x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Al Shamsi on the fast track

Jassim al Shamsi only started karting three years ago, now the 20-year-old Emirati races cars around the world.

Jassim al Shamsi came second in the first two rounds of the UAE Sportscar Championship; his mentor Jordon Gregor won.
Jassim al Shamsi came second in the first two rounds of the UAE Sportscar Championship; his mentor Jordon Gregor won.

Jassim al Shamsi is a ceaselessly polite, softly spoken 20-year-old Emirati.

He loves to play football in the park with his friends, supports the Al Wasl club, works for Dubai Customs and studies international relations at the American University in the Emirates. His other interest, which perhaps reveals a little bit more about him, is playing driving games on his PlayStation, using it as not only a means of recreation but also as a way to familiarise himself with the world's greatest race tracks. Somehow, between work, play and study, al Shamsi has found the time to become a rapidly rising star of the race track, even though he only started racing competitively as a 17-year-old karter just three years ago.

"It is amazing," he said in an understated way to the success he has had after racing a Radical for the first time in March this year. It was the sixth UAE National Race Day and, on his debut in a Radical SR3, he came third for Team Abu Dhabi, sponsored by the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority and an important part of marketing Brand Abu Dhabi to the wider world. This year's season has also taken him to Europe for the Radical Masters series, where he raced at Spa in Belgium, the famous Nürburgring in Germany, Hungaroring in Hungary, Zandvoort in The Netherlands and UK's Silverstone circuit, where he again had a podium finish coming in third in a field of 50 cars with 25 racing in the SR3 class.

At Hungaroring, he showcased his skill at overtaking at a circuit where even the F1 drivers agree it is a difficult track for passing. After starting the race near the back of the grid, he managed to pass 16 cars and finish a creditable fifth place. He says his overtaking skills are his big strength and all he needs to do now is work harder on getting a better spot on the grid during qualifying. With the UAE season starting again this weekend, al Shamsi is especially excited because it is the last event of the European Masters. It's being held at Yas Marina Circuit, a track that al Shamsi says is "a really great track."

Between 40-50 drivers from Europe, Australia, the UAE, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia will be competing, a feather in al Shamsi's cap as well as a great way to raise further international awareness of the capital's F1 circuit before this year's Grand Prix. Depending on how his weekend goes, al Shamsi could finish third in the championship. Al Shamsi has been mentored by South African Radical driver Jordan Grogor, which he says has attributed to much of his swift success.

"He has helped me so much," says al Shamsi. "He has taught me a lot." Physical fitness is another priority for al Shamsi, although he is blessed with a naturally lean physique which doesn't add too much weight to his racing car. "And I have stopped smoking," he adds with modest pride, when asked about the importance of looking after oneself as a racing driver. Aside from ditching bad habits, his family has also been supportive, and two of his brothers are involved in motor sport, with Abdul Rahman al Shamsi racing motorcycles and Majed al Shamsi trying his luck in the Junior World Rally Championship.

"My family come to the races in the UAE, and my cousins and my friends; it's nice," says al Shamsi. "They don't worry about me - although maybe my mother does sometimes." With the tragic death of Christophe Hissette at the end of the last racing season in a Radical at Dubai Autodrome still fresh in the minds of many of the UAE racing fraternity, al Shamsi is philosophical about the incident, as most racing drivers tend to be when there is a fatality during competition.

"It was just one of those things, sometimes it happens," he says softly. Looking ahead, al Shamsi is keen to move up from SR3 Radical cars to the more powerful SR8s, under the watchful guidance of Grogor. Grogor, his mentor, came out on top in the first two Radical races of the UAE National season last weekend at the Dubai Autodrome, driving for AUH Motorsports, but al Shamsi was hot on his heels coming second in both sessions for Team Abu Dhabi. His best time was a lap of 1:02.457, just 0.705 seconds behind Grogor.

Al Shamsi will be racing in round two of the championship on November 4 and 5 at the Autodrome for the Dubai Motorsports Festival. He also hopes to race more in Europe in the future, capitalising on the success he has already achieved beyond the UAE shores, but these plans are still under discussion. From there, his dreams get bigger again: "To be the first Emirati F1 driver, that is what I would like to do."