Pakistan’s all-female racing team is building fast cars and driving change

(Courtesy of Team Auj)

(Courtesy of Team Auj)

Meet Team Auj, the first all-female team from Pakistan to compete in Formula Student.

It is hard work to make a race car. It is even harder if you’re a girl living in a society that tells you you can’t. But that didn’t stop Team Auj — an all-female team of university students from Pakistan — from building and racing a car at international engineering competition Formula Student.

The Formula Student competition challenges engineering students around the world to build single-seater race cars. The cars are then brought to Silverstone Circuit — the prestigious motor racing track in the U.K. — where judges evaluate their fuel economy, endurance, acceleration, design dynamics and marketing.

Team Auj at Formula Student with their car, Naltaar 199. (Courtesy of Team Auj)

Team Auj at Formula Student with their car, Naltaar 199. (Courtesy of Team Auj)

The greatest obstacle in Team Auj’s road to Silverstone was combating gender stereotypes to secure funding. “In a society where women are ridiculed for not being good drivers, the notion that a team of girls are making a racing car was not easy to digest,” explains 21-year-old Wardah Jamal, the team’s marketing manager. Like the other 11 members of the team, Wardah is a student at the National University of Science and Technology (NUST) in Islamabad. They are the first all-female team from Pakistan to compete in Formula Student.

Team Auj persuaded key individuals and companies to believe in their vision. A local café with a garage and workshop provided them with space to build. Wardah and her team told potential sponsors that supporting the team would help Pakistan’s image internationally. “For too long, Pakistan has been in the news for corruption, oppression and bad politics,” said Wardah. “We wanted to tell the world that we are more than that. A lot of people in the automotive industry and corporate world understood our vision and supported us.”

After a great deal of hard work, sweat and parathas (the team’s favourite snack), Team Auj built their car in time for the competition — they named it Naltaar 199 after a mountain range in Pakistan. Once at Formula Student, Team Auj raced into the hearts of judges and competitors alike. Team Auj received RACE TECH magazine’s Spirit of Formula Student Award.

“Winning the award meant so much to us, we were rewarded for the hard work,” shares Cybil Mary Braganza, the team’s human resources manager. “We brought something back for Pakistan and we made our nation proud. This feeling cannot be put into words.”

Meet a few members of Team Auj who made Naltaar 199 a reality.


(Courtesy of Team Auj)

(Courtesy of Team Auj)

Azka Athar

Age: 23

Subject of study at university: Industrial design

Role on Team Auj: Team lead

On studying industrial design…

“Industrial design is a very new field in Pakistan (my parents still don’t understand what I do!). The best thing about this field is that there is no right and wrong and every perspective is appreciated and valued.”

On competing at Silverstone in the U.K….

“It was very intimidating at the beginning. And I think that was one of the most challenging situations I came across as a team lead. I mean being responsible for nine girls in a foreign country is one thing — and keeping the team’s morale high when I myself was so intimidated by the amazing cars of the other even more amazing teams was a challenge on a whole new level.

I am proud of what we made and was then too but on our first day at the pit we understood one thing: that this was our chance to get as much knowledge as possible from the talent around us. What we saw at Silverstone was not something we get to see every day in our own country.

Our brake system got damaged in shipment and we could have fixed it at the event but we chose to spend that time to learn and get feedback on what we have done. This is one decision we made as a team and we do not regret it at all. All the competitors and judges were so appreciative for what we had done and accommodative to all the questions we had for them.”

(Courtesy of Team Auj)

(Courtesy of Team Auj)

On her hopes for the future of Team Auj…

“We are under a lot of national and international scrutiny now. Where the world barely knew us until last year, the motor sports world is now assessing every move we make. The pressure is intense but it's not something we can't handle. The goal is to make a better performing car this year and live up to the raised expectations we have created in FS (Formula Student) 2018. I hope we make Pakistan proud once more on the racing tracks.”

On the importance of young women studying STEM…

“In our rapidly growing technology-based society, it is very important to study STEM subjects. It helps us contribute in a better and more creative way. For young women, it’s important to make them strong and compatible for the competing society.”

On what she likes to do for fun…

“I like to boss around… kidding! I love to read historical fiction and I’m addicted to TV seasons (recent favorite is ‘Outlander’). Hiking and tracking is another of my hobbies but don’t do it much though…”


(Courtesy of Team Auj)

(Courtesy of Team Auj)

Wardah Jamal

Age: 21

Subject of study at university: Business administration

Role on Team Auj: Marketing manager

On her degree at National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST)…

“I am studying Business Administration from NUST Business School. I always wanted to study this because in BBA you learn a little bit of everything from marketing to psychology to law. So instead of being a master of one thing, I get to be a jack of all trades, which is of extreme significance in today's dynamic global world.”

On why she wanted to be part of Team Auj…

“I wanted to be a part of AUJ because of the stereotypes it was aiming to break… The fabrication and marketing of the car gave AUJ a very badass vibe and I definitely wanted to be associated with a team that's opening up a new avenue of employment for women in Pakistan. I wanted to play my part in making this dream a success.

On the aspect of her work that makes her most proud…

“The brand image I was able to create for AUJ. When I joined, AUJ was a newbie and had no market presence. My team and I worked hard on building collaborations and we got the word out to the Pakistani market that an all-girls team from NUST is making a Formula-style racing car. This was important as it helped us reach out to potential partners. But mostly, it helped us motivate and inspire the youth. I am proud that through my PR campaigns on radio, TV and social media I was able to reach out to so many young people. Our DMs and emails were flooded with students who told us that we had inspired them in one way or the other to pursue what they are passionate about. I think that is probably our biggest achievement.”

On the awesome potential of Pakistani girls in STEM…

“I was recently invited as a guest judge at a science exhibition at a local girls’ school. I was awed by the creativity and innovation they displayed in their science projects ranging from robots to earthquake detectors. I believe Pakistani girls have immense potential in the STEM field and if nurtured properly, they can go a long way.”

On what parents and schools can do to encourage girls to pursue STEM careers…

“We need teachers and parents to nurture young minds and talent. Girls are expected to go towards teaching in Pakistan. While this is a very amazing career path, I believe parents and schools need to provide flexibility and let girls choose what they want to be. If there is something they lack, then it is the job of schools and parents to fulfill it rather than nip their aspirations to be astronauts or scientists from the buds just because it's not realistic enough for a girl to dream so high.”

On what she likes to do for fun…

“I am a food fanatic and in my free time I like to watch BuzzFeed Tasty videos on food on loop.”


(Courtesy of Team Auj)

(Courtesy of Team Auj)

Cybil Mary Braganza

Age: 23

Subject of study at university: Industrial design

Role on Team Auj: Human resources manager

On her background…

“I am a very proud Pakistani from Islamabad. I am also a proud minority [Christians make up approximately 1.6% of Pakistan’s population]. Growing up as a female minority in Pakistan had its ups and downs, but there were always so many people always there willing to lend a helping hand. Our community was especially proud to see a female Christian representative for Pakistan. And they could not have been prouder.”

On her responsibilities on Team Auj…

“I was actually the tiny human running around the people working on the car, providing them with food, water and the occasional Mospel [mosquito repellent] or bandages. I was also in charge of looking at all the paperwork alongside the team lead and helping with team management.”

On competing at Silverstone in the U.K….

“Competing at Silverstone was daunting. We were so stressed out and so exhausted by the time we reached the tracks. Our competitors became our friends, people came up to us personally to see the ‘Pakistani women breaking stereotypes.’ The judges were extremely helpful. Winning the award meant so much to us, we were rewarded for the hard work. We brought something back for Pakistan and we made our nation proud. This feeling cannot be put into words. Seeing our flag up there amongst the giants was absolutely amazing.”

(Courtesy of Team Auj)

(Courtesy of Team Auj)

On the challenges in creating Naltaar 199…

“The biggest hurdle we had to overcome with Naltaar was the people’s faith in her. No one believed we could do it therefore no one really wanted to invest money into it. But a few people saw our determination and came to our aid in the end. And we won an award for this — we couldn’t have done it without that support.”

On the importance of young women studying STEM…

“STEM is an integral part because this is what helps give children a broader perspective on life and everything that they can strive to achieve. The world is limitless but unfortunately that’s not taught to kids here. Parents must guide their children onto this path and schools need to promote STEM. I see many schools starting it and I hope it becomes even more popular in the near future.”

On what she likes to do for fun…

“I like to make people laugh for fun. I enjoy cracking jokes and lightening the mood. I enjoy being happy and having people around me happy and laughing. It just warms my heart. If you’re looking for a more precise answer, I watch Netflix for fun.”


(Courtesy of Team Auj)

(Courtesy of Team Auj)

Sabah Zaman

Age: 21

Subject of study at university: Industrial design

Role on Team Auj: Driver and executive of technical team

On the challenges in creating Naltaar 199…

“We faced a lot of challenges while making a car, initially in getting sponsors, later on in getting right parts for the car. We had to import many parts. There were some we couldn’t get due to shortage of time as we got sponsors really late.”

On competing at Silverstone in the U.K….

“Competing at Silverstone U.K. was something like dream coming true. Competition consists of a lot of different teams from all over the world. As we made our car in a very short time with limited resources, we knew about the flaws of our car already and we passed a few tests but during transportation of the car, its breaks got damaged and we couldn’t pass all tests to run our car over there. We got to learn a lot from other teams and we came back home with a new energy to do much better.”

On her hopes for the future of Team Auj…

“I’m working even harder to make a sustainable team as I’m in my last year of university and can’t be part of this team next year. I’m the new team lead of Auj and I’m working to make a better car this year.”

On her plans for after university…

“I want to do master’s in automotive design and I want to be Pakistan’s first female Formula 1 driver and I’m looking for ways to achieve that.”

On what she likes to do for fun…

“I love to drive so I go for long drives when I’m bored.”

This piece is available in Urdu.

 
 

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About the author

Tess Thomas is editor of Assembly, a digital publication and newsletter from Malala Fund. She loves books, cats and french fries.