DUBAI // Two of the country's most promising young drivers have won the race for places at one of Europe's leading elite athlete facilities.
Mohammed Al Mutawaa and Mohammed Al Dhaheri will go to Ireland in September to sharpen their overall skills after winning the UAE Motor Star programme.
The two were picked from a group of five, who took part in a two-day session where their physical fitness and media handling skills were put to the test by experts from the University of Ulster.
Initially, one driver was to be picked for the one-week programme, but following a tie between Al Mutawaa and Al Dhaheri, Mohammed ben Sulayem, the president of the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE (ATCUAE), decided to nominate both.
Sheikh Khalid bin Khalifa, Mansour Bel Helei and Saeed Al Mehairi missed out, but Al Dhaheri believes all the participants in the programme were winners.
"I am usually used to getting the racing suit and helmet on, jumping into a car and racing," said the 24 year old from Al Ain who won the 2010 DD2 Championship and will represent the UAE at the Rotax MAX World Finals.
"This was more about media skills, technique and how to improve your fitness outside your car. We faced a lot of difficulties and we did learn a lot. So all five of us are winners here; nobody has lost today.
"Because of this course, I know that I should push harder on my fitness and lose some fat content. I have that in my sights now and I am going to work towards that."
Al Mutawaa, who is a product of the HSBC Academy and races in the UAE GT Championship, shared the sentiment.
"Even if I had not won, I would have still learnt a lot from this experience," said the 18-year-old Dubai resident. "They taught us how to speak with the media. They taught us a lot about physical fitness and I would say it was really good for me winning this."
This programme, an association between the ATCUAE and the University of Ulster, is one of the first of its type in the region and Ben Sulayem believes it is needed given the changing world of sport.
"From my experience in motorsports over 20 years, it is clear the sport has changed," said the rallying legend. "There is a lot more science involved. So, going through this programme was an education for all the participants.
"What was it about? It was about nutrition, planning and preparing yourself as a driver. I am really proud of these drivers because of the commitment they showed."
Dr David Hassan, a senior lecturer at the university and a respected academic in the field of sport research, was also impressed with the talent among the five drivers.
"What we have are five outstanding drivers, the future of motorsport here in the UAE," he said. "It became increasingly apparent two of the drivers are exceptional by any international standards.
"So what we have done, in association with the ATC, is to invite the two drivers to the University of Ulster, where over a one week period we will develop many of their aspects, physiologically, psychologically, but also things like nutrition, lifestyle and so forth, everything that goes to make up a leading international athlete.
"We will be able to work on a much more intensive one-to-one basis with them and at the end of that period of time, our intention would have been that we have significantly increased the aptitude of the two drivers towards achieving the very best they can and we believe, based on what we have seen over the last two days, that can include moving right to the top of motorsports."