured a historic podium – but some of the foundations for that came slightly earlier in the season, as Reema explains.
“Misano was pretty fun, because it was probably the first weekend I felt like we were competitive, and we made some steps. I mean, Paul Ricard as well, but we didn't have any luck there. So I'd say probably Misano was a round that was pretty fun, just because it set a different tone. It was also the first Sprint race. It just made for a nice change, and we came fourth in that race.”
In that second race in Spain, the emotion, the euphoria and some confusion was there on full display in the garage. Reema had completed her part of the race – taking the start and brilliantly navigating two Safety Car restarts to keep the #81 firmly in contention for when Fabian took over…
“At the time even from when in after my stint, I came in placed in the top six. So by the time when Fabi was out there, he was able to already make some positions up. And then thankfully with the late Safety Car, we had another opportunity and he drove so well, just taking every opportunity he could.
“From where were standing, I could not tell what had happened, it was a final lap of really great overtakes, and I was just staring at the screen, I recall, and could just see a blob of white cars moving and I could not tell the white dots apart and couldn't really tell where we were in the blob. So, where I was standing, I was like, we could be anywhere, we could be sixth, we could be third, we could be you know, wherever.
“We didn't really expect that he would be coming out of the last corner in second. I saw that, and I was probably shouting, I was like like, ‘is this really happening?’ completely in shock and disbelief. And once he crossed the line, there was everyone jumping in the garage, as you would imagine there were tears in some eyes as well.
“You could just tell that this was something that the team, really that we all needed. We needed just to have that positive result that we really did deserve that we missed in many other races. It was definitely an emotional, happy moment. But this this really did give us a boost. We needed to succeed for the team, and they all deserved it for the hard work they've put in.”
To achieve such a result against such strong opposition was an enormous moment for the team, and the effort that had been put in was rewarded in one of the best ways. “It definitely goes without saying that is a very competitive championship to drive in,” as Reema explains. “There are diverse teams, those that have much more experience than I do, and that our team does.
“It was a matter of, at least from where I was standing, fact that we needed to gather this information and knowledge as quickly as possible early in the season, and to try and apply it effectively to be the most consistent that we can. There are certain things in the weekends that happened and we were unlucky in some of them, some of them just out of our control, some of them that didn't to play into our favour.
“That could have been down to it being our first year, it could have been down to circumstance, but overall, that’s what defined the best team or the winner or the championship. What made the title contenders competitive to that level was their consistency. They weren’t winning races all the time, they were just consistently in the top four or five and making as few mistakes as possible.
“So, it plays a big part to be fast, for sure, but more than being fast, it's being smart, having the right strategy, coming and doing things so that you're fast, not just by being fast on track, but by being fast as a team in everything that we're doing.
“I think that's what they did better than us, and it was clear that they had been there and they've experienced it, so that comes with time. The last thing is the car performance, all of that as well. It stood out that they were just more consistent than the rest of the teams.”
Reema expanded on the experience gained this year, how the team has grown and evolved over the last 12 months, and what that in turn means for the team as 2024 approaches.
“You really want to feel like when you want walk into the garage that everyone is comfortable, is calm, they know what they're doing, that they're happy. You want to see one or two smiles and it really felt like this year the team just really felt comfortable, that everyone really felt like a part of the team. There were a few faces from last year and then some new faces this year but to see everything come together, probably after the first round, it just felt like a nice place to work and to be around.
“It only improved in terms of whether it was results, whether it was even unfortunate, with unlucky things that happened in the races. In the end, that all built up that relationship in the garage, and everyone really contributed to either lifting the spirits. That goes atmosphere-wise, but performance, whether it was the pitstops, whether it was overall dynamics, between the drivers and engineers, that it all became so much more in sync, if you like, and hopefully with that we can look at next year and really hit the ground running in that sense.
“Overall, there was a really nice growth in the team, and you could feel it in the last round, that everything was coming together nicely. Unfortunately, we didn't have the results to show it throughout the season, but I know from where I'm standing, we definitely improved. We've made some changes that have been very positive. That's something good to see, especially given the level of competition and environment of racing that we're in.”
Finally, Reema’s off-track ambitions are an important focus for the team in 2024.
“The reason why I started the team was really to build the grassroots and a foundation or a motorsport training programme for Saudi Arabians. Whether it's in schools, whether it's on-track, this is something I'm working on at the moment in wintertime here. So that's something I hope that by next year, we can say that ‘okay, we've come along, we've started that process, and we're in action’. So I think that's something I'm excited for and that was a really was a main reason why I started this team. So it's an exciting time for the team and for me.”