AL AIN // For a man who only began racing karts seriously just over 18 months ago Sheikh Khalid bin Khalifa has made an immediate impact in the sport.
The Emirati driver, the son of Sheikh Khalifa bin Shakhboot, finished third in his first competitive campaign in the DD2 category of the UAE Rotax Max Challenge last season, and this year he is embroiled in a tight championship fight that already looks as if it will go down to the wire.
Sheikh Khalid was triumphant in the last round of the championship at Al Ain Raceway last month, his first victory of the season, and he is looking to repeat that feat today when the fifth round of the series takes place, again in Al Ain.
"It has been a good season so far and I am hoping for the best," he said of his prospects today.
"I think it will be close and will be competitive again."
An enjoyment in watching karting triggered Sheikh Khalid's decision to start racing, and he has not looked back since, although he acknowledges his family had shown some reticence in him taking part in the sport.
"They were concerned that accidents were going to happen and they did not want me to do it as they were worried about me, but once they had seen me race, and how safe the tracks are, they have been fully behind me," he said.
"I liked watching it and I wanted to have a go and I have enjoyed it. I love the sport."
In his first season racing the 32-horsepower karts he finished third in the championship despite missing the first three races of the campaign, and he is already one step up on that this season.
He puts his rapid growth from rookie to a serious contender down to the quality of his opposition.
"It is down to the fact that I am racing against good drivers," he said. "It is a great experience to drive against some very good drivers like Mohammed al Dhaheri.
"I learn a lot from racing against him. He gets experience by taking part in races overseas and then I have to improve to try and beat him."
The 23-year-old is second in the championship on 354 points, 21 adrift of al Dhaheri, the series leader and last year's champion.
His success at the last round means Sheikh Khalid has closed the gap on al Dhaheri, who had won the first three rounds, and has cemented his status as a contender to be the DD2 champion.
Despite his impressive form, however, the Al Ain-based driver is guarded on his prospects of taking the championship when the season concludes in April.
"It will be a little tough to do, but nothing is un-doable," he said.
There is a massive incentive for whoever comes out on top in this year's championship. The DD2 winners, along with the other series victors from the other categories that make up the UAE Rotax Max Challenge, will get to represent the country at the Grand Finals, where the winners of their respective series across the globe race against each other to find out who is the world's best.
This year's finals are being held in Al Ain and the chance to represent his nation on a home track is something that appeals greatly to Sheikh Khalid.
"I would like to do that," he said. "It would be a great honour."
Karting is seen as an early stepping stone on the ladder to Formula One for those who excel.
While Sheikh Khalid is circumspect on what he wants to achieve, he says for now he just wants to enjoy his racing. "I am happy with what I am doing," he said. "I am aiming for something bigger in the future."
Building for his future continues today at Al Ain as he renews his rivalry with al Dhaheri.